Ships log- highlights of Maine

Trip Start May 05, 2010
Trip End Oct 01, 2010

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Portland Yacht Services

Flag of United States  , Maine
Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Maine, the final frontier for the east coast cruiser. Those who want to stay stateside and want to cruise in the most challenging and rewarding US waters see Maine that way. Its not for everybody. Maine has a reputation for unpredictable fog, strong currents, 12 foot tides, unmarked rocks, spotty communication and millions of lobster traps (see below). But it also promises some of the most startling coastal scenery this side of Alaska. We wanted this to be the center piece of our trip and it was.

As you can see, it has been weeks since I have posted. The reason is simple, no to limited internet. Once we left Portland, internet was either zero or bad. We use a Verizon air card. When we left Portland speeds dipped to 56kb which is simply not enough to power even Gmail.
On many occasions, we had none. Then we got into a squabble with Verizon who made a change into our account which left us locked out for nearly a week until we traveled to a physical location that had a digital Verizon signal. With that fixed, we are now getting some signal and should be back near Portland today and with it, digital speeds.

Our trip to Maine has now run 5+ weeks. The weather was fantastic. We had no more than two bouts of fog which is nearly unheard of in Maine. High temps were running from upper 70s to low 80s and nights in the 50s. Many times, we were cold enough for a blanket or even heat in the morning. Skies will blue and the air clean. Once you get on land and walk away from the water, it warms. But with water temps about 55 F, it can be very cool on the water. When a fog rolls in, I would call it icy.

We took First Forty as high as Frenchman’s Bay off Mount Desert Island. Beyond that lies what is called “Down East”. It takes desolate to the next level and we decided to see it by car. So we rented a car in Bar Harbor and drove up to the Canadian border to see the Roosevelt cottage at Campobelo island. Now with a month left in our planned summer cruise, we head back toward Portland.

What is cruising Maine like? As I said, challenging. A boater is confronted with all the issues and all skills will be tested at one time or another. Not the smallest issue are lobster traps or at least the floats that mark them. When we cruise the Chesapeake we see crab traps and many of them. But in Maine the number of traps is often like stars in the sky. Running in a field of traps is intense and takes constant concentration.

For those who have not been here, each lobster fisherman is allowed to set 800 lobster traps. Each trap is about a 2’x2’ basket/cage on a rope. The trap sits baited on the bottom ready to welcome the unsuspecting lobster (apparently very low IQ). To find the trap, each one has a float which sits above to mark the location of the trap. These things are 12-18” and are usually colored according to what the fisherman wants and the color/stripe is recorded with the county. Each morning the lobstermen set or check their traps beginning at first light. Its hard work and it’s done in any weather.

Now Imagine running through choppy water with hundreds of these things coming up on you in totally random places. Many are no more than 10 to 20 feet apart. Some are less than 10 feet apart. Snagging one can shut you down or at least mean a call to an expensive diver. They catch on prop, rudder and fin. The are only found over rock bottoms as lobsters don’t like mud. So where you could normally set the auto piliot and enjoy the ride, now you must watch near as well as far to mentally see a path through and all this while doing all the other things you do while at the wheel. It can be intense. Traps are not everywhere, but generally I would say 70% of your daily way is made dodging these floats.

The good side of Maine is the water and the scenery. It’s nothing short of stunning. Thousands of miles of rocky shoreline, postcard lighthouses, stunning boats made in Maine as well as small and very authentic towns and villages. It’s a place you can get lost in. It’s very unique and very American. Its great.

Now at the temps. With water at 55 degrees a hot day on the water is 75-80 and nights are in the 50s. What a great place to be in the summer. I used to love living in the desert and could easily handle the 102 we would have on a summer day. Now I think I am spoiled.
Here some of the highlights in our 5 week trip to Maine. We spent two weeks at Mt. Desert/Acadia and the other weeks at small towns and harbors. We rely on a 400 page cruising guide which details all the towns and anchorages. Counting 2007, we have now spent about 8 weeks in Maine and feel we have just gotten to know the cruising grounds.
So here are some highlights:

• Snow Island- one of our first stops was a small island area up one of the fjords. We anchored in near perfect tranquility. We spent three nights enjoying the quiet although one camping group set off fireworks in the fog one night. Quite a site. We even got a chance to go ashore for a hike on one of the small islands.

