Job one before embarking on this summer’s cruise was to clean up Lunacy’s bottom a bit. I waited until too late to ask if my home yard, Maine Yacht Center, could arrange to have a diver do it, so ended up having to do it myself. First I dove on the boat, on day one of the cruise at Cliff Island, and scrubbed a good bit of the starboard side, paying particular attention to the log and depth sensors, which were extremely foul. This, as I’d hoped, resolved both my autopilot problem (my modern NKE pilot needs more-or-less accurate boatspeed data to function properly) and my inconsistent depthsounder problem. Two birds with one stone, as the saying goes.
Day two of the cruise was spent at Popham Beach, at the mouth of the Kennebec River, where I grounded the boat on the sandbar between Long Island and Georgetown Island (see photo up top). The spot is well known to me, as I used to spend summers on Long Island when I was a boy. I wanted to ground out on hard sand, and I knew the sand is very hard here, but I’d forgotten there are also some significant elevation changes, which accounts the nice heel angle you see there. Fortunately, this worked to my advantage, as it gave me good access to the port side, which I’d ignored when diving on the hull the day before, and also the running gear behind the shallow skeg keel, where I found the prop zinc had disappeared and needed replacing.
“Ground” zero, so to speak, was that triangular bar you see between Gilbert Head and Bay Point
My activities attracted some attention. Three people in different boats came by before the tide went out to warn me about what would happen after it did go out. Later others who saw me from a distance asked if that was in fact me with my boat high and dry on the bar that afternoon, and I proudly confessed it was.
After I finished the job, soon after Lunacy was floating again, I heard thunder rumbling in the distance and could see dark clouds gathering over the frieze of jagged pines on Long Island. I didn’t like the idea of getting caught barely afloat in a thunder squall, so I rushed to get the anchor up and the boat moving again. Moments later, I also rushed forward, in bare feet, to pick up the mooring I’d claimed at Popham at the mouth of Atkins Bay, and jammed my left foot hard against some deck hardware while sprinting up the sidedeck.
Gull with broken wing seen on the bar while waiting for the tide to come back in
Foot with broken toe (the bent one in the middle) suffered after floating again. This is a lesson I’ve learned before: wear shoes when working on deck!
The broken toe was one of two excuses I developed for not doing all I’d hoped to during this cruise. I had in all three weeks to play with (hence the sorry lack of posts this past month on the blog here) and originally had grand ambitions of getting all the way to Grand Manaan Island, at the very end of the Maine coast, and back again. What will be the point, I wondered morosely, if I can’t walk very far when I step ashore in wonderful new places I visit?
My other excuse was the wind, or rather the lack of it. It used to be you could count on a reliable southwest sea breeze setting in most every summer afternoon on the Maine coast, blowing at least 15 knots from around noon to sunset. But these days it isn’t reliable at all. Some days, even when it’s sunny and you know the land must be quite warm, the once regular circle of convection never starts flowing and the wind stays slack all afternoon. Other days it does get going, and you see a few clouds rising off the land, but not many, and the resulting wind is weak and doesn’t last very long. I can’t tell you why this is, but I’d guess it has something to do with rising water temperatures in the Gulf of Maine.
Thus far in my cruise the old reliable sea breeze was indeed MIA. The idea of motoring a lot–wearing down the engine and burning lots of fuel–just to achieve an arbitrary goal seemed distasteful to me. Also, to be honest, I find motoring very boring, particularly when one is singlehanded, as I was, and surrounded by lobster pots, as is always the case in August on the Maine coast, so that you have to constantly watch ahead to avoid running them down.
We’ll play this by ear, I told myself. Sail as far as we can when we can, motor only short distances, and see where we end up.
The first place I ended up, motoring through a breathless morning, was the east side of Georgetown, at Robinhood Marine (or Derecktor Robinhood, as it is now called), where I visited briefly with Neil Collins, who is now the general manager there. I also had dinner with even older friends, Jon and Rosie Hentz, who live close by. Jon grew up with my mom on Long Island and is now shellfish warden for Georgetown, which, from the tales I heard that night, is a more harrowing job than you’d imagine.
Robinhood, as you can see, is well protected. Great place for a boatyard! This is not too far from the mouth of the Sheepscot River, on the western shore
A summer home on the southeast coast of Georgetown Island. Used to be you only saw “cottages” this preposterous in a few places on the coast. Now they are everywhere. I won’t be too surprised if many are empty and abandoned 30 or 40 years from now
One sailor’s answer to the problem of pot warps, as seen at Robinhood. This will create a ton of drag, obviously, but will definitely keep lines off the propeller. I have to wonder, though, if pot buoys can hang up in that sharp notch between the back of the prop cage and the rudder skeg
The following two days I did have breeze and made use of it, sailing first most of the way around to Tenant’s Harbor, then from there all the way up Muscle Ridge Channel and the west side of Penobscot Bay to Belfast. I hadn’t visited Belfast in almost 15 years, and hadn’t actually sailed into the harbor there in 30 years. What a treat! The town has a super-accessible, very walkable waterfront, complete with a fine new pedestrian bridge across the Passagassawakeag River, and a good selection of trendy stores and restaurants in the business district overlooking the harbor. I couldn’t walk very far, unfortunately, but limped through a short tour of the place as best I could.
