'Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness' - Mark Twain
Logbook: Connecticut and Maine - July and August 2008
After completing some boat chores in North Carolina in early July and then traveling up the ICW to southern Virginia, we were eager to sail further north to New England and our ultimate destination for the summer, Maine. New England's cruising season is short, so when the weather forecast was favorable, we were on our way. Our plan was to travel quickly up to Maine, where we would spend the month of August, and then leisurely work our way south along New England in September, when the weather is generally still good and the anchorages less crowded. Maine is about 500 nautical miles from the mouth of the Chesapeake, and we chose to break up the northbound trip by stopping in Mystic, Connecticut.
As we got closer to Connecticut, we sailed around the east end of Long Island and into Block Island Channel. By this time, the winds had lightened, so we were motor sailing to ensure we could time the tide and ride in with it. We entered Fishers Island Sound through the Sugar Reef Passage and motor-sailed toward the Mystic River. Our cruising friends Maggie & Bob (from Sea Tryst) live in Mystic, and they told us to call when we got close, and they would meet us on the river to show us a great anchor spot. As we got closer to the mouth of the Mystic River, our engine was acting up, the result of a clogged fuel filter. Fortunately, Ram Island was close by, and we were able to drop our anchor there so that Rich could change filters. Maggie and Bob got a ride to Slip Away in a friend's dinghy, and once the filters were changed and our engine was running smoothly again, they piloted us up the Mystic River to a sweet anchor spot just beyond the Mystic Seaport Museum.
Mystic, Connecticut (July 20-25). Mystic is an historic seaport, founded in 1654, and a charming New England town with lovely homes, good restaurants and quaint shops. Ships were built here since the 1600's, and Mystic rose to great prominence as a shipbuilding center from the late 1700's to early 1900's. The building of wooden sailing ships declined when steamships and railroads came on the scene.
The Mystic Seaport museum was founded in 1929, and today it is recognized as the nation's leading maritime museum. An authentic 19th century seafaring village was built by moving in historic buildings from around New England. It is home to four National Historic Landmark vessels, including the Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whaleship in the world. The Seaport has numerous other exhibits, as well as Preservation Shipyard, which builds boats and maintains the historic fleet.
Cape Porpoise (July 27-29). Arriving at Cape Porpoise gave us our initiation into winding our way through Maine lobster pots. A lobster pot is a cage that sits on the sea bottom, with a rope or line that runs between it and a buoy, which floats on the surface. The lobster pot buoys are very pretty and colorful, but we didn't want to snag one in our propeller because that would require one of us (namely Rich) to get in the water and untangle it from the prop. The water temperature in Maine averaged in the mid to high 50's, and he had no desire to go swimming in water that cold. To hopefully avoid that mishap, when the pots got thick, Rich went out on the bow, and with the help of our walkie-talkie headsets, he directed Jan who steered through the mess. We safely made it through our first challenge with the pots and dropped our anchor in the Cape Porpoise harbor.
Jan was especially excited to be in this particular harbor because Michelle (Garsoe) Van Vliet, a friend from her Club Med days, was close by. It was Michelle's wedding that Jan had attended in Maine 16 years ago. Michelle's father Peter lives in Cape Porpoise; Michelle and her husband Alan live in Oregon, but they were in Maine for a week for a family reunion and visit with her dad. We arrived on a Sunday morning, took a quick nap, and then attended a family get-together that afternoon. Jan had met several of their family members at Club Med and in Southern California, where Michelle and her sisters lived for a while, and she enjoyed seeing everyone again. The next morning, Michelle, Alan, Peter and brother-in-law Bob dinghied out for a visit on Slip Away. Michelle had a number of other family commitments for the upcoming week, so her time was limited, but it was great to spend even a short amount of time together.
Kennebunkport is located only a couple of miles from Cape Porpoise, and Michelle encouraged us to visit there, so we walked to Kennebunkport one afternoon and took a trolley tour of the area. Kennebunkport was settled in the 1600's, and in the 1800's the banks of the Kennebunk River were home to six shipyards. Today, Kennebunkport is a popular tourist resort and is probably best known because George & Barbara Bush own a summer home here. On our way back to Slip Away from Kennebunkport, as we walked by Michelle's Dad's house, at their encouragement, we stopped to pick some of the wild blueberries that were growing in his front yard. They were delicious!
