Imagine cruising through unfamiliar waters without your GPS sonar, nautical navigation charts or even electricity. That's what Colonial-era ship captains faced while sailing through the Chesapeake Bay. Its jagged coastlines, treacherous shoals and unpredictable forces of nature created a harrowing experience for sailors who only had buoys in the water and signal fires on land to keep them out of harm's way.
As Bay shipping traffic swelled in the 1700s, George Washington understood that safely transporting people and goods was paramount to the fledgling nation's growth and commerce. Making sure vessels could come and go out of essential ports such as Baltimore, Annapolis, Alexandria and Norfolk became a pressing issue, so in 1789 the U.S. government took charge of the American lighthouse system. In 1792, the 90-foot tall Cape Henry Lighthouse at the mouth of the Bay in Virginia became the first to shine its light on Chesapeake waters.
By the early 1800s, these beacons of safe passage sprang up all along the Maryland and Virginia shores, thanks to master builders like John Donahoo of Havre de Grace. He is credited with constructing dozens of lighthouses from 1823 to 1853 and guiding millions of travelers through perilous channels.Man Versus the Beastly Forces of Nature
By 1900, most of the Bay's danger zones were marked with warning beacons. At the peak of construction, 70 lighthouses dotted the coastline, each with distinct histories and designs.The early ones were lofty towers made of brick or stone and were erected on land. Modest homes for lighthouse keepers stood nearby. Examples include Old Point Comfort, Cape Charles, Point Lookout and Cove Point lighthouses. It was a good start, but soil erosion under the towers posed a problem and caused some to collapse or be moved. Plus, these lighthouses were located above the water where dangers awaited cautious ship captains.
To address those logistical problems, screwpile lighthouses were developed. From 1854 to 1900, 42 of this design were erected more than anywhere else in the world and they became a symbol of Chesapeake maritime ingenuity. Screwpile lighthouses were two-story buildings with seven or eight sides, the beacon on top and iron piling legs that were screwed into the Bay's soft muddy floor. Lighthouse keepers and their families lived on the second story. Examples: Thomas Point Shoal, Drum Point and Hooper Strait lighthouses. They were positioned in the water to better aid passing ships, and massive rocks were piled around the base to secure their spidery legs. However, this type of lighthouse struggled to hold up against the Bay's pounding waves, ice chunks and high winds. One screwpile structure was blown off its platform during a ferocious storm with the keeper inside and floated for five miles before he could escape.
Undaunted by Mother Nature's powerful forces, determined maritime architects came up with a new solution the caisson lighthouse. From 1873 to 1914, they designed lighthouse foundations with cast iron cylinders filled with stones or concrete and drilled them deep into the Bay's bottom. With a top tower built of brick the caisson style evolved into sturdy structures that could withstand rugged Chesapeake conditions. They might not have as much curb appeal, but most of them have survived since the 1890s. Examples: Wolf Trap, Sandy Point Shoal, and Smith Point lighthouses.Last but not least was another resourceful means to beat the precarious elements and offertravelers safe passage around the Bay lightships. The first of these warning vessels was built in 1820 in Virginia. They could move into deep waters and withstand harsh conditions that land-bound lighthouses could not endure. Plus, they could scurry away if situations became to rough. The Lightship Chesapeake is retired from her call of duty and now entertains guests in Baltimore's Inner Harbor.Step Back in Time and Experience Chesapeake HeritageSailing past Chesapeake lighthouses on land or sea is always a thrill. Climbing inside these magnificent structures is even better. The places listed below are home to decommissioned Bay lighthouses and lightships, which are now interactive living museums about a bygone era. For a day, you can live the lonely life of a lighthouse keeper and experience his close quarters above the waves.
Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum (St. Michaels, Md.) - 1879 Hooper Strait Lighthouse
Cape Henry Lighthouse (Fort Story, Va.)
