MAINE COAST CRUISE: Brimstone Island

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Brimstone Island

ALTHOUGH THIS IS ONE OF MY FAVORITE SPOTS on the coast, I haven’t been here in almost 10 years. All that time I have been dreaming of coming back. On the chart it doesn’t look like anything special–just another tiny uninhabited islet in the small archipelago that stretches around the southern end of Vinalhaven Island on the outer edge of Penobscot Bay. The instant you get ashore, however, you realize you’ve arrived someplace very special.

Brimstone Is. chart

What is apparent from the chart is that there is a small anchorage here, between Brimstone Island itself and its lesser satellite, Little Brimstone, directly to the south. It is reasonably secure, and I’ve often spent the night out here in settled weather. I don’t remember ever having any trouble getting an anchor to dig in, but this time, on coming out with Clare aboard Lunacy on our way back to Portland from Rockland, we dragged like crazy and scooped up a big serving of kelp the first time we launched the hook.

Kelp on anchor

So be warned. Next time, however, we had better luck. After getting a bite, we backed down hard on the anchor to make sure it had a firm hold on the bottom, then we watched the sunset and settled in for some dinner.

Sunset on Lunacy

What is not apparent on the chart is that Brimstone has not one, but two double-crescent stone beaches (one on its southeast corner; the other on its northwest corner), both of which are exposed to the full force of the northeast storms that blow up the coast in winter. As a result, every single stone on both beaches is polished glossy smooth, as though they had all just emerged from a jeweler’s tumbler.

I went ashore first thing in the morning while Clare was still sleeping and spent an hour poking around the southeast beach, never wandering more than 15 yards from the dinghy.

Dinghy on Brimstone Is.

Brimstone Island

Brimstone Island

Later we went ashore together and hiked across the island to the northwest beach.

Brimstone Island

Brimstone Island

The biggest challenge when visiting Brimstone is picking stones to take home with you. If you came with a backhoe and scooped up vast quantities of them, you could be sure they would all seem beautiful to you. The hard part is deciding which ones seem more beautiful and more perfect than all the others.

This, of course, is an entirely subjective process. When I first started coming out here, I always chose solid black stones, looking for the ones that were darkest, with the most perfect shapes. But now I am drawn to stones with colors and patterns. These are harder to choose, as they look very different when wet and dry. Often a stone that looks quite fabulous when wet, glistening in the wavelets that lap the strand, looks much less so when dry, so it is necessary to set them out in the sun for a while before making final selections.

Brimstone Island

Brimstone Island

What I like most is thinking about what it is that makes the stones beautiful–the awful turbulence, the violence of wind and wave, to which they must be subjected to achieve their unique ideal states.

Stones from Brimstone Is.

Our final selections, in the bag, back on the boat

And I often wonder: is chaos always beautiful???

SAIL TRIM NOTE: We left Brimstone shortly after noon and sailed west to Port Clyde into a light southwest wind. In doing so I confirmed something I’ve been learning about trimming the new screecher. The best closehauled light-wind performance is achieved by trimming the main on the boat’s centerline, with the traveler to weather, in the usual way, and then cracking the screecher open a bit, so that the slot between the sails is quite a bit wider than you might expect it to be.

Lunacy under sail

We made very good progress this way, maintaining speeds of 3-5 knots in 5-9 knots apparent wind at an apparent angle of less than 35 degrees.

Conditions were quite variable: first overcast, then foggy, then delicious sunshine biting through the haze as we approached the Port Clyde peninsula.

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6 Responses
  1. The Mow

    What a marvelous trip! In my next life, I will be a sailor and collect beautiful stones…………..Love . . . . . . . . . .

  2. Patti T.

    Is there any information about this Island? I’ve looked throughout the internet and several books with no luck. Just curious about the geology, the stones and any history (if any exists) about the island. Thank you!

  3. Charlie

    Hi Patti: I don’t think the island has ever been inhabited so there’s probably been almost nothing written about it. Probably the best reference would be Islands of the Mid-Maine Coast, Vol. 1 Penobscot and Blue Hill Bays, by Charles B. McLane.

  4. Jaime

    I used to go with my grandmother to the island every summer to get black rocks. From what I understand it is protected and you are no longer allowed to take the rocks.

  5. Candice

    I have geard some great stories of this island. I cannot wait until the weather breaks and my daughter and I can venture there

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