Now this is downeast cruising

In Roque Harbor the author and his son just sat and contemplated life. Their only companions were a few terns that twittered nearby, and the occasional mosquito. Photo courtesy Joel Gleason

By Joel Gleason
For Points East

In Part 1, in the August issue, son Randy and I took our Young Brothers 33-foot lobsterboat from our hometown of Marblehead, Mass., to Jonesport and Moosabec Reach, a region with a different feel about it. You’re not in Nova Scotia, but you’re not in Boothbay or Camden, either. We knew we were someplace special, so we continued Downeast.

We slowed Muscobe to eliminate our wake as we passed beneath the Jonesport Bridge, in Downeast Maine. The span was undergoing repairs, and several huge barges and cranes were moored against it. A short time later, we were out of Moosabec Reach and approaching the Roque Island archipelago. From there, we would head home to Marblehead.

By 1700 the wind had freshened considerably as we passed between Great Spruce and Double Shot islands, into what is known as Roque Harbor. The last time here, we spent a delightful night anchored on a plate of black glass in Lakeman Harbor, a sheltered cove off the northeast corner. I looked forward to a repeat of that night, and we headed there.

We set the hook and let out a lot of scope. But the southwest wind was so strong that we wouldn’t be comfortable, and we’d worry all night about the anchor holding. Lakeman Harbor: beautiful and serene, but too windy for comfort.

We hauled in the anchor and headed across the harbor to a protected pocket at the extreme southern end of the beach on Roque Island proper. Five sailboats were anchored off the beach, but as it is nearly a mile long, they were far enough away for privacy. For years, Randy had asked if we could spend “just one night” someplace with no marinas, restaurants, or facilities. Just wildness. Now he had his wish.

We plopped ourselves in the cockpit deck chairs, and, well . . . did nothing. Randy turned on the VHF and tuned it to the weather station. We knew then we were really Downeast when the broadcast came on in French. We hadn’t watched TV or listened to news for days. Russian collusion? ISIS? The market? Mueller investigation? Who cares? Our only care was hunger.

When Muscobe was being built, I was told that a galley stove in gimbals would cost hundreds of dollars. So, instead I purchased a two-burner Coleman gas stove for $35. I fastened four rubber “feet” to its bottom to keep it from sliding and scratching the counter, and I had my marine stove, which was still on board. Randy pulled that stove out from below, put it on the engine box, hooked up the gas, and fired it up. Fifteen minutes later, we were savoring a gourmet meal – blackened fillet of Spam, with beans á lá Randall. It was delicious . . . . Really.

After dinner, we were entertained by a glorious sunset through clouds that eventually thickened and developed into a spectacular lightning display off in the west. When we turned in it began to rain, and we fell asleep to the gentle drumming on the overhead.

Lobsterboats rousted us out at 0600. Randy cooked bacon and eggs for breakfast as sunbeams shined through the clouds and we sat tucked in our snug nook at the end of the tropics-like beach. By 0900 we were motoring out of the archipelago on a sea of smooth obsidian, creeping through the Thorofare, a narrow passage that runs between Great Spruce Island and Roque itself. The air was still, and the area was sprinkled with colorful lobsterpot buoys. We waved to a couple of fishermen as we headed back west toward Jonesport and Moosabec Reach.

Because of the extreme tides in this area, the fishermen affix floating bobbers, called toggles, on their gear 10 or 15 feet below the main buoy. These are designed to keep the pot warp elevated, preventing it from tangling around objects on the bottom as the tide recedes. At certain levels, these bobbers are just under the surface, just waiting to snare the propeller of unsuspecting cruising boats from Marblehead. Somewhere along the way this morning, at around 1030, I inadvertently passed between one of these toggles and the main buoy and heard a loud WHUMP as Muscobe’s prop connected.

Looking quickly astern, I was relieved to see both buoys intact. As a former lobsterman myself, I was well aware of the expense of the loss of even one trap. Not only was I pleased for that fisherman, I was relieved not to have to go into the water to unravel the gear from my propeller shaft

Two and a half hours later, we were tying up at Clifton Dock in Northeast Harbor, where we took on 48 gallons of fuel and two bags of ice, with the assistance of two young female attendants. Continuing up the harbor, we were directed to our slip at the municipal marina, one of my favorites. I looked up for the little harbormaster’s office by the water’s edge, and it was gone. Two new, much larger buildings, set back from the water, had taken its place. One was occupied by the harbormaster, while the other housed a new visitor’s center, public heads and ticket office for the various excursion rides available.

The “Yachtsmen’s Building” on the little hill to the right was still there, but it too had been revamped with new laundry facilities, heads and showers. And the showers were free. No more fiddling with those infernal quarters (four for three minutes). I could now enjoy a shower without worrying about the water shutting off in the middle of my shampoo.

