Cruising Stories

Experiencing Maine as Only Boaters Can

From Portland to Mt. Desert Island

New England
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By
Cathie
Trogdon

One of the most extraordinary benefits of cruising in Maine is the unique opportunity to explore the thousands of magnificent islands that the glaciers abandoned when they retreated many eons ago.

Curtis Rindlaub, in the introduction of the cruisers' bible A Cruising Guide to the Maine Coast, describes Maine this way: "On a chart, the coast of Maine is a Jackson Pollock painting. Rivers dribble to the sea, the coast is flung far with abandon, and the islands splatter the surface as if fallen from an overloaded brush."

It's the splattering of islands that can only be approached by boat that had great appeal to Peter and me during our short three-week cruise in Maine last summer. We believe Maine is best explored by water, experiencing the stunning beauty at every river turn or hidden harbor entrance, much the same way as our nation's early explorers first experienced it.

We'd learned from previous trips that Maine's vast coastline could not be explored in a lifetime, let alone three weeks, so on our second visit to Maine aboard our lobster cruising yacht Bee Weems, we narrowed our cruising area to the section between Portland and Mt. Desert Island. Our intention was to move at a slow pace and absorb the magic by seeking out the remote island anchorages that can only be explored by private boat. To help us along our way, we were armed with recommendations from fellow cruisers plus our two trusty guide books, the aforementioned A Cruising Guide to the Maine Coast and the Maine Island Trail Guide.

Our first anchorage, the Basin, a protected sanctuary on the New Meadows River, was highly recommended by a friend. The "bible" gave it a rating of four out of five stars. It was the perfect place to begin our Maine respite, completely sheltered, surrounded by evergreen trees, and with no signs of human life save the few sailboats anchored nearby. We took a collective deep breath, soaked in the natural beauty and released the tensions of our day-to-day life.

The following day we headed for Bath, but before leaving the New Meadows River we stopped to hike around Merritt Island, a small 28-acre wooded site with a loop trail. We would not have visited this island if I hadn't studied the small spiral-bound book published annually by the Maine Island Trail Association (MITA) for its members. This useful guide offers descriptions and maps designating hiking trails and campsites for more than 200 islands along a 375-mile water route.

MITA is a nonprofit conservation organization formed in 1988 to provide a model of "thoughtful use and volunteer stewardship for the Maine Islands." The supporting members of this group maintain a string of state-owned and private islands that are available to members and the public for overnight camping, picnicking and hiking. The number of islands under their stewardship has grown from 30 to 212 over their 27-year history.

About half the 3,000 islands dotting Maine's coastline are owned by federal, state or conservation agencies. The other half are privately owned, but by acreage 94 percent are privately owned. Every island has its own fascinating story and they come in all shapes and sizes, from heavily wooded to massive granite slabs with no hints of plant life. Some were homesteaded, some became fishing communities or artists' colonies, some were left alone to breeding bird colonies or clear-cut for wood.

In modern times, changes have occurred quickly and not always for the better. Conservation groups are doing their best to protect the islands and teach good stewardship. MITA is one of these groups, and I was eager to become a member to support their mission. As cruisers we have a great privilege and responsibility to be mindful of the impact we have on these storied treasures. A great way to show appreciation is to get to know the islands better. As with people, the more you make an effort to know them, the more you develop an appreciation for them and therefore the better you treat them.

The best way to learn about the islands is to talk to local Mainers, but it's also helpful to read stories from conservation- group websites, blogs, cruising guides and the myriad of books written by those who want to share their love for these amazing natural wonders.

Merritt Island is owned by Bowdoin College and open to the public for hiking and camping in two locations during the summer months. Our exploration of this little gem was so much fun that it became my mission to plot our course from island to island with brief interludes at more conventional tourist attractions in between.

We continued south along the New Meadow River toward the ocean and eventually headed up the Kennebec River, stopping briefly in Bath to visit the Maine Maritime Museum. From Bath, we continued 22 miles west up the Kennebec.