St. Clements Island Museum (Coltons Point, Md.) - Blackistone Lighthouse
Calvert Marine Museum (Solomons Island, Md.) - Cove Point and Drum Point Lighthouse
Baltimore Marine Museum (Baltimore Inner Harbor) - Knolls Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse and Lightship Chesapeake
Smithfield Station Lighthouse Inn (Smithfield, Va.) - This isn't a real lighthouse, but it's the only place on the Bay where you can actually spend the night in one.
The buzz of construction at the docks of Camden, ME, is finished, and it’s been replaced with an air of excitement among residents and visitors who watched a beautiful new development emerge along the waterfront.
The rebirth of Camden’s harbor started in 2015 when Lyman-Morse bought Wayfarer Marine. Based in nearby Thomaston, Lyman-Morse has run a successful boat-building business since the 1970s. More than 120 vessels have been constructed in the yard, located in the same site where Malabar schooners, Friendship sloops and other fine vessels have been built for nearly two centuries. Lyman-Morse has expanded beyond custom sailing and motor yachts, now offering high-quality refits, and other services.
Lyman-Morse’s boatyard and nine-acre facility enjoy a long maritime tradition on Camden’s shoreline, ranging from building schooners in the 19th century to U.S. minesweepers and troop transports in World War II, and servicing vessels from high-end yachts to recreational boats.
The location of this acquisition is idyllic. Nestled in a lovely cove on Penobscot Bay, Camden has been a bastion of seafaring activity and a world- wide nautical travel destination for centuries. The scenery is dramatic, with forested mountains that meet the ocean and offshore islands that are an explorer’s paradise. The 1830s Curtis Island Lighthouse near the harbor keeps watch over the town’s quaint homes, shops, restaurants, opera house and galleries.
Inspired by the area’s natural beauty, the new development’s designers also understood Camden’s historic role in the region and wanted to carry that forward in modern form. They studied vintage photos, matched the style and created 33,000 square feet of new buildings for marine services and mixed-use commercial space.
Lyman-Morse’s Camden boatyard attracts maritime professionals and boaters with essential services for carpentry, mechanics, electronics, rigging and more, and brings the general public back to the working waterfront with amenities such as restaurants, a distillery, a few overnight accommodations, and a boardwalk big enough for a morning stroll or brisk dog walk.
Added bonus: Sensitivity to the environment was not overlooked in construction. Engineers took a sustainable approach when they elevated all structures above the flood plain, installed LED lights and upgraded all systems to today’s energy-efficient levels.
True boaters say the real Maine coast doesn’t start until you reach Penobscot Bay. This is “Down East” from Kennebunkport and Portland. The dramatic stretch of coastline from Camden to Mount Desert Island sparkles with granite shores, dotted with archipelagos of pine-tree covered islands and mountains cascading into the sea. This region offers some of the best cruising ground in the world.
Camden is a magical little seaside town in the heart of Maine’s mid-coast. It’s historic but hip. “Where the Mountains Meet the Sea” is their moniker, as Camden Hills and 780-foot Mount Battie stretch down toward the bustling waterfront where this 1769 New England village sits, creating a postcard scene.
Camden is super foot-traffic friendly, starting at Harbor Park and the beautiful brick Public Library that graces the top of the bay by the Town Docks. Enjoy a picnic on the sprawling park lawn; there’s often a craft festival or free concert at the outdoor amphitheater. From the waterfront, stroll the quaint sidewalks leading to cafés, boutiques, craft stores and art galleries, pubs, and surprisingly trendy restaurants.
You can hike, bike or drive the toll road up Mount Battie in Camden Hill State Park, which encompasses 5,500 acres and 30 miles of trails. Your reward is spectacular panoramic views of the harbor and Penobscot Bay below.
Eaton Point, at the eastern entrance to the harbor, is home to a new Lyman-Morse yacht facility. Camden remains a working harbor with lobster fishermen, boat builders, ferries and tall-masted schooners taking folks out for scenic sails.
