Sailing Among the Islands in Maine
On a trip along Maine’s coast, you learn that there are islands, and then there are islands.
Well, not exactly alone. You really get a handle on how Maine people earned the nickname “Mainiacs” when you pick your way through a fog on a weekend in a busy channel. Vesey was beside himself with worry, tooting the foghorn and monitoring the radar to avoid potential collisions. Meantime, every boat we saw seemed peopled exclusively by tipsy, carefree revelers who whistled and hooted at us as they reared up and roared by in the cloying mist.
It was a relief to check off the last green daymarker at the hairpin entrance to Burnt Coat and watch the haze lift again. The harbor was awash in pretty boats, reminding me of my old Annapolis friend Andy Hughes’s observation a few years ago when he first visited Maine. “The difference between here and home,” he’d said, “is there’s no junk up here.”
By that he meant no hordes of the top-heavy, fiberglass, 28-foot stinkpots that buzz around the Chesapeake all summer towing towering wakes, their skippers and crews invisible behind air-conditioned, canvas-enclosed flying bridges. New Englanders have better taste, and nowhere is that more evident than in the mooring fields at Burnt Coat and similar outlying Maine ports, where wooden lobster boats bob alongside tasteful cruising sloops and weathered wooden schooners from the windjammer fleet. (By the way, a dozen windjammers still cruise in Maine waters, summer and fall, offering week-long trips to punters for under $1,000 per person, including meals. Nice deal, no?)
We were just settling down to a round of frosty sundowners when the dulcet tones of sea chanteys wafted across the water. Moments later, a tidy yacht called Penrose of Essex was alongside, with two dozen full-throated lads and lasses belting out verses from “Barrett’s Privateers” and demanding we sing along on the chorus, which we did. This traveling choir tours Maine islands and was drumming up trade for that night’s concert at the Odd Fellows Hall. One small problem: The concert was already sold out. “But come by the back entrance and we’ll sneak you in,” the lead singer said with a conspiratorial wink.
Tempting, but instead we re-established our land legs with a long walk up the tree-lined main drag, where each of the drivers in a ragtag assortment of passing cars and trucks offered a wave and a smile, as is the ageless custom in Maine once you leave the mainland astern. Some island kids had lukewarm lemonade waiting at the top of the hill for 25 cents a glass, proceeds to benefit the local lighthouse restoration. We sat on a sun-washed stonewall and sipped their sweet elixir, scanning a harbor that sparkled like spun gold in the waning sunlight. It was ghostly quiet, quiet as a church—a million miles from that freakin’ zoo at Bar Harbor.
I’d assured the lads that fog was fairly unusual in Maine in August. Days are mostly cool and bright, by my recollection, but I was beginning to doubt my own memory. Happily, that morning was the last we saw of serious fog as a light nor’wester blew in and swept the skies clean for the rest of the week. Seizing on the weather shift, we were off early next morning before even taking time to pick a destination. Isle au Haut? Vinalhaven? Metinicus? Monhegan?
All those picturesque harbors slid by unexplored as we motorsailed southwest under all plain sail. Vesey, mindful of his many miles to go, was disinclined to put in before late afternoon, so we skipped past one potential pretty stop after another, tracing our track using the indispensable Cruising Guide to the Maine Coast (5th edition, 2008), a coffee-table sized hardcover written by Hank and Jan Taft and Curtis Rindlaub.
“Boothbay Harbor?” Weed suggested, glancing up from the guidebook. That sounded reasonable, though busy. We struck a course for there, ruing the fact that we’d be entirely bypassing Penobscot Bay, considered by many to be Maine’s finest cruising grounds. At Pemaquid Point we modified the plan, opting to stop just short of Boothbay at Christmas Cove, on Rutherford Island, which sounded quieter and quainter.