Monhegan Island (July 30). Monhegan covers about just over one square mile in area, and is located ten miles offshore. The small village on the island is a summer home to many artists, and beyond the village are a number of hiking trails through wilderness areas. Most of the island was purchased by Ted Edison (son of Thomas Edison) in the 1950's and preserved through a land trust. We caught the first ferry to Monhegan at 7 am (the Laura B mail, freight and passenger ferry), and we, along with a number of cargo items and a few other passengers, were transported over to the island. We spent the morning hiking on some of the trails, and then browsed through some of the artist studios prior to catching the ferry back to Port Clyde in the early afternoon. We really enjoyed the hiking, and the weather was gorgeous and sunny, but it would be the last sunny day we would see for a while.
Passage from Port Clyde to Gilkey Harbor, Islesboro, Penobscot Bay (July 31, 32 miles, 6 hours). We awoke the next morning to thick fog. We ate breakfast and waited for the fog to lift, which it never really did, but it lightened up enough for us to head out. The lobster pots were thick - described by another boat on the radio as a "lobster labyrinth," and Rich spent hours on the bow of the boat, providing excellent directions to Jan at the helm - we once again made it to our destination without tangling one. Rich preferred spending hours on the bow in the cold and fog to going for a swim in the frigid water.
Passage from Islesboro to Holbrook Island (August 3, 13 miles, 2½ hours). When we left Islesboro for Holbrook Island, it was overcast and cool, and rain was forecast, but we didn't have far to travel and didn't expect the rain to be heavy, so we decided to head out. We had no wind on the trip, so we had to motor, and shortly after we got underway, the rain started pouring down, along with thunder and lightning. Oh joy! At least the lobster pots weren't so thick, and the rain eased up as we were approaching the entrance to our anchorage, so we had enough visibility to get in safely.
Holbrook Island and Castine (August 3 to 6). Castine was a highly recommended cruising stop. The town is charming and has an interesting history, and anchoring in the bay alongside Holbrook Island was peaceful, and offered nice hiking. After anchoring, the weather cleared up some, so we decided to go explore in our dinghy. There were a number of birds resting on the rocky shore and in the trees, and we saw a bald eagle flying overhead. Outstanding!
The next day, we visited the town of Castine. Castine was founded in the early 1600's by the French - Samuel de Champlain stopped here in 1604. The town changed hands between the French and British a number of times, and the Dutch also occupied it for a short while. In 1779, Castine was the site of what is often regarded to be the worst naval defeat in the history of the U.S. Commodore Dudley Saltonstall and Colonel Paul Revere led the troops during this battle. Both men were court-martialed; Saltonstall was dishonorably discharged, but Revere was eventually exonerated. Castine was the last British post to be surrendered at the end of the American Revolution. It was recaptured by the British in the War of 1812, but surrendered again in 1815.
We picked up a walking tour map in town and explored the peninsula. Remnants of Forts Madison and George are still in place, and there are a number of restored 18th and 19th century houses. Castine is also home to the Maine Maritime Academy, a college focused on marine-related programs - maritime, engineering, business and science. We toured the T.S. State of Maine, their 500 foot long, 12,000 ton Training Ship, which was previously a Research Vessel for the US Navy.
At the Castine Variety Store, we discovered a new flavor of ice cream, which became Jan's favorite - Maine Black Bear, which is vanilla ice cream with raspberry swirls and chocolate cups with raspberry filling. Yum!! The Castine Variety Store also boasts the best lobster roll in Maine. We ate lunch here, but deferred to our budget and ordered cheeseburgers because the lobster rolls were $15.99 and the cheeseburgers were $3.25. They were actually some of the best cheeseburgers we've ever eaten, and we were not at all disappointed with our choice.
While at this anchorage, we also did some hiking on Holbrook Island, which is part of Maine's State Park System. The scenery was very pretty, and we spent quite a bit of time talking with a very friendly local lobsterman, whose family had lived in the area since the 1700's.
The weather continued to be mostly rainy, with a few hours of sunshine every once in a while - it had been cool and rainy for the better part of a week now, and it was getting a little old. Even the locals were complaining, saying this was one of the rainiest summers they could ever remember. Guess we picked the wrong summer to come to Maine.