• Castine- This is a small town up Penobscot Bay. It dates back to pre-revolutionary war days and has an interesting history. It has been under 4 different flags and in walking around the area you will encounter the remains of 4 earthen forts. Its also home to the merchant marine academy of Maine. We got to tour the large freighter that students take to sea as they learn maritime skills. We were lucky to get the use of a mooring from a new friend of mine Jeff Siegel who is the founder of a very good boating website called Active Captain ( AC is a place to view and post information about cruising locations around the country. I post a good pit of info from our experiences cruising First Forty.

• Five Islands- A very interesting spot up one of the rivers. As you might expect there are 5 island in very close proximity. When you come in here, it takes a good bit of confidence to skirt by large rocks which are only a boat length away. It was quite an experience to take a mooring here (no room to anchor). Once we picked up the ball, it was a quick dink ride to the wharf where you can get a (what else) Lobster Roll. We had a nice time walking around and seeing the small area. One of the islands was privately owned and we were not welcome to land. As we found out, it was owned by a group of family homeowners who had owned there for generations. No home had sold for decades. It was even more interesting to know that the share communal meals which is (apparently) and old Maine tradition among “blue blood” Mainers. The crusing guide said we could pick up a free mooring courtesy of the yacht club. …
“any blue mooring” as we were told. We did find a blue mooring and made mention of it in town. No issue. The next day, an unknown fellow comes up in a small boat demanding we pay him $35 cash as it was ‘his’ mooring. I know a hold up when I see it. We left immediately. I was quite sure it was not his mooring.

• Mt Desert- Southwest harbor – A good friend our ours Milt Baker (Nordhavn 47 Bluewater) has a mooring at otherwise crowded South West harbor on mt Desert. Milt was kind enough to let us use it for 5 great nights. We got in and had specific instructions on how to find it. We looked in the area, checked GPS coordinates……after quite a while we anchored and road around in the dink. Finally we found that someone else had simply picked it up without permission. Without hesitation, the squatter simply left and we easily tied up to the pennant. Overall it was a good few days. We enjoyed going around on the free busses provided on Mt Desert by LL Bean. We also enjoyed meeting a couple who ran a studio where they sold wooden boat models and other items.

• Mt Desert- Bar Harbor- Bar Harbor is the main city on Mt Desert and while very touristy has a lot to offer. We took the boat over there one foggy afternoon from SW Harbor and hoped we could anchor. We found that the fog had parted and could actually see the BH mooring field and town with the many mega yachts berthed nearby. Our guide said we could still find room to anchor and this true. The problem was that anything at a reasonable depth was on solid rock. I have anchored hundreds of times and our tackle is very robust. But this was much like setting the hook in the parking lot of your favorite mall. We would drop, put out 150’ of chain, pull back slowly……nothing by drag. I did it twice and gave up. We called the Harbor Master and took a mooring. But this was no winner. It was so rolly that night we could hardly sleep. The next day we took the boat around and behind one of the nearby islands. Here, we were able to get a satisfactory set. Overall this was a very good choice. The scenery is spectacular. We could see Bar Harbor and well up into the beautiful Frenchman’s Bay.

• Winter Harbor Lobster Boat Races- One day we took First Forty just 6 miles north to the small village of Winter Harbor. We got a good look at the many lobster boats racing (like a drag race) the two mile run to see who had bragging rights. What a kick!

• Somes Sound- Somes is one of the few genuine fjords in the lower 48. Its about an hour’s run which takes you inside Mt Desert Island. Anchoring here is to experience nature at its best. For a short dingy ride, you can go to a small town that has a small summer theater company.

• Acadia Park- who could put this last? Acadia park has stunning scenery and offers 150 miles of hiking trails and carriage trails. The carriage trails are particularly interesting as they were originated by wealthy visitors (I believe Rockifellers). The rock bridges are very interesting.

So as I write this, we are back in Portland at Portland Yacht Services safely tied up to a wharf in the same place we were 5 weeks ago. Oh, all that good weather…..not now. We are in a gale and getting the living snot beat out of ourselves on this dock. We are beam to the 25 kts wind and have already had some minor damage. We are hoping to see better weather soon so we can begin our migration back to Cape Cod and points south. Yes, not every day on the boat is a good one. But overall the 5 weeks in Maine was fantastic.

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