Heading inland to find shelter from the high winds seemed wise, but the real reason for this out-of-the-way side trip was my intrigue with another island I discovered in the MITA cruising guide: Swan Island, originally named Swango or Island of the Eagles by the Native Americans, was so far up river that our electronic chart plotter had no charts for the area. Maybe that's why we saw no other boats as we slowly meandered upstream. Swan Island's initial appeal to me was its rich heritage as a Native American fishing village and stopover site for early explorers and historic figures such as John Smith, Benedict Arnold and Aaron Burr. In much the same way, today's visitors arrive by kayak, canoe or via the small foot-passenger ferry that runs across the river to the small town of Richmond three times a day. The island is now owned and managed by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and it's also on the National Register of Historic Places.

We docked Bee Weems at the Richmond town landing and waited for the ferry to come across the short distance from the island to pick us up. Our young ferry captain was also the on-duty ranger in charge of assigning campsites and giving historic island tours. There were only three of us on the ferry, so this enthusiastic college student invited us to sit in the back of the pickup truck, the only wheeled vehicle on the island, as he drove to the other end and back, stopping along the way to let us get out and visit the old graveyard and the ruins of early dwellings. Grand vistas of rice paddies surrounded the island.

Annabella's Bakery & Cafe, across the green from the town dock, was just the spot for a scrumptious breakfast before cruising back downstream toward Boothbay. The wind had subsided and the infamous fog swirled toward us as we approached the ocean. I lost all sense of time and space as we cautiously navigated the still grayness. I was melting into the wild beauty of the Maine coast. Unfortunately, my hopes of experiencing more island gems were squelched for several days as the fog swallowed them from sight.

We spent three days in Camden, waiting out the fog and making necessary boat repairs. When the fog finally dissipated we made a dash for the Barred Islands: Butter, Escargo and Bartender, all owned by the Cabot family. Our protected anchorage among this island grouping provided us with privacy and pristine beaches.

McGlathery Island was the culmination of our Maine-island wilderness exploration. Although the fog had returned, we didn't want to pass it by because of its fabulous reputation. Beloved for its sheltered anchorages, sandy beaches, granite ledges, and wooded interior, McGlathery is one of the largest of the 30-plus granite islands that dot the seascape of Merchant Row. Its history is similar to that of many others: settled in the 1800s by a family that eventually succumbed to the harsh elements of year round living; bought by a sea captain for grazing sheep; eventually purchased by Friends of Nature, a conservation organization, to protect it from clear-cutting.

Washed-up lobster buoys and bits of line marked the walking trail that led us into the woodsy interior and then out again to a sandy beach flanked on each side by granite slabs. Through the fog I could hear the eerie sound of lobster boat engines so close to shore that I was sure they would come aground.

Making friends with just a few islands along the lengthy Maine Island Trail was a great way to develop an appreciation for all of them. And with this appreciation has come a desire to protect and defend their wild beauty so that others can enjoy them.

ITINERARY

1. Portland --- DiMillo's Old Port Marina

2. Freeport --- Brewer South Freeport Marine

3. Anchorage --- New Meadow River, The Basin

4. Anchorage --- Merritt Island

5. Bath --- Maine Maritime Museum

6. Richmond --- Richmond Town Landing

7. Boothbay --- Boothbay Harbor Marina

8. Camden --- Lyman-Morse at Wayfarer Marine

9. Anchorage --- The Barred Islands

10. Anchorage --- Stonington

11. Anchorage --- McGlathery Island

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The Autumn: Why Haul Out
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Water and Fall foliage at Dory's Fall
Dory's Fall

Why do so many yachtsmen hurriedly haul out their boats immediately after Labor Day? Sure, the kids are back to school, and the weather starts to change. But we have enjoyed some of our most clear, calm, beautiful days boating in the fall. I dare say don’t haul before fall, have a ball while everyone else is buttoning up their boats and turning to watch football or baseball. Perhaps those sun-soaked sandbar rafting days have passed until next summer, but from New England to the southern coasts you’ll still find glorious warm days, less boat wake and less boat traffic in general, which opens a world of late season cruising opportunities. My father always said boating is better once the “summer yahoos disappear.”

