We spent almost a month in Maine, covering more than half the coast from Bar Harbor to Portland. Our itinerary skewed to small picturesque harbors, but also included towns and excursions ashore. You can see our itinerary at the end of this post.
As we’re nearing the end of our time here, I can’t help but contemplate what Maine was like and what impressions it’s leaving with us. Here are a few, both thoughtful and trivial.
Ruggedly gorgeous. I spent many mornings drinking my coffee in the cockpit at sunrise watching the Maine coast unveil itself. It’s an experience that never gets old. Rocky outcroppings, dense woods, vast mountains and deep water. Much of the coastline and many of the offshore islands are uninhabited. Much of the land is unspoiled and solidly braced against the wind and water.
Because so much of the coast is uninhabited, or lightly habited, it’s also very quiet. It’s easy to find and enjoy the silence and beauty and to hear and see nature. Whales, seals, dolphins and sea birds abound. Sometimes they silently pass by, or sometimes they announce their arrival with a slap or a screech. Either way, Maine allowed us to enjoy them in a quiet, unhurried way.
Lobsters, lobsters everywhere. Maine lobstermen, similar to Chesapeake Bay watermen, are a hardy bunch. They are out on the water very early every morning no matter the weather. On the Chesapeake, we have sometimes experienced open hostility from watermen including being awakened by a waterman doing donuts around our boat at dawn in an empty anchorage and an afternoon when we were warned that we would be shot if we got any closer! In Maine, while lobstermen mostly keep to the task at hand, they can also be friendly, sometimes looking up and giving us a nod or a small wave. I admire their hard work, tenacity and connection with the ocean.
Talking about lobsters, Maine’s lobsters are amazing, particularly the Lobster Rolls! I can happily eat a lot of lobster and like eating local, but we found Maine to be a little over the top lobster obsessed. Lobsters are all over every menu, brochure, sign, everything. It’s a little too much. Maine has much to celebrate beyond lobsters.
We’ve loved living on Boundless in Maine with lots of places to see and beautiful, protected harbors. But we haven’t always loved sailing in Maine. There are just too many lobster pots in many places. Dodging them is not relaxing or fun. Lobsters are a major industry and I understand that the demand needs to be fed. But Maine could take a lesson from the Chesapeake and add a few “pot free channels”, particularly near shoals and navigation markers where boat traffic gets tight.
Mooring balls, big tides, swift currents, and rowing dinghies. Maine has given me an unlikely appreciation for all four. When we were reading the Maine cruising guides, we were disappointed by the lack of anchorages. Many places were full of mooring balls with no room to anchor. All things being equal, we like to drop our anchor vs. grabbing a ball. Anchoring is free and easy; there is no need to check in, get a mooring ball assignment, search for the right ball, then play the mooring ball mambo trying to snag the mooring line with a 6-foot pole while dangling over the bow of the boat.
We also found it odd that the guides all mentioned “rowing ashore”. Rowing? Don’t people have motors on their dinghies? We figured it was some kind of quaint, throwback, cultural thing. We’ve learned that yes, to some extent, rowing can be indicative of a cultural pride in the heartiness of Maine and its people. But there’s also a practical reason for both rowing and mooring balls – big tides and swift currents.
Most of the places we visited in Maine had ~10 foot tide. This makes anchoring tricky. To securely anchor at high tide requires a lot of scope. Scope is the length of the chain/line connecting anchor to boat. For the anchor to hold securely, scope typically is at least 5 times the distance from your bow to the sea floor. For example, to anchor in 25ft of water + 5ft from the water to Boundless’ bow = 30ft * 5 or 150ft of scope. That scope allows Boundless to hold securely when we move in a circle around the anchor as the wind and currents change. At low tide with 10 less feet of water, that same spot would dictate 50ft less scope (100ft). But we still use the longer 150ft to allow for high tide, so Boundless swings in a wider circle (and you thought middle school math was useless!).
All the other boats in the anchorage also swing in a wider circle at low tide. Add underwater rocks and swift currents that push boats around in odd ways and it’s a recipe for collisions. Particularly in the middle of the night when no one is keeping track. Mooring balls need much less scope since they are secured to the sea floor and don’t use an anchor. In Maine, mooring balls are the only way to safely accommodate the number of boats in some harbors. That said, we still managed to anchor quite a bit in more open harbors.
And those rowing dinghies? Much more convenient to not have an engine hanging down when the tide goes down 10 feet and your dinghy is aground while tied to a dinghy dock or pulled ashore. And we learned the hard way that dinghy engines have a knack for finding rocks that are barely covered by water at low tide!
Fog. I had read about Maine fog, so I knew it was coming. I thought I understood fog having experienced brief periods of fog on some early mornings in Virginia before it burned off as the day warmed up. I had no idea.
Maine welcomed us with epic fog as we entered her waters and reminded us of her presence periodically throughout our stay. We learned to see the signs. A faint blur at the horizon that slowly and silently sneaks ever closer before socking us in. Or we might be alerted by the distant sound of a fog horn. And there’s the strange way that sounds carry in the fog, somehow louder and strangely directionally disorienting.
We learned that when the fog comes, it’s time to hunker down, chill out, and not watch the clock. Get to port if you’re not there. Stay in port if you are. And know that the fog will lift when it darn well pleases, and not a moment earlier!
These pictures were taken over a 6 minute time frame.
Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs. When we travel outside of the US we’ve often noticed the lack of warning signs. An indication of our litigious society where Warning, Danger, Keep Off, and other signs abound. Maine takes signs to a whole new level. There are Keep Off, Private, No Trespassing, and Rules signs everywhere. And they sometimes appear more personal than public safety related. A few examples:
In Somesville, the dinghy dock is separated into a Visitors side and a Locals side. A sign explains that Visitors are only allowed to tie their dinghy to the Visitors side of the dock. Plus NO VISITORS is spray painted in big red letters along the top of each side of the dock along with two additional signs on each side. Really? I’ve never seen this at any of the hundreds of ports we’ve visited in the US or internationally. And then at the exit of the dock, there’s a box asking visitors to donate for upkeep of the dinghy dock. Maybe they’d get more donations if the dock was a bit more welcoming?
At Boothbay, the dinghy dock has 4 signs within about a 100ft span. See the pictures below.
The lighthouse at Port Clyde has 3 separate signs at the entrance listing all the rules. Plus, No Trespassing and Private signs abound at the ends of driveways throughout the town.
As a Maine visitor, we get the impression that many residents aren’t thrilled that we are around, but if we have to be there, we better follow the rules!
A Maine-ly Friendly Community. Despite the signs, we met many nice and welcoming people. Not in the “Come on Down Y’all” spirit of the South, but in a more reserved way. We had many head nods, kind smiles, or a quick “morning” as someone rowed by in their rowing dinghy. A few examples of Maine kindness that stick out:
The only 4 seats together at the Reel Pizza Cinerama in Bar Harbor (the coolest movie theater ever https://reelpizza.com/ ) were a front row couch. Erin didn’t like those seats, so she found a seat by herself next to a local couple who chatted with her before the movie and during the intermission (Reel Pizza stops movies mid-way so you can refresh your food and drinks!). When I stopped by, they introduced themselves and asked if we needed anything and sincerely offered to help in any way. They really meant it. Just so nice!
In Boothbay, we saw a refreshing community spirit among some businesses. We went to a Kayak and Bike shop looking to rent bikes. Turns out, it’s really more of a kayak rental with a few bikes. So they suggested we would be better served by a bike shop a few blocks away. The bike shop guy then told us to say Hi to the folks at the local brew pub when we stopped by. When we returned the bikes, another guy suggested a few restaurants that supported the local community. We definitely got the vibe that supporting the community, not just their own businesses, was important in Boothbay.
At Falmouth Foreside, we rode our dinghy into the dock at the Handy Boat boat yard. We expected bad weather and planned to spend the day at a rental house with my family who had come to visit us. Given the weather, the Handy Boat staff brought out fenders and extra lines for us to tie off our dinghy vs. the normal hap-hazard dinghy tie-up. That evening, they called to let us know they had been retying our dinghy throughout the day as the weather rolled in. They also reported 4 foot breaking waves and the last trip for their launch was leaving in a few minutes. They asked if we wanted to leave the dinghy until tomorrow and grab a ride to Boundless via their launch to be safe. We took them up on their offer! The Handy Boat team were possibly the nicest and most helpful boat yard folks we’ve ever encountered.
Maine’s love of classic boats. It’s no coincidence that the WoodenBoat School, Hinckley Yachts, and WoodenBoat magazine all call Maine home. Maine seems to have cornered the market on beautiful, classically designed, often wooden boats. They are everywhere and in every form, from small rowing dinghies and wooden kayaks, to big, historic schooners. The lines are classic and the boats are impeccably maintained and gleaming.
I’ve come to believe that these boats are a great symbol for a Maine. Beautiful and classic, but strong, functional and only a little showy.
Our Maine Itinerary
Southwest Harbor – We made our Maine landfall at this picturesque town on the Southwest side of Mount Desert Island. Home to an active fishing and lobstering fleet and the classic Hinckley Yachts.
Somes Harbor – We motored up Somes Sound, the only “true fjord” in the US, to reach this quirky, protected harbor. A quick bus trip took us to Acadia National Park and the town of Bar Harbor. There were plenty of seals in the anchorage and a trip to the Acadia Repertory Theatre was a fun diversion.
Babson Island – After a day dodging pots, we moored for two days in this beautiful harbor off the WoodenBoat School. The harbor boasts an impressive array of classic wooden boats and a trip to the School and an impromptu tour by one of the instructors was a highlight of our time in Maine.
Smith Cove and Castine – We rode out fog and a passing storm in protected Smith Cove near Castine along with four schooners. The next day we moved to a mooring off the historic town of Castine to visit the local museum. Doug and I had a fun breakfast date at MarKel’s Bakehouse, overlooking the harbor from the deck.
North Haven Island – Pretty harbor surrounded by woods and a few houses. Unfortunately, the picturesque spot was disturbed by a boat in the anchorage with a very load generator.
White Islands – The most amazing remote anchorage shouldered between four small, uninhabited islands/rocks rising out of the water where Penobscot Bay meets the Atlantic. We did hit a rock with our rudder as we swung around in the narrow anchorage at low tide. We pulled in some scope and were fine the rest of the night, but we didn’t sleep very soundly.
Port Clyde – Small town best known for a lighthouse and Linda Bean’s (LL Bean’s controversial granddaughter) Dip Net restaurant.
Boothbay – Fun and funky resort town with a number of stores, restaurants and small Inns. Home of the must see Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.
South Freeport – We visited the outlet stores including the iconic LL Bean store. Much nicer than the typical outlet mall as the stores are sprinkled throughout the town with normal streets, not the sterile commercialism of a typical outlet mall. We enjoyed a rare marina stay with easy access to laundry and water tank fill up.
Falmouth Foreside – A lovely community north of Portland, Falmouth claims the largest mooring field in Maine. We met my family here for an fun mini-reunion with trips into Portland.