The Beauty of CamdenWith its picturesque mountainous backdrop, charming schooners in its harbor, and considerable fine architecture, Camden is considered the pleasureboating mecca on Penobscot Bay. Mariners here boast that Camden is the cruisers’ classic, and the harbor’s amenities match the elegance of the luxury motor yachts moored next to the fleet of weathered windjammers.
Without question, the waterfront is upscale, cozy, and steeped in nautical tradition. A large portion of Maine’s schooner fleet is still stationed in Camden. On some nights, even when packed together like sardines, they can take up a sizable portion of the inner harbor.
This is nothing new of course. It’s a situation that dates back to when steamship seamen originally called these vessels “windjammers” as a derogatory term in the early days of steam power. When the windjammers stopped carrying freight and began, as early as 1936, to take on skylarking passengers, the Camden fleet was born.
Things to See and DoBefore you leave the boat: Bring your camera and your wallet, and wear comfortable walking shoes. Watch your step exploring in town; Camden is bumper-to-bumper for most of the summer season.
Rare is the weekend when nothing’s happening in Camden. For starters, there’s almost always something new going on at the Camden Opera House (207-236-7963) or the Camden Civic Theatre (207-236-2281), both of which are located at 29 Elm Street. From concerts to the performing arts, you should be able to hear and see some excellent entertainment. For details on events, visit the Chamber of Commerce (207-236-4404), which is conveniently located in a small wood-shingled building near the harbormaster’s office.
For many years, the first weekend in September has meant Windjammer Weekend. The inner harbor fills with large, old sailing ships, music, rowing races, and lots of other events to keep things hopping for three days. Ask the chamber for details. For other activities like garden tours, architectural walks, book fairs, and the like, check out the Camden Public Library (207-236-3440) at 55 Main St., where there’s also wireless access. As part of its overall grounds, the library maintains the adjacent Camden Amphitheatre, which was designed by renowned landscape architect Fletcher Steele, and the Camden Harbor Park, a landscape project of the influential and high-profile Olmsted Brothers. The Camden Harbor Park and Amphitheatre are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Inevitably, most visitors find Camden’s thriving downtown to be a shopper’s paradise. One of the more successful proprietors in town, and one of our favorites on the entire Maine Coast, is The Owl & Turtle Book Shop (207-236-4769) at 32 Washington Street. Their collection of nautically oriented books for adults and children is truly surprising. For a local jewelry store that seems to have been around forever, try Etienne (207-236-9696) at 14 Sea Street. If you’re into amazing sculptures and practical items made of all sorts of handsome species of wood, try Once a Tree (207-236-3995) at 31 Main Street. The official name is Merryspring Nature Center.
If you’d rather walk with a purpose other than the use of your credit card, it’s worth the effort to get out of town to Camden Hills State Park (207-236-3109). The spectacular view from atop Mount Battie is one of the glories of Penobscot Bay, and you can often look down on hawks riding the thermals. Merryspring Horticultural Park (207-236-2239) out on Conway Road also merits mention as a splendid place to while away a few hours. Call Schooner Bay Taxi (207-594-5000) if you need transportation.
You might say we’re crazy, but consider coming back in winter for an only-in-Camden event. The Camden Snow Bowl (207-236-3438) hosts the annual U.S. National Toboggan Finals on the second weekend in February, and, shoot—or chute—it’s just good, old-fashioned fun. It started as a lark to cure the winter blues, and now it’s being celebrated in international media and all over the internet. You’re welcome to compete, of course. Participants dare to test the 400-foot-long iced chute, battling for best costume, oldest team, and fastest team, among many categories. You have to expect a party atmosphere at a sporting event where contestants are warned, “Clothing may be ripped or melted. Think twice about what you are wearing.” Now that’s something you won’t see at most yacht club regattas.
Restaurants and ProvisionsIn Camden, you have to make food part of the touring. While you’re roaming around, see if you can talk a local into giving you insider tips of the day, especially if you are willing to venture away from the crowds. Eating off-hours, such as 11 a.m. for lunch, can help you avoid waits, too.