I sailed from the mouth of the Sheepscot in a building southwesterly outside Damariscove Island, then inside Monhegan Island, and almost got as far as Mosquito Island running downwind…
…when this serious-looking roll cloud swept in from the west. As one might expect, it brought a change in conditions, with wind shifting to the northwest and dying to a mere whisper
I motored into Tenant’s Harbor and the sun soon emerged again
The following day the northwest freshened up and carried me easily up Muscle Ridge Channel
I’d planned to stop in Rockland, but the breeze was so fine I just kept on going
Reaching up the bay until I ran out of bay
Playing the gusts tumbling through the Camden Hills in company with this fine retro trimaran
Lots of room here for all kinds of boats
Front Street Shipyard, with its mega-size travelift, is now the jewel of the Belfast waterfront, with or without fancy powerboats aground in the middle of it
From Belfast I retreated to Rockland, under power again, as the breeze had sadly evaporated. This was home turf to me once upon a time, and it always feels good to arrive here, though the scene has changed a bit, as the town’s working-class edge has given way to a phalanx of art galleries and related finery. I spent some time stalking the Maine Boats Homes & Harbors show with my old partner-in-crime Ben Ellison, both us limping like cripples. I also arranged to bring Lunacy to a dock for a while (long story that) so I could show her off to Loric Weymouth, of Weymouth Yacht Rigging, and his 101-year-old dad Ralph, a retired USN admiral who still, in spite of his advanced years, has an abiding interest in sailing.
Seen at the Landings Marina in Rockland: an old Ratliffe self-steering gear. I had one of these on Sophie, my Golden Hind 31, and this was the first time I’ve ever seen another one. My unit did not have the auxiliary rudder you see here, as Sophie had a transom-mounted rudder, with the Ratliffe trim-tab mounted directly on the back of it. Here you see the vane itself folded-down and stowed. When in use the vane, obviously, is upright. I found the gear very easy to use, but it did not steer as accurately as a more modern servo-pendulum gear
That’s Ralph on the left. He is remarkably agile for his age and boarded and roamed the boat without assistance. Kept up his end of the conversation during dinner too, regaling me with the tale of his encounter with Miles and Beryl Smeeton and their famous ketch Tzu Hang, back when he was stationed in Hawaii during the 1950s. That’s Loric on the right. I’ve known him since college. He wisely gave up a frivolous career in pop music to work as a yacht rigger
After a day and a half in Rockland I elected to move on, motoring once again in no wind, this time in heavy fog, a short distance across the mouth of West Penobscot Bay to Carver’s Harbor on Vinalhaven Island. En route I accidentally ran down a lobster pot, not long before arriving at Carver’s. I had thought the prop on Lunacy was well protected. It sits directly behind a shallow skeg keel (from which descends the centerboard) and also has a line-cutter on it. In this case I heard the whump of impact, then a slight ticking noise under the hull, but the prop kept turning, the boat kept moving forward, and very soon a pot buoy with a severed bit of line attached popped up behind Lunacy’s transom.
I assumed the line-cutter had done its job and all was well. Approaching the empty guest mooring I found at Carver’s, however, I popped the engine briefly into reverse to stop at the mooring buoy and heard a horrible thunk sound. I shifted back to forward gear, thinking to clear whatever leftover bit of line might be hanging on the shaft, and there was another horrible sound, and the engine shut down.
I hadn’t been here in 10 years or so, and as seen from the water it has changed very little
It is very much a working harbor, dominated by lobster boats, and yachts aren’t very welcome. I wasn’t surprised, for example, to find someone had dumped crap in my dinghy after I left it for a while on the town dock. I was surprised, however, to find that the town itself is more upscale than it used to be, with wealthy summer people swanning about, sipping lattes at the trendy coffee shop. Most importantly, the local grocery store, the unassuming looking Carver’s Harbor Market, literally footsteps from the town dock, is now a cornucopia of interesting food. I’d now rank this the best place to provision on the coast, due to its extremely convenient location and its excellent inventory
Forget about anchoring at Carver’s, it’s way too tight, and picking up a private mooring would probably be suicidal. There are a few scrappy-looking guest moorings laid out, with cans taped to the buoy sticks for you to leave payment in. This year I saw only three of these in the harbor. One was marked as being for boats up to 30 feet long. Another was marked as having a rental rate of $5 an hour. The one I picked up had no size limit, with a rate of $25 a night
After limping around town briefly (and marveling at the grocery store), I returned to the boat and prepared for my second dive of the cruise. I learned long ago you should always carry a wetsuit when sailing the Maine coast. Once underwater I found the prop shaft all bound up with pot warp line. After cutting it away, I found either the prop had backed off the shaft a little, or the shaft had backed out of the transmission coupling a wee bit, as there now was a bit more shaft exposed under the hull. My solution to the problem: no more powering in reverse (lest the prop spin off the shaft, or the shaft out of the coupling)
The following day was again very foggy, with no wind. After waiting in vain for a change of conditions, I finally set off around noon and motored around the east coast of Vinalhaven to Seal Bay, a stupendous well-protected ampitheater of a harbor I used to visit quite often when I lived in the area.