Boating Experience: So soon in fall? 

A FEW REASONS TO LOVE THE FALL BOATING SEASON

Red Fall tree with water and boat in the background
Cape Porpose Maine Fall

Fall boating is just quieter. As most boaters vacate the water in lieu of other pursuits, September and October can offer brilliant blue-sky days. Waterways that were jam-packed with everything from inflatables to tour boats a month prior are now more open for you to explore. Loud two stroke “boater-cycles,” as my friend likes to call jet skis and sea-doos (personal propelled watercraft) are trailered away leaving in the absence of their wake- jumping a more serene scene.

Foliage starts to pop on the waterfront come mid-September into October from Maine to Virginia. The sparkling water reflects the kaleidoscope of autumn leaves in their shimmering crimson, gold and orange. It’s spectacular, truly a photographer’s dream, whether you’re on a lake, the ocean, a beautiful bay or waterway. Boating in September, October, even into November a bit farther south, is a gem. Just be mindful of the forecast, hurricane season, and significant temperature shifts that invite pop-up storms.

Man's legs propped up on seats facing stern of the boat with sunset in the background
Block Island, RI.

The weather. With cooler fall days, temps trend toward delightfully crisp and clear. Days are also shorter, so midday boating is best for peak sun. For your boating comfort, have sweatshirts, sweaters or jackets handy, even hats and gloves, especially if you’re in northern New England.

Good news: Gone are the hot humid mugginess and the bugs that accompany spring and summer heat. Bonus: you have less chance of that scorching summer sunburn. Still, be sure to apply sunscreen, refraction on the water is real even when a chill is in the air. You may want to eat steamed lobster by the waterfront, but you don’t want to look like one. Evenings on the water cool off, making for great sleeping aboard. Snuggle under covers and wake to fresh air and hot coffee on deck that never tasted so good in another season.

Fall means more available dock slips, moorings and anchorages as many are pulling their boots “up on the hard,” which frees up marina space for you. The same prime spots that were impossible to get in summer, with wait lists at places like Block Island, Newport and Annapolis, are now wide open. Same goes for waterfront restaurants with tie ups; their face docks are free and on a first come first served basis.

Just be prepared that dockhands and marina staff may not be as readily available in the fall, as students that typically manage the docks have returned to their campuses, and marine techs are pre-occupied prepping folks’ boats for winterization and storage. Be ready to tend your own lines.

Wildlife abounds in fall. Migratory birds are on the move. Enjoy watching geese, loons and birds-of-a-feather flocking south as winter approaches.

Speaking of marine life, if you like to fish, then fall is your wish. As temperatures decline, the fish sense that winter is coming. In preparation of the next season, fish begin their migrating south and their subsequent feeding frenzy.

Sailboat on a mooring with fall trees in the background
Kennebunkport Fall Foilage

Snowbirds of the human variety start their boating trek south too, if they aren’t storing their boat up north. Cruising the ICW in fall can be a social circuit where you may see the same boat owners and crew as you stop along your way at various harbors and marinas. It’s entertaining to compare ship logs and experiences from your adventures, favorite sights and seaports, with fellow boaters along your journey.

I have always loved how friendly boaters can be, and how an impromptu sharing of dock-side drinks aboard yours or their top deck can quickly transpire into an animated evening talking about best and worst boating with your nautical neighbors.