Begin the day off right at Camden Bagel Café (207-236-2661) at the intown Highland Mill Mall where you also can buy sandwiches to box up for later. For lunch, there’s Cappy’s (207-236-2254) at 1 Main St., an institution in the heart of town. Its chunky New England clam chowder has created a loyal following stretching over decades. Sit at the bar if you like meeting fun people; it may get crowded, but that’s the best way to make new friends quickly.
The view and atmosphere—plus the seafood—are the rewards at Waterfront Restaurant (207-236-3747) at 44 Bayview St., where oysters on the half shell complement dozens of entrees and appetizers from the briny deep. Families are drawn to the Village Restaurant (207-236-3232) at 7 Main St. while the happy hoagie crowd will salivate over the expansive menu at Camden Deli (207-2326-8343) at 37 Main Street. Peter Ott’s (207-236-4032) at 16 Bayview St. pleases discerning palates with its upscale menu and grand salad bar. Be sure to save room for dessert.
For the ship’s larder, fill your basket at French & Brawn (207-236-3361), whose midtown location at 1 Elm St. has been a favorite among transient boat owners for years. If you just want a lobster to boil, try Bayview Lobster (207-236-2005) on Sharp’s Wharf. If you want a plain old supermarket, head to Hannaford’s (207-236-8577), which is a mile south of Camden on Route 1. For hardware, check out Wayfarer Marine (207-236-4378) right on the waterfront or Rankin’s Hardware (207-236-3275) at 30 Union Street.
Navigation and AnchoragesThe entrance to Camden Harbor is located approximately 3 miles north of “RO” RW BELL off Rockport Harbor. From the south, set a northerly course from G “13” Fl G 6s GONG, just east of The Graves, for 1.1 miles to R “2” BELL outside Camden Harbor. Enter the harbor between Curtis Island Light (Oc G 4s 52ft 6M) and R N “4,” marking the southern end of Outer Ledges. In clear weather, Camden’s Mount Battie and Mount Megunticook offer obvious landmarks for vessels well out to sea.
From the north as from G C “1” east of Dillingham Ledge, head south past RW “CH” BELL outside Camden’s northern entrance to just west of R N “4” by the southern end of Outer Ledges.
With some local knowledge and an eye on the chart, one option from the north is to use Camden’s Northeast Passage.
This is not for boaters unfamiliar with the area. From BELL RW “CH,” steer toward the Northeast Passage, squeezing inside the narrow channel between Northeast Point (Fl R 4s 20ft 5M “2”) and the Inner Ledges (G “3”). Favor Northeast Point slightly on transit. Make sure you are not passing between G C “1” and R N “4” or you will have an unfavorable encounter with the ledges.
Anchorage in Camden Harbor is best on its westernmost side, between Eaton Point and Curtis Island. The holding ground is soft mud and you’ll be reasonably well protected. Be aware that a swell often works into the outer harbor and wakes from frequent boat traffic is common during all daylight hours.
Sherman Cove is also used for anchoring, but don’t head too far north. If you choose to anchor between Curtis Island and Ogier Point, to the south, the harbormaster advises staying in 28 feet of water. The depths of 13 feet and 10 feet noted on the chart are ledge and will not hold your anchor.
Better protected waters can be found in Camden’s inner harbor. Hail the harbormaster (VHF 16) for available moorings. The inner harbor is crowded, so unless you’re pulling into one of the facilities, it’s best to traverse here via dinghy. You can tie up to the floating docks near the waterfall and wooden harbormaster’s shack, where you’ll be a stone’s throw from
downtown and elbow-to-elbow with local mariners and visitors alike. If you’re looking for a slip or mooring, hail Wayfarer Marine (207-236-4378), which sells gas and diesel and can provide any service your vessel may need.
Shoreside and Emergency ServicesAirport: Knox County, Owls Head 207-596-0617
Coast Guard: Rockland 207-596-6667 or VHF 16
Harbormaster: Camden 207-236-7969
Police, Fire, Ambulance: 911
Taxi: Schooner Bay Taxi 207-594-5000
A large portion of Maine’s schooner fleet is still stationed in Camden. On some nights, even when packed together like sardines, they can take up a sizable portion of the inner harbor.