A cup of Eggemoggin

Guest perspective/Bill Cheney

We had just arrived at a Christmas party in Beaufort, S.C., when our hostess, a charming southern lady, asked me what I would like to drink. “I would love some Eggemoggin,” I said. I meant “eggnog,” of course, but that malapropism, or Freudian slip, or whatever it was, reveals a lot about my state of mind as I wile away the winter days here in the South Carolina Low Country.

I seem to always be dreaming of my favorite places along the bony coast of Maine – the bays and sounds, the exquisite islands and enticing harbors that make up the finest cruising grounds in the world. When the onshore breeze is blowing, I like to saddle up Penelope, my venerable engineless catboat, and head roughly north-northeast up Jericho Bay, bound for the Eggemoggin Reach.

The Reach is a 10-mile-long corridor that separates Deer Isle from the mainland, providing a passageway between Jericho and East Penobscot bays. A sailor’s delight, this mile-or-two-wide waterway features boisterous reaching breezes and flat water. My fat old girl Penelope likes it because she can lift up her skirts and surprise a lot of folks who think catboats are slow sailors.

It’s a broad reach up the bay, and Penelope leans into it. There’s some weather helm as we roar along, but it only makes her feel more alive. We are in the grip of a fine driving rhythm as Penelope rides the surging swells. With this comes what can only be called euphoria: This is where we want to be, and this is what we want to be doing. Here our course is a little more to the west, but we are still broad reaching. The water here is smoother, but the breeze is steady.

Off to the right now lie the Babson islands, and behind them the WoodenBoat campus. The magazine offices, the boatbuilding school, the store, and a very fine library – featuring what may be the very best boating collection in the world – are all there, just up the hill from the dock. This is a “must” port of call for any cruising sailor, but beware of the “Guest” moorings, which are not guest moorings but rentals. There is plenty of good holding ground just outside the mooring field at a moderate depth.

The facilities on shore are always worth a visit, but perhaps even better is the variety of lovely craft you will see in the harbor: Bull’s Eyes, Beetles, Friendships, dories, Whitehalls, wooden sloops, yawls, ketches, schooners – you frequently see them all.

Penelope will not stop at WoodenBoat today, but will continue broad-reaching to the northwest. We leave the Torrey Islands – and a prominent rock called the Torrey Castle – to starboard, and catch a glimpse of the forest of masts off to the north. This marks Center Harbor and the Brooklin Boat Yard.

The yard is presently run by Steve White, grandson of essayist and “New Yorker” fixture E. B. White. Steve builds, stores and repairs an impressive array of classic wooden yachts, and is an organizer of the annual WoodenBoat Regatta, which draws breathtaking entries from around the world.

I’ve spent a lot of time here, just visiting the storage sheds and taking in their rare and beautiful inhabitants. It seems wonderful that you can still do this, unhindered, in an age when gated communities and private docks are more the rule. I’m grateful there are still places where we don’t need to lock up our houses and our boats.

A little beyond Center Harbor lies the entrance to the Benjamin River, a favorite harbor of mine, and another showplace for fabulous wooden boats. Havilah Hawkins’ majestic gaff sloop Vela lives here, as does the beautifully restored C. C. Hanley cat yawl Molly B. A narrow channel – which can be difficult for engineless sailors when both wind and tide are against you – leads to a well-sheltered pool, about a half-mile wide and 50 feet deep at its center. I always find a comfortable spot on the eastern edge in about 10 feet at low. A little further up the eastern shore is the D. N. Hylans boatyard, where the Molly B was expertly restored.

Morning arrives after the usual delightfully calm evening and night here, and Penelope makes her way back out into the Reach. There is not much wind, and the tide has just started to turn against us, so it is touch-and-go beating on the way out. Another half-hour of strengthening tidal current, and we would have been penned up, waiting for more wind.

Out in the Reach proper we are reaching again, and there is enough breeze to progress nicely. Our 22 feet of 50-year-old catboat eases up behind a modern 30-foot sloop and passes her effortlessly. We drink in her crew’s looks of shock and disbelief, and, if truth be told, we enjoy it all mightily. Penelope is beside herself with glee, such opportunities being one of the things she loves about the Reach.

Now we pass under the Deer Isle Bridge, a massive structure whose presence always surprises me, given the rural nature of the surroundings. Its existence, of course, has transformed life on Deer Isle, bringing the mixed bag of advantages and drawbacks that comes with an easy connection to the 21st-century mainland. In accord with my theory that the harder it is to get to a place, the better that place will be, I’m glad there is no bridge to Swans Island, where we live.

A mile or two farther on and we’ve come to the end of the Reach, with the charming Pumpkin Island Light to port, and Bucks Harbor to starboard. Bucks Harbor is one of the busiest and most crowded harbors on the coast, but certainly one of its more appealing. It provides enchanting views of saltwater farms on hills rising above the water, and the quiet, old-fashioned town of South Brooksville, just a short walk up the hill from the old-line shingled yacht club.

A large banner-like sign over the yacht club float proclaims that it is “The Landing,” while a smaller, somewhat churlish and contradictory sign on the float says that it is “For Members Only.” But no one seems to enforce this, and you pretty much have to use the float if you want to reach the well-stocked store in the town above.

Penelope will borrow a mooring in the busy harbor (the place is too crowded for easy anchoring), and contemplate a program for tomorrow. We could proceed down East Penobscot Bay to Merchants Row, and run back to Swans Island that way, thus completing a circumnavigation of Deer Isle. But no, I think we’ll go back the way we came. I’d like another cup of Eggemoggin.

W. R. “Bill” Cheney sails the engineless Marshall 22 Penelope out of Swans Island, Maine, in the summer, and his Marshall Sanderling Shorebird out of Lady’s Island, S.C., in the winter. His book, “Penelope Down East” (Breakaway Books, 2015, 222 pp., $14), which imparts much Maine Coast cruising wisdom and imagery, is available on Amazon.com.