Cruising Stories

Exploring Minor Ports in Maine

New England
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By
Frans Kok &
Mary Shirley

The stretch of Maine that roughly comprises the middle third of the state's coastline is one of the most fabulous cruising areas on the eastern seaboard. My wife, Mary M. Shirley, and I have cruised the region many times on our Hinckley 59 Sou'wester, Remedios.

In this article, I'll skip over the area's best known harbors --- Camden, Boothbay Harbor --- and instead focus on some of the lesser known ports Mary and I visited on a recent trip. While not exactly undiscovered, these places are quieter, less touristed, and more remote than the region's usual spots. That is, after all, why we have boats: to go places our landlubber friends can't easily reach.

Frenchboro, Long Island

Frenchboro, on Maine's Long Island, is one of my favorite harbors. It narrows like a funnel, and the mooring field is snugged in between the island's high hills. You need a mooring to spend the night, but it is impossible to make reservations for them. Instead you pick up a mooring when you arrive and pay at the town's lobster pound. We've never had a problem getting a mooring, though at times it has been a tight squeeze.

During this particular visit, we cast off from the dock at Southwest Harbor at about 1:30 p.m. Frenchboro's harbor was already full of boats when we arrived, so we took one of the outermost moorings. We then called Brody, an enterprising and engaging pre-teen boy from the area with whom we'd dealt before. His mom, Tammy, cooks lobster for visiting boaters, and Brody delivers the lobsters directly to the vessels. We ordered two peelers and soon Brody dropped them off, with corn on the cob on the side. Mary and I feasted under fabulous stars. After lazing around until 11 a.m. the next morning, we went ashore to explore the local church's annual lobster fest. More than a thousand people arrived by ferry for the festival from neighboring islands.

Merchant Harbor

The next morning we awoke to rain and strong winds. We took the dinghy to town and stopped by the local store for provisions, then set off to circumnavigate the island by foot. Later that afternoon, as we motored back to Remedios, we saw that she had moved about 300 feet toward the rocks! At first we thought she was aground but then found she still had 15 feet of depth. Nevertheless, we decided to weigh anchor and head to Merchant Harbor. On our way over to Merchant Island we got blasted by gusty winds and four-foot seas, but once in the island's lee everything was tranquil. We reached the harbor, totally exhausted. We ate some dinner and then both of us were in bed by 8 p.m. When we awoke the next morning, I remembered why, to my mind, Merchant Harbor is so precious. There are usually no more than three or four boats at anchor and there are no moorings available.

For lunch we bought peelers from Ahab, the same lobster boat we'd bought lobster from the year before. We highly recommend buying lobsters directly from the lobstermen if you ever get the chance, as the lobsters are cheaper than onshore, the fishermen appreciate the cash, and the exchange eases some of the tension between pleasure boaters and working fishermen.

Seal Bay, Vinalhaven

When we lifted the anchor at about 10 a.m. the next morning, we were shocked to find no mud on the anchor or chain. We must have been in grass, with only the 200-foot chain keeping us in place, but the harbor is so well protected that we hadn't moved at all. We left Merchant Harbor in light winds and sailed toward the tricky entrance to Seal Bay on the island of Vinalhaven. It was low tide when we arrived, and we slowly picked our way into the bay past all the rocks and ledges until we found somewhere to drop anchor. There are only private homes around Seal Bay so there is no way to go ashore but the anchorage is spectacular. And there are lots of seals!

Rockport

The next day we got off to a late start because of thick fog. We motored out of Seal Bay's treacherous entrance, then set sails in 10-knot SW winds and drifted slowly to Rockport. When we reached Rockport, the harbormaster directed us to a mooring and complimented us on looking very pretty as we were sailing in, always nice to hear. We got tokens for the shower (eight minutes!), then later on his advice took the dingy to Atlantic Challenge, a dock on the north end of the harbor, to get provisions.

