Who says there aren’t sandy beaches in Maine?

The author’s wife and dog enjoy the fruits of their labor on Swans Island, Maine.

By Chris Birch
For Points East

“For a long walk, go past the carrying place to fine sand beach.”

This single sentence was all the instruction our cruising guide provided.

We were anchored in Burnt Coat Harbor on the south side of Swans Island, Maine. My wife and I agreed that the long walk sounded fine, and would be an outing the dog would certainly enjoy. The cryptic directions were a cross between incomplete and mysterious. We were intrigued. What exactly is a “carrying place?” And in which direction should we pass it to find this fine sand beach?

“Throw it in the Google,” Alex, my wife, suggested. “Something is bound to pop up.”

“Great idea,” I agreed, reaching for my phone, only to learn that there is no Google on Swans Island, Maine. At least not on my phone. Like much of this section of Maine’s coast, my reception was listed at “Extended 1X” which is Verizon’s way of saying “nice try.” A thorough consult of our other cruising guides and charts turned up neither a mention of a beach nor a carrying place of any sort.

Mario would know – we should have asked him. Jovial Mario had served us delicious crepes for dinner the previous night at the little French bistro he runs out of his front porch with the help of his dog, Coco. He’d be asleep now though, as it was quite early.

We decided to walk to the store. Hopefully it would be open, or opening soon, and someone there would know about the elusive carrying place and associated beach. The local store in a small town is usually worth a stop, and we did have some provisioning to do.

The store opened at 10. We arrived at 7:30. We had time to kill – and a beach to find. At a minimum, we were quite sure we could enjoy a long walk. Fine sand or a carrying place would be a bonus. We wandered off in a randomly selected direction, arguing about who would carry whom at the assigned spot.

On this beautiful, cool, clear August morning in Maine our spirits were high. The islanders were either out fishing or still sleeping. We saw no one. The tight blue spruce canyon bordering our road opened as we rounded a bend and a beach came into view. Off to our right was a house and in front of it a simple sign read: “Carrying Place.” Our emotions were mixed. We hadn’t expected the carrying place to be a house, and had frankly hoped for something more exotic, but we were happy to have found it and looked forward to running the dog on the beach ahead.

The sand wasn’t “fine” per your standard dictionary definition, but it was definitely sand, shaped in a lovely crescent strip fringed by neon green beach grass flashing in the morning sun. We had nary a thing to complain about. The morning sun, the solved mystery and the amiable company were perfect, but there was a nagging thought that it was all a little too easy.

We’d burned up an hour and still had another 90 minutes to kill, so on we went down the road with our wet dog. In one house, someone with an abundance of musical talent serenaded us on the flute as we passed. Otherwise, all was quiet. We came to a fork in the road and took it, marching onwards as if pulled by a string. After a few more turns we came upon a small hand-painted sign on a piece of driftwood nailed to a tree. “Fine Sand Beach” it read, with an arrow pointing us down a dirt road. So that must have been “Coarse Sand Beach” back a ways. The mystery reopened and our treasure hunt sprung back to life.

The dirt road stretched on with no water in sight. We considered turning back. The store would soon open, our water bottle was empty, and maybe the beach wasn’t worth the walk. Or worse yet, maybe there was no beach and this was all just a wry Mainer’s idea of a hoax. Then another sign appeared, hand-painted just like the first, pointing us down a path into the woods.

The path, like the road, was long. Buggy too – a cloud of flies swarmed the dog’s head.

You can tell when a path through the trees is approaching a clearing or a beach. The sky begins to peek through the canopy, occupying a few percentage points more space above with each step. And that’s the way it went until at long last the water itself popped into view and along with it, the promised fine sand. And what glorious sand it was – soft like sifted flour, white like virgin snow. The blue-green water kissed the gleaming sand, just like you’d see in the Bahamas. But the easy slope of pink granite ledge that felt so good under bare feet off to our left, and the strong stand of spruce off to our right, and the splendor of Jericho Bay clear ahead, graced this spot with more beauty then any Bahamian beach could ever provide.

This had to be the finest beach in Maine, we three agreed. Or maybe on Earth.

We made it back to the store at 10:15.

The next day found us anchored at Camp Island in Merchant’s Row. The magnificent beach at the eastern end of Coot Island forced us to reassess our beach rankings. Then there’s that delicious little strip between the Hen Islands in Seal Bay that exposes at low tide. And Roque . . . .

It’s tough work judging Maine beaches.

Christopher Birch is the proprietor of Birch Marine Inc. on Long Wharf in Boston, Mass., where he’s been building, maintaining and restoring boats for the past 34 years.

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