Belfast (August 6-9). From Holbrook, we took another short jaunt to Belfast (10 miles, 2 hours). Here, we got together with friends Dan & Amy Miller, a couple of our best friends from Ensenada, Mexico. When we last saw them, Amy was pregnant with their daughter Nina. Nina was 4½ when we saw them this summer - where did the time go?
When we knew Dan & Amy in Ensenada, they owned a beautiful Hans Christian Pilothouse sailboat. After having the baby, they decided to sell that boat and bought a home in Maine. Dan is a seaman at heart, so he couldn't go for long without a boat, and they have since bought Pitch Patch, an old wooden yawl which is a replica of Spray, the boat in which Joshua Slocum did his single-handed circumnavigation in the late 1800's.
Our reunion with Dan & Amy was wonderful - it was as comfortable as if we had just seen them yesterday, not five years ago. We met them for breakfast, and spent hours talking in the restaurant. Nina was content to go out in their truck and play with the dog while we sat and talked and kept an eye on her from the restaurant window - how nice that you can do things like that in a small town in Maine. Amy had a commitment for later in the morning, so Dan took us sightseeing to Camden, and then we met Amy back at their house later that afternoon. Dan & Amy live on five acres in Liberty, Maine, about 20 minutes from Belfast. They have a pond on their property, with a little cabin on an island in the pond. We canoed out to see it, and their dogs swam along. What fun! The weather could have been better - it was cool and drizzly - but we ignored it.
The next day, it poured rain all day long. We had wanted to do some laundry and grocery shopping and planned to go out for dinner with Dan & Amy, who had arranged for a babysitter that evening. We loaded up our laundry in plastic garbage bags, donned our rain ponchos, and hauled it up the street to the laundromat. The best grocery store was about a two-mile walk from the harbor. Normally, we would enjoy the walk, but not in this rain. Dan & Amy were happy to run us to the grocery store after dinner that night.
Bold & Devil Islands (August 11-13). From Pulpit Harbor, we planned to cruise through the islands of Merchants Row, which our guidebook told us was "unsurpassed for beauty anywhere in Maine." The bases of the islands are granite, and they are topped with evergreen trees. We motored through the archipelago in the fog (but no rain), occasionally allowing ourselves to glance at the scenery we were passing, but more focused on avoiding the numerous lobster traps which filled the area. We dropped our anchor between Bold & Devil Islands to spend the night (16 miles, 2½ hours). We planned to move on the next morning, but it poured rain all the next day, so we stayed put. About this time, we were tired of the lousy weather and were ready to turn around and head south, but we had plans to meet friends in Acadia National Park in a few days, so we carried on.
The next day we awoke to sunny skies, and our spirits lifted. We got ready to weigh anchor, and Rich stepped on the windlass button to start pulling up the anchor chain, but nothing happened. Sh*%!! The solenoid/switch had died, so we had to weigh anchor manually. Our anchor weighs 66 lbs., and it is attached to 3/8" chain - which is great for holding our 18 ton boat in place, but we weren't looking forward to pulling it up by hand. As it turned out, it wasn't as bad as anticipated. Jan, who is normally in the cockpit running the engine and steering the boat when weighing anchor, came out on deck and by using a handle that fits into our windlass for situations such as this, she slowly hauled up the chain. Maine's anchorages are very muddy, so Rich rinsed the chain with the deck washdown as it came up. Thirty minutes later, we were on our way.
WoodenBoat School (August 13-14, 8 miles 1½ hours). Maine has some of the most beautiful boats we've ever seen, and many of them are wooden. Of course, since their boating season is short, they spend most of the year working on them to make them beautiful! WoodenBoat School and the headquarters of WoodenBoat Magazine were close by and a recommended stop. WoodenBoat School offers quite a variety of classes, from fundamentals of boatbuilding to marine artwork and photography. Several schooner charter boats were in the anchorage when we arrived; this was apparently one of the places they visited with their guests. It was an interesting visit to the school, we had a nice walk to stretch our legs, and we also explored some the nearby islands by dinghy.
We planned to leave the WoodenBoat School anchorage for Northeast Harbor in Acadia National Park the next morning, and woke up to thick fog. We didn't have far to travel, so we waited a couple of hours for visibility to improve, finally leaving late in the morning for a very foggy trip (18 nm, 3½ hours).
