Maine cruise: Unplugged

The view overlooking The Island Inn, on Monhegan, is lovely.

Story and photos by Roger Karlebach
For Points East

In Part 1, in the May issue, I discussed how I chose my preferred Maine anchorages. Choices were based on experiences in and around them during four extended cruises along the shores of the Pine Tree State. I kicked off this list in the last issue with three prime spots – Roque Island’s Great Beach, Winter Harbor and Somes Sound. In Part 2, moving ever south and west from Somes Sound, I present a further baker’s dozen of my favorite Maine harbors. From Somes Sound:

16 miles to Frenchboro, Long Island

Long Island is not that long, only about two square miles with several coves cutting into it, and about 10 miles out at sea, south of Mount Desert Island (MDI). It has six big, white mooring balls near the mouth of the crevice cove around which the “town” is built. That cove goes near dry at low tide, but the lobstermen unload at high.

The moorings are first come, first served, but there’s a rather less secure and less comfortable anchorage a bit farther out. We have never failed to score a mooring here, and they were free until our 2018 visit, when a reasonable $25 was charged. And if there is no room in town, depending on the wind direction one can anchor on the other side of the island in Eastern Cove, where there is little sign of life ashore.

The island lives on lobstering, not tourism. A lobsterboat brings out day-trippers from MDI, but there are no hotels. The town was settled by the Lunt family, as evidenced by the names throughout the cemetery. Fifty folks live there in the winter, with double that in the summer. One place serves food: Lunt’s Deli, on a dock, overlooking the harbor. Lobster, at low cost, with all the trimmings is the menu. When we ordered, the waitress walked down the gangway to the lobsterboat and brought our lobsters up, one in each hand.

We love the hiking here. The trails through most wooded parks elsewhere are dusty, any emergent life having been ground to death by hikers’ shoes. Here, the interior trails are laid with a rich, thick, green carpet of cushioning moss. And when you reach the shore, the trails have a different entrancing feature: On one side is the dark, impenetrable, quiet forest primeval, of Longfellow’s “Evangeline,” with the surf pounding the granite rocks at your other side.

The town has a one-room school, a church and a public library. The library has good free Wi-Fi and a remarkable number of books and other materials for its population. One year it was locked at night, because of vandalism, as the person in charge apologetically explained to us. He also told us to just lock up when we left. But as of 2018 it was back to day-and-night operation.

Then, a coincidence, totally unanticipated, much less planned: I heard “Roger!” It was Rick and Claudia and their two-year-old Dylan of s/v Charisma, live-aboard members of the Harlem Y.C. What a great excuse for sweet-potato/blueberry pancakes fried in coconut oil and served with bacon, coffee and maple syrup!

16 miles to Seal Bay, Vinalhaven

This is a truly amazing anchorage, but be careful going in, though this warning is not needed when you heed your chartplotter. The entrance is rockbound, and it opens up into several unnamed coves. It looks like a lake because you cannot see the entrance once inside. But it is salt water. Be careful where you anchor because it gets much smaller at low tide than at high.

Once inside there are a couple of homes at the far end; otherwise it appears uninhabited except for boaters. It’s a great place to explore by dink and climb on the shoreside rocks. Here, you are truly away from it all, a sense enhanced by lousy Wi-Fi reception.

22 miles to Buck Harbor

We come here for the food: dinner at Buck’s Restaurant, the only eatery in the area. Maine people drive to the restaurant by car, from far away, so make a reservation. This is gourmet food at less than the New York prices to which we have become accustomed at home.

The harbor – shaped like a bagel with one bite taken out of it – is on the north side of Eggemoggin Reach, at its west end. Large Harbor Island fills the harbor’s center. We have never had a problem getting a mooring from Bucks Harbor Marina, which is behind the island and well-protected. Here, in addition to the fuel dock and the laundry, is the outdoor shower. Lene loves outdoor showers.

17 miles to Belfast

This is one of the only “cities” on our list, though the villages of Rockport, Camden and Castine are also here in Penobscot Bay. Searsport is here, too, but it’s hard to get into. Use your dink to visit Hamilton Marine and the wonderful Maritime Museum that focuses on the captains of the ships that sailed out of the bay.