Rockport is larger and more touristy than any of the other ports we'd visitied on this cruise, but the harbor is still quiet and lovely. We had scallops for dinner and watched the fog lift to reveal the town's twinkling lights.

Bucks Harbor and Cradle Cove

As we made our way from Rockport up through Penobscot Bay to Belfast, we stopped at two spots worth mentioning. The first, Bucks Harbor, is a true hurricane hole, protected by Harbor Island. Once inside the harbor, the water is very quiet and you are surrounded by high hills. Fuel, water, and a limited selection of groceries are available at the dock.

The other stand-out spot, Cradle Cove, is just off 700-Acre Island. There is a negligible year-round population on the island but it has about 20 beautiful summer homes and a two-mile-long road that bisects the island. You can land at Dark Harbor Marina, take a shower, pay for the mooring, and take a hike on the island. Just stay on the dirt road as all the property is privately owned.

Belfast

Belfast turned out to be an easy harbor to enter, with a fairly large mooring field where the boats were well spaced. We went ashore to explore the cute town and its small shops selling woodwork, candles, and other crafty items. A fleet of antique cars rolled through town, honking their horns. One of them was a 1965 Mustang, the same model I'd owned as a student in the 1960s. Belfast is a real throwback in time, in the best sense of the word!

Winterport

We motored out of Belfast's harbor and scooted up the bay to the Penobscot River. This is Maine's second-longest river and was once heavily travelled, bringing logs and goods to and from Bangor. It is deep and narrow, with hilly shores. We entered the river for a terrific cruise of about 15 miles. We passed the industrial town of Bucksport and continued to tiny Winterport, dominated by old waterfront cold-storage sheds and church spirals. We picked up a mooring in front of the tidy marina. The river raced by but the mooring was strong and the place was lovely, with an excellent view of the wooded hills downriver and nothing on the far river bank. We wandered through town and marveled at all the once-grand crumbling buildings, relics from when Winterport was an important part of the Penobscot Bay's then-mighty transport corridor. Back on board, we made crab cakes for dinner, then sat on the stern admiring the starry sky and the half-moon that rose behind the far shore.

Stockton Harbor

The next morning we started early to take advantage of the outgoing tide. An hour later, we arrived at the mouth of the Penobscot River. From there we motored in light winds to large, well-protected Stockton Harbor and picked up a mooring. We went ashore and after walking for about a mile and a half, passed a house where a man sitting on his porch told us that the store was about a quarter of a mile away, so we pushed on through the heat, only to discover that the store was more like a mile and a half away. The miserable shop had very few provisions, but we did buy a bottle of red wine for dinner and some water for the long, hot walk back to the harbor. Later I took a swim, and then Mary and I passed a nice evening beneath our mosquito netting, until we were awakened at 3 a.m. by the noise from the nearby chemical plant. All in all, a nice harbor, but not our favorite.

Orono Island

We left at about 9 a.m. the next morning and motored around the bluff into Eggemoggin Reach. We always have a nervous moment when we reach the bridge there, as its clearance is 85 feet and we stick up 83 feet. This time Mary noticed a red sign and lots of activity on the bridge, and with our binoculars we saw that the sign said, "Warning, Reduced Clearance. Uh, oh! As we drew nearer we couldn't really tell if we'd make it, until with a sigh of relief we passed under it. We'd planned on entering Mackerel Cove on Swan's Island, but on our way there saw some private moorings east of Orono Island. Despite Mary's usual protestations about using unknown private moorings, we decided to stay for the night. It was a spectacular spot, surrounded by wooded islands. The next morning we were supposed to head back to Southwest Harbor, but the forecast called for boiling temps in the 90s and air pollution, so instead we stayed put one more day in the Orono Island spot, where there was no such thing as air pollution, and low water temps kept things relatively cool. We had a beautiful lazy day, and a great end to a wonderful month cruising the unknown harbors of Maine.

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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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