Word of caution: don’t be like my dear deceased, super-dedicated-to-boating Dad who insisted there’d be one more great boating day in late fall in New Hampshire. He would hold out on hauling his 28’ Eastern well into November, insisting it’s not winter till December. I recall more than once having to chip the ice of the dock lines to free up his pride- and-joy, then boating to the nearest icy ramp while frost clung to the windshield, and it was bitter cold on the slippery decks. That’s taking fall boating to an extreme.

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Cruising Grenada
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Sugar Spice and Everything Nice

When the end of the cruising season in the southern Caribbean was upon us, we did what many Caribbean cruisers do: We sailed south for Grenada. We delayed as long as possible, knowing the hurricane season was upon us, but we didn’t want to be forced south. I had one impression of Grenada, and that was of rotting boats and retired sailors. It was a cruisers graveyard, or so I thought, and I was far from accepting an end to our sailing days.

Grenada is the southernmost group of islands in the Lesser Antilles archipelago as well as the name of the main island in a cluster of eight smaller islands and about a dozen smaller islets and cays. The only thing I knew of its geography prior to arriving was that it was one of the few island groups in the Caribbean far enough south to be considered out of the hurricane belt. So, it was ironic that on our first day in the country we had to shelter in the mangroves from a Category 1 storm.

As we lashed our boat Ātea’s bow to densely bound tree roots and secured lines to the cleats of yachts on either side of us, our small unit became part of the larger, unified collective. Little did we realize that this interconnection would be representative of our Grenadian experience.

Safely through the storm, we disbanded and spread out to explore our new surroundings. We completed our clearance in Carriacou, Grenada’s northern sister island, and were amazed to see a hundred or so yachts anchored in Tyrell Bay, Carriacou’s main harbor. I knew Grenada was popular, but if the numbers of boats in Carriacou were anything to judge by, I’d have to cope with much larger crowds when we travelled farther south.

The south coast of Grenada not only provides the most settled weather, but it’s riddled with about a dozen safe harbors from the dominant easterly swell. It’s the reason cruisers gather on Grenada’s south coast and also the reason why they remain. Some stay for hurricane season, some use the island as a base for a few years, others retire from active cruising and either settle or sell. One thing was certain: Grenada was far more than the end of the line.

Before making the journey south, however, we wanted to stretch out the season by adding a short circumnavigation around Carriacou, known as “The Isle of Reefs” to the Kalinago people (the original Island Caribs). We spent our time there dodging bommies (submerged coral reefs) and soaking up the tropical island experience with our feet in the sand, our bellies in the water and our hands on a bottle of rum.

We stopped at Petite Martinique, the third and smallest of the three main islands. There we enjoyed rugged, rocky beaches and side-stepped clusters of goats grazing the green rolling hills as we hiked up Mount Piton for panoramic views of the surrounding islands. We climbed down into the Darant Bay Cave for framed views of the same islands at sea level.

Of course, we couldn’t miss a few sundowners on Mopion, a tiny sand mound rising amid expansive coral reef with a single thatched beach umbrella perched in the center. While technically a part of the Grenadines, its proximity to Petite Martinique made a quick dash across the border for a sip in the shade of this unique little spot a worthwhile experience. Carriacou is an island surrounded by unspoiled reef, and it did not disappoint. A quick tour of her perimeter was the perfect way to salute the end of an amazing Caribbean season.

With a quick stop-over in Ronde Island, a beautiful private island that’s halfway between Carriacou and Grenada, we continued our transit south. Again, I hadn’t prepared myself for the wild beauty of Grenada’s west coast. Mile after mile of dense, lush forest cascade down the leeward side of the island from peak to sea.

We hugged the coastline as we sailed the 13 miles down the west coast, looking up at 2,700 feet of volcanic rock and shear waterfalls that fed small rivers that ran down the slopes of the mountainous interior to the coast. While Grenada is well reputed as a tourist destination for holidaymakers seeking either a sun- drenched party or quiet refuge on one of its 45 beaches, I knew from sailing the coast that my preferences would draw me inland.