Belfast is on the south bank of the Passagassawakeag River (whew!), in the northwest corner of Penobscot Bay. One of the best features of the town is its friendly, long-service harbormaster, Kathy Pickering. Kathy always seems to be able to find a mooring for us near the town docks, even though two of our three visits coincided with the annual Harborfest. This festival features whaleboat rowing races and the building of dinghies from scratch – judged on the basis of construction time, beauty and, of course, whether or not they can float during the races that follow. The whaleboat races started about 30 feet from our mooring one year.

A number of good restaurants are here as well as a stage theater and a movie theater, though the pre-show adverts in the latter last summer signified that it was for sale. The “megalifts” of the giant Front Street Shipyard are worth a look, and a walking bridge, formerly a railroad bridge across the river, is just a bit upstream if you wish a nice walk with a view.

The supermarket is a bit of a trek from the dock, though we have done it, usually hitching a ride back; but there’s a cooperative organic market in town, as well as a large indoor farmers market on weekends. The library is convenient, and the town has at least two bookstores and a half-dozen art galleries. In other words, this is a good place to get off the boat for a day or two of land activities.

19 miles to Rockport

From north to south along the west side of Penobscot Bay are Camden, Rockport and Rockland, each with its charms. Rockport is the smallest. It is a long crevice entered from, and open to, the south, with lots of room for a huge mooring field. Anchoring spots are a bit farther from town.

We have taken moorings from Rockport Marine, which specializes in wooden boats. Many beauties rest at its moorings and docks, and acres of gleaming, varnished surfaces greet you as you approach the yard. The facility employs men and women who are experts at the costly maintenance of these fine vessels.

The downtown area is perched on a high bluff overlooking the harbor. One year, a block down Central Avenue at the Opera House, we stumbled into a great modern-dance recital that was to begin a half-hour after we’d scaled the steps into town. Our primary reason for making a stop here usually is for the imaginative and excellent cuisine at 18 Central Oyster Bar and Grill. You can’t miss it as you arrive in town, but you’d better call ahead for a reservation.

20 miles Port Clyde

We went to Port Clyde to take the ferry to dazzling Monhegan Island. Monhegan offers beautiful hikes across the island to the cliffs on the south side, and the artist colony painting en plein air like the French impressionists, plus the galleries. We enjoyed the restaurant in the hotel.

8 miles to Hall & Harbor islands

Anchor closer to Hall but dink over to Harbor, where there are marvelous vertical rock strata and great rocks for sunning. Harbor is well-protected except from the north, so, when winds came from there, we went another five miles farther north and anchored in Oar Island cove, in the Hockomock Channel, or moored by the Audubon Camp on the north side of Hog Island, near the mouth of the channel, and explored the nature trails there, and the remains of the Cora F. Cressy, a locally built, five-masted schooner. Either way, we enjoyed a good boat-cooked dinner aboard.

19 miles to Five Islands

Or to Harmon Harbor. Five Islands is a small natural harbor with deep-enough water formed by five small islands at the west side of the Sheepscot River. The attraction here, in addition to a country store a half-mile away, is Five Islands Lobster Company, which sells what its name states from a dock overlooking the harbor. Picnic tables are outside.

The Five Islands Yacht Club, located on two of the five islands, maintains three or four guest moorings, offered free, first-come, first-served.

There is no room to anchor so it pays to try to arrive early. And if you are too late, it is only a mile or so south to the narrow entrance to Harmon Harbor. Here, we have been permitted to stay on a private mooring by its owners whose house overlooks them. We were trying to set the anchor when hailed by their invitation. Then it’s a short walk to Five Islands. Note: No potable water is available anywhere in Five Islands except in small, plastic bottles that are for sale.

18 miles to Bath

Bath is about 12 miles up the Kennebec River, the farthest riverine destination on our list. We docked at the terrific Bath Town Float Landing in the heart of town, but there are several other places offering wharfage and moorings. We timed our visit to include a tour of the Bath Iron Works, which still builds ships for the U.S. Navy. They built the USS Hammerberg, DE1015, which was launched shortly after the Korean War, and to which I was assigned back in the Vietnam era.

We also enjoyed The Maine Maritime Museum, which offered a detailed look at the construction of a huge, wooden ship, so many of which were built there in the olden days.

