I have made many cruises to Maine in past years during the late summer and early fall. The weather is usually very pleasant and the anchorages not crowded. This year was no exception; we had little rain and only a couple of days of fog. The days were mostly warm and sunny. The ports and anchorages were even less crowded with cruising boats than usual; we met only a handful during our stay–the effect of the economy?
On board when we left Patchogue were Louise and Max, both had signed up for the complete cruise. Louise is a veteran of many Fiona voyages, Max had completed a year of college and felt he needed a break. He was going to supply the muscle. We transited the Inlet without problems and found a nice southeast wind which wafted us, close hauled, to Block Island in about twenty hours. The next day we left for the Cape Cod Canal. A southwest wind drove us east until the late afternoon when we were well up Buzzard’s Bay. We powered to Megansett Bay and anchored. We had to wait until the morning for a favorable current in the canal. Near the east end of the canal we refueled and then powered across Cape Cod Bay to Provincetown, where we picked up a mooring. P-Town has many interesting shops and a picturesque summer population. Louise demolished a lobster, the first of several to be dispatched during the cruise. In the evening we took in a movie (forgettable). The next day we rounded the cape and set sail for Bar Harbor with a brisk southeast wind. With the wind on the beam the boat flew and after twelve hours we had logged a hundred miles since leaving the cape, incredible sailing. Unfortunately Max did not appreciate it as he brought up his breakfast over the side. The next morning the wind petered out and we motor-sailed past the Cranberry Islands to Bar Harbor and a mooring by lunch-time.
Max contacted an uncle who owned a cottage in the area and arranged to leave the boat for a couple of days to help him close up for winter. Louise and I dined ashore and spent a couple of hours at a club featuring three comedians who put on a show called “Maine Improv”–sketches on local themes using ideas suggested by the audience. The next day I got an e-mail from Max to say he was not returning, which gave me some concern; lifting the inflatable dinghy on deck was fairly heavy work. I do not like towing it, as I run into problems if the weather worsens. Once when I was foolishly towing the dinghy in Penobscot Bay it flipped over. After a day we sailed across the Casco passage. With GPS, a chart plotter and a good autopilot this is not difficult double-handed but it was the last day we had a fair wind for some time. We anchored at Stonington, notable for the restored Opera House. Although they do lay on shows, nothing was happening that night. Louise condemned another creature to lobster heaven, I stuck to New England clam chowder. From there we lunched the next day at Butter Island, a tradition I started with Iona in 1967. There was no one else anchored there and we climbed to the top of the hill to enjoy the fantastic view of Penobscot Bay.The Cabot family, who own the island, have placed a granite bench at the top, and Mr. Thomas Cabot left a bronze casting with a simple poem exhorting visitors to remember we are transitory and must leave this beautiful spot pristine for those who come later. We sailed on to Castine for the night. The replica of The Bounty was tied up at the Maine Marine Academy dock, which we toured. The next day we powered the short distance to Belfast, where we tied up at the town dock, our first time alongside since leaving Long Island.
I like Belfast. It is not as pretentious as nearby Camden, the library has free Wi-Fi and the “Green” supermarket has a coffee shop that serves delicious pastries. Our next stop was a mooring at Rockland. We took in the wonderful Farnsworth Art Gallery, Andrew Wyeth was a resident in the area for many years and they have an unmatched collection of Wyeth paintings on view. That evening at the local cinema we watched a French film; Goodbye, My Queen; two days in the life of Marie Antoinette as the revolution burst upon the isolated life at Versailles, told from the point of view of a servant. After a night at Tenant’s Harbor (German Beer Garden) we anchored at Davis Cove, near the summer cottage of my friend Sarah, who is an antique car enthusiast. Louise enjoyed a bath, and we went for a walk through the woods to a fishing hamlet. Sarah cooked a great dinner which we ate as logs threw off a cheerful glow in the fireplace. The next day we were off to Boothbay, where I contacted another old friend, Barbara, who introduced us to a local car collector, Ray. She drove us to his summer house, lying in the middle of about 180 acres overlooking the river, where a perfectly restored model 904 Porsche sat in the living room. From Boothbay we threaded Townsend Gut and picked up a mooring in Ebenecook Bay. We walked to the general store, they had a surprisingly good selection of wine on sale. A front came through during the night with rain and high winds but it was all gone by morning. We powered against light southwest winds around Cape Small into Casco Bay. Just as we drew abeam of Fuller’s Rock the engine died due to the fuel filter clogging up. This is not unusual when the boat rolls in the swell, which stirs up dirt in the bottom of the tanks. Louise eyed the waves breaking on Fuller’s Rock with some apprehension but I soon had the filter cleaned and we chugged off to a mooring at Sebasco. The hotel at Sebasco offers all its facilities to cruisers, including a well-equipped gym. At the Pilot House bar Louise attacked another inoffensive lobster.
