CASCO BAY CRUISE: Little Whaleback Island

Little Whaleback

Earlier this summer, while stopping over at the Goslings in northwestern Casco Bay, I noticed there was a small mooring field just off the north end of Little Whaleboat Island. It had never occurred to me to put in there, and I could find nothing about it in any cruising guide, or in my annual Maine Island Trail Association guide (which can be a great resource, by the way, when looking for obscure islands to visit). So of course I was intrigued. Late this past week, as I headed out on what will probably be my last solo overnight on the bay this year, I thought I might as well check it out.

The forecast was not perfectly propitious for such a venture. The moorings (located in the vicinity of the northwestern-most “23” sounding you see just north of the island in that chart down there) are exposed to the north, and the forecast was for a northeast wind of 10-15 knots to make up during the night.

Whaleback chart

I figured I could cope with that if the moorings seemed strong enough. Worst case, I’d have to bail out and go elsewhere in the middle of the night. So I doodled in under mainsail to scope out the joint. The first two moorings I inspected were light, seemingly intended for small boats, but the third seemed much beefier, so I picked it up and settled in.

Have I mentioned that you can now buy Dark-and-Stormies, with Gosling’s rum and ginger beer, premixed in cans??? It’s a fantastic innovation. The biggest thing since man discovered fire.

Well, I had one of those and then went ashore in the dink.

Sad to report, the island is thoroughly posted with No Trespassing signs, so I limited my exploration to the littoral zone, where I found a perfectly intact horseshoe crab. I used to find these along the shore in Maine fairly frequently when I was kid, but now they seem rare, so I was pretty pumped.

Horseshoe crab

Can anyone tell me: what happened to all the horseshoe crabs? I remember reading somewhere once that they are one of the oldest life-forms on the planet, so I figure they’re pretty tough. They certainly look rugged, don’t they?

I rowed all the way around the island as the sun was setting. An epiphanous mini-voyage. A very beautiful spot.

Sunset 1

Sunset 2

The island seems to be uninhabited. At least I saw no evidence of any structures on it, though I did notice two campsites right near the shore on the north end. There are four private moorings, which seemed to have been fairly active during the height of the season this past summer. I’m not sure I’d recommend anchoring here, as things looked pretty rocky and weedy around the island, from what I saw during my circumnavigation. Although in Maine you never know–you find good mud in the strangest places.

IN OTHER NEWS: We’ve had further adventures with the new headsails.

New staysail

En route to Little Whaleback I tried sailing under full main and staysail alone in 10-12 knots. This would have been pointless with the old staysail, but with this one I made 4 knots upwind. Very encouraging! It will be useful for short-tacking out of constricted areas.

New jib

Coming back I also had a chance to fly the new yankee jib wing-and-wing on a downwind run without a pole. It seemed no more or less stable than its predecessor, but was easier to jibe.

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3 Responses
  1. Janet Gannon

    Hi Charles. Casco Bay does indeed have a good number of horseshoe crabs here. Maine is the furthest north you find them on this side of the Atlantic; the northernmost population is up just past MDI. You probably found a molt of a crab; they are very common this time of year. I think if you looked up in the calmest bays of Casco, you’d find a ton of them. Visit a salt marsh and their molts will be piling up this time of year! I’m not sure there’s much data on their population trends in Maine, but further south, in the MidAtlantic states, they are in serious trouble — something like a 90% decrease in their numbers in the past couple of decades. Such a precipitous drop may be due to harvest by biotech companies (their blood is used in manufacturing drugs). Even though the crabs are returned to the wild after their blood is “donated”, the process may still affect them. The other possibility is habitat degradation — or even climate change. A sad story.

    This was great to read as we get ready to put the boat to bed for the winter, and settle in for a good read by the fire (maybe even Sail magazine, so we can dream of next year’s season while the snow falls).

    J Gannon, Bowdoin College (marine bio instructor)

  2. Charlie

    @Janet: Wow. Thanks for this great comment. So glad you found the post! It seems the horseshoe crabs have lots of factors working against them.

  3. Bud C

    As far as horseshoe crabs having a future in the Chesapeake bay, this is doubtful. The eel fisherman catch and smash them up to use as cheap bat in eel traps. There are suppose to be catch limits but have yet to see DGIF checking the haul and they bait the traps before returning to dock.

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