Several restaurants are available as well as three bookstores and a good public library. For a town of only about 10,000 folks, this volume of book-related enterprises suggests there’s not much else to do there in winter.

24 miles to The Basin

Or 26 miles to Snow Island. We have now arrived in Casco Bay for another dine-aboard night. Both of these anchorages have lots of room and water of appropriate depth for anchoring. The attraction here is that the water, while not exactly warm, is significantly warmer than most Maine waters. The Basin is a well-protected hurricane hole on the east shore of the New Meadows River. Wind buffeted us there, so it was not a restful night for us, but no waves can make the two 90-degree turns needed to enter The Basin. Exploration by dink is fun, and so is swimming. At Snow Island, in Quahog Bay, anchor on its lee side.

11 miles to Potts Harbor

Dolphin Marina, in Potts Harbor, is an exceptional facility, with moorings for us and slips for those who prefer them. Launch operators will come out, pick up your mooring bridle, and hand it to you. Free washing machines. Free bike and kayak usage. Friendly staff. A good restaurant. And they bring out a cup of coffee and a blueberry muffin for each member of the crew in the morning. And all of this for less than what a lot of marinas charge. Wi-Fi is weak here, though. It’s near enough, just over two miles, to dink over to Eagle Island (in settled weather) for a visit to the preserved home of polar explorer Admiral Robert Perry.

Five miles to The Goslings

Or 7 miles to Jewell Island. The Goslings are three rocks just south of Lower Goose Island, in Middle Bay. This is a large anchorage area with many private moorings, but there’s plenty of room to anchor. Dinking south a few hundred yards you can say hello to the folks camping on those rocks. But, for me, the big feature is a spot called Grassy Ledge, about a quarter-mile dink ride to the north.

Our first time here, I cut the outboard and drifted very close before almost 100 seals sunning there noticed and took a swim. But these animals are not domesticated or fed, so I was fearful of promising our niece, who was aboard, that they would be there four years later. They did not disappoint.

We stayed overnight, but the next stop is so near that one can do both in one day. The anchorage is a sliver of water cut into Jewell Island at its northwest end – a secure anchorage except from northerlies. We dink ashore and hike the trails. They lead to the Punchbowl, an unusual rock formation on the northeast side with vertical rock strata all around that are washed by the waves.

Toward the southern end is a concrete tower from which the armed forces sought to protect Casco Bay from submarine attack during World War II. It is high enough, but with night and fog, I’d not think it would provide much value in spotting a submarine’s periscope. Jewell Island is eight miles from Portland, but Jewell itself provides a good jumping-off place for the next day’s longest passage.

50 miles to the Isles of Shoals

This is the last Maine stop on our way home, and half of our last spot is in New Hampshire. Seven miles off the mainland at Portsmouth, N.H./Kittery, Maine, it’s Gosport Harbor, protected by Appledore, Smuttynose, Cedar and Star islands. Gosport contains quite a few moorings set by the Portsmouth Yacht Club, and they are available when not in use. We have never had difficulty scoring one. The one time we did not pick up one was at the end of a long, stormy passage, with the waves piling into the harbor. We anchored on the other side of the sea wall connecting two of the islands that create the harbor. A huge, old dowager hotel on Star Island will serve dinner if you call in advance, and if they have room. The hotel operates as a retreat for various groups that come by ferry for the standard one-week stay. While there, savor beautiful views and an obelisk honoring the 19th-century minister who built the place, and scramble on huge boulders on the southwest corner. What’s not to like?

So there you have it: 16 favorites – three in the last issue (May) and 13 in this issue – with 15 passages connecting them, totaling only 311 NM. And then there is the return trip with many different lovely spots. Some folks enjoy fantasy football. I enjoy fantasy cruise planning.

When not sailing, retired attorney Roger Karlebach lives in New York City with his wife Lene and their two cats. All four of them have also sailed their Saga 43, Ilene, from the Harlem Yacht Club, on City Island in Long Island Sound, south to Grenada, in the West Indies. Details of their adventures can be found at ilenetheboat.blogspot.com. Roger reports that Ilene’s summer destination will be the waters in and around Rhode Island, a trip he estimates will take about six weeks.

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