Grenada’s coastline contains many large bays, but most yachts head for safe anchorage behind one of the many narrow peninsulas that split up the southern coastline. As we pulled into Prickly Bay, the first of Grenada’s southern harbors, I knew from the crowd of yachts that I would escape to the interior as soon as possible. As it turned out, I didn’t get that chance. As soon as we dropped anchor, we were invited ashore for a cruiser’s jam session to reconnect with friends from past seasons.

The following day we crammed into the back seat of a taxi on our way to an event for the annual Chocolate Festival, and our schedule quickly filled after that with tours of cocoa plantations, cocoa grinding competitions, chocolate tastings and chocolate drawing contests. In additional to the island’s cultural events, we were also immediately drawn into the cruiser’s social scene.

On our first week of arrival our mornings were already booked into early morning yoga and bootcamp on the beach. The kids joined a cruiser’s homeschooling collective and regular extracurricular activities that were held under the shade of the trees. If we weren’t listening to live music or joining the locals’ beach barbecues in the evenings, we were sitting poolside and sipping beers from a $5 bucket with other cruisers at Le Phare Bleu, a boutique hotel that opened its amenities and services to cruisers during the pandemic.

Every morning offered an activity, and every evening we joined a social get-to-gether, so the weeks flew by in a social extravaganza unlike any we’d experienced. As yachts gather in Grenada every year for the hurricane season, the regularity of this influx of boats resulted in a solid cruising community and a variety of services and events. Far more than a collection of retired boats and sunburnt seamen, my preconceived notions of Grenada didn’t come close to the reality of the vibrant cruising network that existed on this popular island.

As we made new friends and reconnected with old ones, we really enjoyed the buzz that the tight community offered.

Pulling myself out of continuous activity took a concerted effort, but I eventually dragged the family off the beach and up the mountains.

After our trip into the interior, I developed a new passion for my time in Grenada: A short bus journey followed by a hike into the forest would lead us to one of Grenada’s many waterfalls. Unlike other tourist destinations where fees were handed over and you’d stand under falls next to groups of other tourists, we had the rivers for free and all to ourselves. Some of the trails were near the road, and we’d hop on and off a bus to walk the short distance to the falls. Others, such as Seven Sisters and the Concord Falls, required planning as it took a full day to hike in and out of the forest, clambering up steep banks and crisscrossing the river to wind through deep forest and get a view from the top.

Each part of the river that ran down from one of the six inland lakes had its own magic, and I was enthusiastic to see what each had to offer. Later I appreciated all that I’d experienced of Grenada’s inland beauty. As I paid $20 per person to stand in crowds under cascading water at Costa Rica’s most popular waterfalls, I couldn’t help but compare it to all that I’d seen in Grenada’s secluded, remote interior.

In additional to nature, we explored some of the historical roots of Grenada’s past. Grenada’s original economy was based on sugar cane and indigo, and with that, slaves were imported in the mid-17th century to work and harvest crops. We set out to search for some of the old plantation houses and slave pens that remained from that period, which took us on a wild tramp through the backstreets of quiet neighborhoods and into unmarked bush to find these lost relics.

It was quite the education for our children to see small, dank, windowless, stone slave quarters set behind grand old houses, a potent reminder of darker times in this beautiful and vibrant country. We also smelled and sampled some of Grenada’s current crops, nutmeg, mace and cocoa at the top of the list of exports, and enjoyed local culinary treats such as oil down, a vegetable stew that is the country’s national dish. Thanks to these excursions we can say that Grenada is, both figuratively and literally, full of sugar and spice.

Cruising often leaves you tied to the boat and, therefore, the sea. Grenada offered a wonderful period of enjoying the most of both land and sea in equal balance, so we were able to get the most of what the country has to offer. To see the beaches but not the forest, lakes and rivers offers only half the experience; likewise, to spend time inland but not explore the coast leaves only half an impression. As Grenada offers safe anchorage throughout the hurricane season, cruisers remain nearby for an extended period, sharing experiences and building friendships. This is unique for a community that is typically very transient, and it offers plenty of opportunity to create a home away from home atmosphere.