John & Camille's first day with us in Acadia was foggy, but we didn't let it get us down. We picked up some sandwiches at the Fully Belly Delly (lobster and crab rolls) and hiked to Little Long Pond for a picnic. We then did a drive along the Park Loop Road, stopping at Sand Beach, Thunder Hole and a number of other spots. John & Camille stayed with us for six days, the weather was nice for most of their visit, and we did a lot of sightseeing in the park. We drove to the top of Cadillac Mountain, which at 1,532 feet is the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard. We hiked up to Thuya and Asticou Gardens, rented bikes and rode along the carriage trails to Jordan Pond House and picnicked on the lawn. We also left Northeast Harbor on Slip Away for a trip up Somes Sound, the only fjord on the East Coast of the U.S., to Somesville, where we anchored, explored the small town (great bookstore!) and watched bald eagles fly overhead while at anchor. On our way back to Northeast Harbor, we stopped and anchored at Valley Cove, where we planned to hike, but that was our one rainy day, so we stayed on Slip Away, ate lunch and then continued back to Northeast Harbor. The rain stopped in time so that we could attend a free jazz harpist concert (with free wine and hors d'oeuvres!) in Thuya Gardens in celebration of their 50th anniversary. Thuya Gardens is probably the most beautiful gardens we've ever seen, and we loved spending time there. Our time with John & Camille passed quickly, and after a week, we sadly said good-bye and thanked them for bringing the sun.
John & Camille departed on Thursday morning, and on Friday, our friends Heather & Jon were arriving from Boston. The guest room was still in order - all we had to do was wash the sheets and we were ready. We had most of Thursday to ourselves, so we decided to hop on the bus and go spend the day in Bar Harbor. Free propane-powered buses, sponsored by L.L. Bean and Friends of Acadia, run throughout the park and are a great way to get around. In Bar Harbor, we strolled along the shore path, did some window shopping along Main Street, and went to a beer tasting at the Bar Harbor Brewing Company - when somebody's offering free beer, we're happy to show up.
Mid-day on Friday, Jon & Heather arrived. We met Jon & Heather while cruising last winter in Belize. They left their boat, Evergreen, in Guatemala's Rio Dulce for the summer, and were living and working in Boston for the summer. They have lived in the Northeast (Vermont and Massachusetts) and cruised in Maine on their own boat, and Northeast Harbor is one of their favorite spots. Jon & Heather are both marathon runners (not to mention younger than us), so we knew we wouldn't be sitting around with them. We returned again to Thuya Gardens and hiked beyond the gardens on some beautiful trails. We also took Slip Away back to Valley Cove on Somes Sound, and this time the weather was exceptionally nice (the best day we had in Maine), and we hiked to the top of the hills that overlooked the Sound and several offshore islands. Our legs were a little sore the next day, but not too bad, and it actually felt really good to get a bit of a workout. Jon & Heather stayed through Sunday, when they had to head back to their workweek in Boston, and we promised to meet up again in the Caribbean next winter.
Passage to Moore's Harbor, Isle Au Haut (August 25, 34 nm, 5½ hours). Jon & Heather's departure marked our turnaround point; it was time to start heading south, and the next morning, we departed Northeast Harbor. It was a little foggy when we left the harbor, then it got more foggy, and then we were in pea soup. Rich was on the bow watching for lobster pots, and Jan was at the helm following his steering directions, but also keeping an eye on the radar for any boats that might be in our path. She saw a big radar hit coming toward us, and then heard the fog signal of a ferry boat. We were in its path, so we adjusted our course to stay clear. The next time the ferry blew its fog signal, it sounded really close, and Jan about jumped out of her skin, but the radar confirmed that we were safe. This was probably our most tedious passage during our entire time in Maine. We were trying to put some miles behind us, but the fog and lobster floats were thick, and Rich ended up spending the entire passage on the bow of the boat (34 nm, 5½ hours). When we had to go to the bathroom, we put the boat in neutral and drifted while we hit the head, and then got back to navigating. When we pulled into Moore's Harbor, Rich asked Jan if she was sure this was where we wanted to anchor because it looked like the anchorage was wide open to the west. Jan was following the chartplotter and radar, and assured him we were where we wanted to be. Shortly after we anchored, the fog lifted, and Rich could see that we were almost completely surrounded by land, and a couple of other boats, previously hidden in the fog, had also sought shelter here.