In the morning we followed a shore-side path to a restaurant I remembered from previous cruises but it was closed for the season. We moved north to “The Basin,” a secluded anchorage entered through a winding river. We toured the shore line in the dinghy, Louise is an avid bird watcher but the best sighting came as we were leaving the next day; a bald eagle kept a lonely vigil over the entrance. Traversing the southern end of Casco Bay we sailed to Portland, this was our first really foggy day but fortunately conditions improved as we got into Portland harbor. This is fairly common; a heavy fog at sea often lifts as land is approached. Portland offers a number of attractions ranging from the Train museum to the Portland Art Museum. We took in another French movie; The Intouchables. Goodness knows who dreamed up the ridiculous title, but it disguised an interesting story about a cultured, rich man paralyzed from the neck down in an accident. He hires a street-wise Senegalese to assist him and after numerous crazy adventures the two bond. It is based on fact. We also sat in on the first performance in Portland of a play about three American sisters living in London. For a change of pace we toured the childhood home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. We linked up with an old friend from Brookhaven Hamlet, Norm and his wife Sally, who entertained us with cocktails in their lovely Victorian apartment overlooking the harbor before dinner at a local bistro. In contrast to the dearth of cruising boats there were one and sometimes two cruise ships tied up in Portland. Being a cruise destination has changed the nature of downtown; interesting stores, such as old book shops, have disappeared to make way for boutiques, pottery shops and souvenir vendors.
We waited at Portland for Max’s replacement to show up for the leg to Long Island. I had recruited Jan, a retired New York City policewoman, via the Yacht Fiona Web site. She had considerable small boat sailing experience as a young woman. When she showed up she was carrying a cane, to my dismay, and later produced a small electronic blood pressure monitor, she was obviously not in the best of health. However the day of departure dawned calm and we powered down the coast. But even though the wind was light a nasty chop developed and both Louise and Jan suffered mild mal de mer. Half a day after leaving the wind picked up from the southeast and I was able to set a reefed main and jib. That stabilized the boat motion to some extent but an hour later the wheel suddenly became free in my hand, I thought the chain had broken again, something that had happened on the trip though the Northwest Passage in 2009. The ladies overcame their nausea and helped me ship the emergency tiller. This meant we had to hand-steer.
When I got a chance I looked at the steering system; two U-clamps had slipped on the wire rope and allowed the rope to become detached from the quadrant. I had had all that apart during summer and obviously had not tightened the nuts sufficiently. A few hours after midnight the wind died and I carefully regulated boat’s speed under power to arrive at the entrance of the Cape Cod Canal as the current turned west setting. We refueled but as we chugged away from the gas station the engine showed signs of overheating. I began to think the boat was jinxed. Fortunately a northwest wind developed, it died after about seven hours but by then we were well down Rhode Island Sound and I managed to nurse the engine along to Great Salt Pond at Block Island. Still hand-steering with the tiller, which gave only limited rudder movement, we picked up a mooring in the dark. In the morning I reinstalled the U-clamps so that we had wheel steering again and we launched the inflatable for a ride ashore. Water started lapping at our feet; somehow the dinghy had developed a leak! When we returned to the boat we ate supper on board and the next morning I applied a patch to a tear in the dinghy floor. Jan had been measuring her blood pressure and when I dropped her off at the Boat Basin she called her doctor on her cell phone and decided to quit the trip. I ran her stuff to the shore from the boat, and she disappeared in a taxi. I guessed she was taking a ferry but she didn’t fill me in on how she planned to return home. Maybe she thought the ferry was safer than Fiona. I temporarily fixed the overheating problem by piping seawater directly into the cooling system.
Louise and I powered down the Long Island coast in calm conditions, much easier now the wheel was working and we could engage the autopilot. I had been receiving bad news about shoaling in Fire Island Inlet from several friends. Bob Forman, who had crewed from Bermuda to Long Island in April, surveyed the inlet and sent me specific directions via e-mail for finding deep water. He also gave me a contact number for the captain of a charter fishing boat that negotiated the inlet every day. I called him before we left for the latest info. We arrived at the inlet about an hour and half before high tide. Using all the info I had been given I managed to transit the inlet without going aground, but as I turned at the last buoy the fierce current grabbed Fiona and the stern grazed the buoy. Inside it was very foggy as we navigated the twists and turns in Great South Bay until we got to the vicinity of Babylon. I think we had more excitement in the last couple of days than the whole time spent in Maine! During the cruise Fiona logged 910 nautical miles.
Fair Winds, Eric
The restored Victorian Opera House at Stonington.
Louise prepares to attack a lobster.
On top of Butter Island, Penobscot Bay.
Mr. Thomas Cabot’s poem at Butter Island.
Charter schooner off Rockland, Penobscor Bay.
A Bald Eagle with its nest, The Basin, Casco Bay.