In addition, suitable yacht services are available, so that time spent waiting for the next season gives everyone a chance to get much needed repair work done. Far from being the end of the line, Grenada offers an interim rest stop where friendships are forged and yachts are restored on an island that offers a range of activities and opportunities both on and above the waterline.

Article and photos by Kia Koropp

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Our Adventures between the Great Lakes from Detroit to Port Huron
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My husband Tim and I spent 2021 traveling 8,000 miles around the Great Loop. Like many, we wanted to cruise in Canada, but we didn’t get the green light for entry in time. We were initially bummed, but our mood quickly shifted as we discovered some of our favorite stops on the stretch that kept us in U.S. waters, including our journey between Lake Erie and Lake Huron.

Stop 1: Belle Isle

Estimated Mileage: 2 NM

Belle Isle is the largest city-owned island park in America, located on the Detroit River between the United States and Canada. The island’s only marina is the Detroit Yacht Club, which has a limited number of transient slips for reciprocal members, so it’s best to explore while keeping your boat at Milliken Marina. 

Roughly 1,000 acres, Belle Isle is home to an aquarium, maritime museum, botanical garden, beach, picnic areas and playgrounds that provide a plethora of options to explore. You won’t find great spots to grab a bite to eat, so we recommend stopping at Atwater Brewery on the way back to the marina.

Stop 2: Harrison Township, Lake St. Clair

Estimated Mileage: 24 NM

Often referred to as the Great Lake’s smaller cousin, Lake St. Clair is large enough to easily keep your distance from freighters yet small enough to explore in a day.

By boat, you can visit several of the lake’s swimming spots in Anchor and Bouvier Bays (or “Munchies” Bay as the locals say), popular for their clear water and hard bottoms. After an afternoon of swimming, cruise through the Clinton River and tie up at one of several restaurants catering to a lively boater scene for a drink and meal. Crews Inn is one of our favorites for their fun atmosphere and great food.

Lake St. Clair Metropark Marina is a popular spot for transients. The marina is located in the park, so after docking, enjoy the expansive park’s beaches, trails, picnic areas and swimming pool.

Stop 3: Port Huron, MI

Estimated Mileage: 44 NM

Port Huron is home to the start of one of the longest fresh-water races in the world called the Port Huron to Mackinac Sailing Race, and the port is a charming and boater-friendly destination.

Ideal for its central location and friendly members, Port Huron Yacht Club is a great place for tying up, sipping a drink at the clubhouse and avoiding the drawbridges on the Black River. Another popular spot is about a mile farther down the river at the 95-slip River Street Marina.

Port Huron is home to the Island Loop Route National Water Trail, a 10-mile loop through the Black River, Lake Huron and St. Clair River. Your dinghy is a must through the Black River and for exploring the town and clear waters by boat.

Walk a mile along the Blue Water River Walk that runs along the St. Clair River. Be sure to leave enough time to watch the freighters go by and delve into the area’s history that is shared along the route. Continue a couple of miles farther to Lighthouse Park, where you can enjoy an afternoon at the beach and swim in Lake Huron’s crystal clear water.

During a stroll downtown, check out the Knowlton’s Ice Museum of North America to discover the history of local ice harvesting that took place along the Great Lakes.

When you’ve done enough activities to work up an appetite, Casey’s is the place for delicious breadsticks and pizza. For a more upscale option, you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu at The Vintage Tavern. Maria’s Downtown Café offers a hearty breakfast, and Raven Café or Exquisite Corpse Coffee House are great options for a cup of coffee.

Kate Carney is a writer and Great Gold Looper who traveled 8,000 miles on Sweet Day, a 31-foot Camano trawler. Learn more about her and her husband’s adventures on lifeonsweetday.com

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