Passage to Rockland (August 26, 23 nm, 4½ hours). We continued on to Rockland the next day, and fortunately the weather improved. It was clear and sunny, and we actually had some wind and were able to sail for an hour. We'd had very light winds the entire time we were in Maine - great for sailing Maine's small wooden boats, but not enough to move Slip Away, so we always ended up motoring between anchorages. This was a treat! Also, the lobster pots weren't quite so thick on this passage, so Rich got to spend some time in the cockpit, and Jan was happy to let the autopilot do some steering.
Rockland (August 26-28). We'd heard Rockland was an interesting town, but mostly we heard about the cheap fuel that was available here. After motoring around Maine for the summer, our diesel tank was getting low. Docking Slip Away for fuel can sometimes be nerve-wracking if there's not much room for maneuvering or if there's any wind or current. But in Rockland, we did not have those concerns. They have a tugboat that brings the fuel to you - and, it's cheaper than anywhere else in Maine. Before leaving Northeast Harbor, we called the company, Maine Coast Petroleum, and set up delivery. The morning after our arrival, they tied up to Slip Away and pumped over 100 gallons into our tanks. The guys on the fuel barge were very friendly, and it was the easiest re-fueling stop we'd ever experienced.
We spent a day exploring Rockland, taking their local trolley tour, visiting their beautiful library, and Rich tried their locally famous Wasses hot dogs. We picked up a few provisions, and when we asked the harbormaster if there was a good seafood market around, he directed us to Jess' Market. Jess' sold whole lobsters, already steamed, for $8 each - this was definitely the best deal we'd seen on lobster. We especially liked that we didn't have to cook them ourselves, and we feasted on lobster two nights in a row.
Passage to Portsmouth, New Hampshire (September 1, 62 miles, 11½ hours). The next morning we weighed anchor for the final time in Maine and sailed south to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Shortly after leaving Great Chebeague, we hoisted our sails and had a beautiful passage with 10-15 knots of wind on our starboard quarter and flat seas. It was sunny and warm and could have been an idyllic passage, but Mother Nature had another trick up her sleeve. The biting flies showed up again - they swarmed us - it seemed like millions of them. We'd never before seen so many flies. Rich spent the entire day with a flyswatter in his hands, and Jan reluctantly changed from her shorts and bare feet into long pants and socks (and the flies still bit us through our clothes!). We later learned that these flies breed in running water and strong breezes tend to disperse them. The beautiful sailing breezes brought these awful creatures to our boat. It took a couple of days for all of the flies to die off, and for us to rid the boat of fly carcasses and fly poop. This experience added new meaning to the saying "picking the fly shit out of the pepper."
All in all, our time in Maine had its highlights and some low points. We've met some people who think Maine is heaven on earth and cruise there every summer. We're not one of those people. We enjoyed Maine, but it's not one of our favorite cruising grounds. We would go back to Maine, but next time, we would stay in a warm, dry place on land (either a cottage or a camper van), not on a boat. We obviously had bad luck in terms of the weather - all the locals said this was the rainiest summer they'd seen in many, many years. We experienced more rain in Maine than we did in Central America in the rainy season. With the dampness and cold, we had condensation on the inside of the boat and mildew - again, worse than any we ever had in the tropics. We like warm weather and spending time in the water. Although some of the locals swam, the water was way too cold for us! There were some things we loved about Maine - friendly locals, charming coastal towns, lovely gardens and beautiful wooden sailing boats. We also enjoyed a steady diet of seafood in Maine - crab, mussels, scallops and lots of fresh fish - all were delicious. We had lobster on a few occasions, but not all that often because even though lobster is cheaper in Maine than in other parts of the country, it was still more expensive than other seafood. We like lobster, but we are just as happy to eat fish or other seafood, so we couldn't justify paying twice as much or more for lobster on a regular basis. Maine has some excellent anchorages, but avoiding all the lobster pots on passages became extremely tedious, and for us, it was one of the biggest negatives about cruising in this area.
When we started cruising, we made a rule that we will only go where butter melts. We broke that rule this summer, and it's unlikely that we will break it again in the near future.