Camden hosts festivals throughout the summer season of jazz, film and its trademark Windjammers. In winter, the U.S. National Tobogganing Champion-ships are held at Camden’s namesake Snow Bowl – our country’s only ski area with views of the Atlantic.
Camden is an ideal boater’s gateway with all the services and shops you need in walking distance from the waterfront. Excursions from this protected harbor are countless and legendary. A quick cruise brings you to quiet Lasell Island for a sunset anchorage. Farther on you reach Maine’s Maritime Academy home in beautiful Castine, and the rustic islands of North Haven, Vinalhaven and Deer Isle. Ultimately you can cruise north and east through beautiful Merchants Row, or the more protected Eggemoggin Reach, to Mount Desert Island, home to famed Acadia National Park, Northeast, Southwest and Bar Harbors.
WHERE TO DOCK
Camden Public Landing Town Docks 207-691-4314
Contact the harbormaster for overnight slips, limited but in town, and moorings throughout the harbor.
Lyman-Morse at Wayfarer Marine 207-236-7108
Across the harbor on Camden’s east shores, this revamped marina is a half-mile walk to town, with new docks and a marina facility, home of Lyman-Morse Boatyard and 30 slips plus moorings.
WHERE TO DINE
40 Paper 207-230-0111
Relish artful cuisine locally sourced from farmers, fishermen and “foragers.” In an historic wool mill in downtown Camden, it’s comfy but chic. Savor octopus, lamb, mussels, salmon and more with fresh produce and creative sides. Save room for dessert made from scratch.
Peter Otts on the Water 207-236-4032
Get your chowder and Maine lobster fix from Chef Peter. This classic setting overlooking the harbor is a Camden staple you “ott” not miss. Open for lunch or dinner.
Franny’s Bistro 207-230-8199
With a neighborhood feel, Franny’s serves up lobster fritters, crab cakes, shrimp dumplings and land-lubber faves, too. A fun menu in a cozy setting.
Bagel Café 207-236–2661
For fresh-brewed morning coffee and daily “boiled then baked” bagels or breakfast sammies served all day.
Located on Conanicut Island, Gould Island and Dutch Island, Jamestown welcomes boaters to Narragansett Bay. Its southernmost point is on Gould Island and marked by Beavertail Lighthouse and State Park. The northernmost point is marked by Conanicut Island Lighthouse. While Conanicut Island is the second largest island on Narragansett Bay, it is near the western mainland in Kingston, and Newport lies to the east on Aquidneck Island. Hop on the Jamestown Newport Ferry to get the lay of the land and sea.
Jamestown was settled early in colonial history and was named for James, Duke of York, who became King James II in 1685. By 1710, many of Jamestown’s current roads were already in place and a lot of its early architecture is well preserved. Soak up some local history at the Jamestown Fire Memorial Museum, Beavertail Lighthouse Museum and Park, Jamestown Windmill, Watson Farm, Conanicut Island Sanctuary, Fort Wetherill State Park, and the Jamestown Settlement museum.
The main town, shops and restaurants are located on the eastern shore of Conanicut Island. But even from the western side, Dutch Harbor and other attractions are easily accessed with a one-mile walk.
This full-service marina has a ships store/chandlery, gift shop, extensive dockage and a large mooring field. It’s located in the heart of town overlooking Newport and the Pell Bridge, but bring your fishing poles for the kids.
Located on the west passage of Narragansett Bay, this small, local marina has good moorings, launch service and facilities. At times, the harbor can be rolly from a SW wind up the West Passage. The holding ground is excellent for anchoring, but the dinghy dock is by seasonal permit only.
This lively, year-round restaurant specializes in classic American cuisine and local seafood dishes such as New England clam chowder, lobster tail and seared yellowfin tuna while accommodating meat eaters with wings, burgers and steak tacos.
Take a seat inside this rustic eatery or outside on the patio to enjoy wood-fired bread, pizzas and pastries with a cool beer or wine. To start your day with a smile, order a cup of the eco-friendly coffee.