True to its name, Seal Bay is often filled with seals
Entrance to Seal Bay. It is also very scenic, when you can see the scenery
I had to anchor inside, being carefully not to back down on my anchor, and ended up next to a couple on a Pearson 10M I met the summer before, while anchored at the Goslings in Casco Bay. They had me for dinner and we had a fine visit, a wonderful antidote to the loneliness of singlehanding.
I waited again the next morning and eventually things did clear up. Still no wind, so I picked another close-by destination to motor to, the little town of North Haven, on the Fox Islands Thorofare between the islands of North Haven and Vinalhaven.
A superb stretch of water you can usually sail through when the prevailing southwest breeze is blowing
Sighted in the Thorofare: an Outward Bound pulling boat, with crew pulling
A Chris White Atlantic catamaran, with Mastfoil rig, sighted also the previous fall on the ICW
A well-maintained windjammer schooner. By now I’d picked up a mooring, and the sea breeze was rising a bit, and I wondered if I should get sailing myself
From here I decided, not at all arbitrarily, that I should visit Brooklin, Maine, on Eggemoggin Reach, to hobnob with my publisher about the e-book release of The Sea Is Not Full (of which more later). I had another foggy departure and motored in murk across Isle au Haut Bay and through the Deer Island Thorofare, at the end of which the fog burned away and a northwesterly breeze appeared.
I happily unleashed canvas and sailed most of the rest of the way to Brooklin.
The latter part of the route. Stonington (lower left) is another working harbor, larger than Carver’s, and slightly more yacht friendly. Brooklin, at the end of Eggemoggin Reach, home of Wooden Boat magazine and its ancillary operations (across from Babson Island there, upper right), is Nirvana for yachts, especially traditional ones built of wood
A typical late afternoon moored off Brooklin. Students from the Wooden Boat sailing school jump into small craft and pounce on every breeze that springs up
I was anxious to hike again on Babson Island, last visited almost 20 years earlier. Back then all the interior of the island was a huge field of super-tall ferns, with tunneling paths arching through them. There are still many ferns here, but they are smaller and the pine trees have encroached a good deal, and it is not the magical place it once was
I had a fine visit with Spencer Smith, my publisher, who invited me to dinner, a big lobster feed with his sister and nephews. By now I’d also heard from my wife, who I agreed to meet back in Rockland the following day. I retraced my steps through both the Deer Island and Fox Island Thorofares, again starting in fog, motoring, but eventually graduating to sailing under clear skies.
Spotted in the Fox Island Thorofare (the second time), and previously spotted in Beaufort, North Carlina, last fall: Steve Dashew’s imposing looking motor-cruiser Cochise
Spotted in Rockland Harbor (the second time): General George Patton’s famous schooner When And If
What to do in Rockland Harbor when the wind dies before you get back to your mooring: ask the teenager lounging on the back to start kicking
Misty morning in Camden
We dawdled quite a bit, lingering first in Rockland then in Camden (where we had Ben Ellison for dinner), so my wife could make work-related conference calls. Finally, when she was free of this we enjoyed three great days of sailing in succession, easily the best part of the cruise.
First from Rockland back down Muscle Ridge Channel to Tenant’s Harbor. Then from Tenant’s back to the mouth of the Sheepscot, where we first tried to moor at Cape Harbor, a tiny place I’d never been before at Cape Newagen, at the end of Southport Island.
But it was too small. We called the Newagen Inn, which maintains two rental moorings, and they agreed we could stay on their mooring if we were satisfied we’d be safe there. But then an old guy with binoculars came down to the dock, all of 60 yards away from us, and studied us for a while. He then marched up to the inn, and soon we received a call informing us we had to leave
So we skedaddled over to Five Islands, just across the river mouth on Georgetown Island. That’s the wife there in the cockpit, not thinking about work for a change
We sailed out of Five Islands on the last full day of the cruise and carried a fine west-northwest breeze quite a long ways offshore. We tacked on the shift when the southwest sea breeze tried to appear and slowly closed the shore again just outside Portland. We did have to motor the last bit, as the sea breeze (once again) ran out of gas, but we did make it into the western arm of Casco Bay in time to have dinner at the Chebeague Island Inn, a great place to end any cruise.