The town itself seemed the same. We walked up Sea Street to pick up a few provisions at the Village Market, then proceeded down to The Colonel’s Restaurant for a delicious early dinner of sausage and mushroom pizza.

After returning to the marina, Randy explored the area while I sat in the shade on a bench at the edge of the water, overlooking the boats. I struck up a conversation with a couple walking by, who were camping nearby. They were from Peabody, Mass., near my town of Marblehead, and were related to the owners of The Driftwood Restaurant, where Randy and I had had breakfast the morning we left for Maine.

Thursday morning, we awoke to dense fog, accompanied by a light, steady rain.

We returned to The Colonel’s for breakfast before casting off. Outside of the harbor, we were really socked in, finding the bell just past the entrance with some difficulty. Visibility was nil – we could barely see beyond the burgee on the bow – and we navigated from mark to mark with radar, paper charts and plotter. Because of traffic in Western Way, we proceeded cautiously until we reached the green gong off Long Ledge, just east of Bass Harbor Head. The brass gong itself, according to some maritime publications, had been replaced by the Coast Guard after it and several others were stolen. Whether taken for their antique value or simply salvage remains a mystery.

Once past the gong, we turned west for the Bass Harbor Bar as an orange Coast Guard RIB, complete with M-60 machine gun, ghosted past in the opposite direction. I was glad they were on our port side: Our starboard running light was out, a clear violation in this fog.

Feeling our way along with the help of the radar, we found the bells marking the bar and crossed easily, increasing our speed somewhat as we entered Blue Hill Bay. Upon reaching narrow Casco Passage, we slowed again. One doesn’t want to miss a mark in here, among all those dangerous ledges.

We found all our marks, crossed Jericho Bay, and entered the Fox Islands Thorofare. The gloom began to lighten, and by the time we entered East Penobscot Bay visibility was nearly a mile. Randy suggested going outside, rather than through the Muscle Ridge Channel, but I wanted to keep to the shelter of the islands for a smoother ride.

By late afternoon we’d passed Pemaquid Point and turned up to cross Johns Bay for the scenic ride through Thread of Life. Once through there, the sun burst out of the clouds, and we turned due north for the short hop up to Christmas Cove, arriving at 1645. I had made a reservation for float space months earlier, but, somehow, no one there knew about it. Fortunately, one slip remained. A raft of seaweed floated near the dock, and I questioned the depth, but was assured there was plenty of water. There was, so we eased in, secured the boat, and walked up to check the place out.

Coveside Marina had changed considerably since my last visit years ago. Though they provided slips and moorings for transients, there was no fuel or ice available, and water was extremely limited. We were told if we wanted dinner at the restaurant, we should make a reservation immediately, as the place would be packed later on.

The cove itself is a wonderful place. It’s recorded that Capt. John Smith also visited here in 1614. Two spindles on a pair of ledges either side mark the entrance to this beautiful, sheltered corner of heaven. There is little or no room to anchor, as the cove is jammed with boats of all sizes on moorings.

As we sat in the cockpit relaxing, a 70-foot sloop motored in and took a mooring. Soon, a young man launched an inflatable from the sailboat and motored in to where we were docked and introduced himself. He was the captain of the yacht, now living in Camden, but was originally from Marblehead, where he knew several people my kids grew up with. At dinner we learned why Coveside was so popular: We had a delicious dinner.

The sun was low when we returned to the boat. Sitting in the cockpit for a final “corner” (our obscure term for a sundowner), we enjoyed the sunset and the beauty around us. Soon the sky darkened, and the array of stars overhead was spectacular.

Morning brought yet another glorious day. While Coveside provided showers, they didn’t open until 1100, so at 0700 we cast off. To obtain fuel, we decided to go over to Carousel Marina, in Boothbay, where Muscobe needed only 38 gallons of diesel; because of reduced speed in the fog the previous day, her Yanmar 420-horse turbodiesel had burned a mere 5.8 gallons per hour. We then slipped over to the town landing and walked across the street to Waves for a great breakfast. We departed at 0930.

With Randy at the helm, we turned southwest at The Cuckolds and headed inside Seguin Island. Once by, with the wind blowing gently at our backs out of the northeast, we made directly for the Isles of Shoals. The forecast for the next day (Saturday) was poor, so we decided to press on straight for Marblehead.

Five uneventful hours later – with the exception of a whale sighting – we were approaching Cape Ann, which we decided to go around. Exactly six and one-half hours from leaving Boothbay Harbor, Muscobe eased alongside the town landing in Marblehead.

My beautiful boat, now 31 years of age, had again carried us smoothly and comfortably along the wonderful coast of Maine, from way Downeast. And she had brought us safely home.

Marbleheader Joel Gleason is a regular contributor to Points East.