A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: sailziveli

Swan Island Swan Song

Mackerel Cove

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After Isle au Haut, we went went to Mackerel Cove on Swan Island. That trip took us through the Casco Passage. On the charts it looked involved. We went through on a rising tide so many of the hazards were not visible. Probably, a good thing for an aged and tired pilot.

About Mackerel Cove, there nothing to say. It was just a place to anchor, and not a very great place for that. Many people suggested this place to visit, but I cannot see why. There is a ferry terminal for the ferry that runs to Bass Harbor; there are a few rocky islands and a couple of buoys. Its sole and only gracing feature is that it is only about 6 nm to Bass Harbor which is why we made it our final stop.

We hit the dock at Bass Harbor about 2 pm, that time chosen for the tide to ensure enough water at the dock in case I screwed the pooch trying to moor the boat. In the event, I did not embarrass myself to any memorable degree.

We were the shakedown cruise for the year. So, I spent some time going over the issues with the boat; there were several but none that were critical. An hour or two to move stuff from the boat to the truck and we were on our way home.

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One evening while we were riding at anchor, sitting in the cockpit and having a drink, and looking at this scene, Carol remarked that she had never imagined that she would ever be doing that again after we had sold our boat. While we were heading to Bass Harbor we made a futile attempt to grab the little wind there was and to sail back; too little wind for that. While the sails were up and hanging mostly limp I also wondered whether that was going to be the last time I ever stood at the helm of a sailboat.

If that turns out to be the deal, then that's okay. For me the question is whether I want that to be the deal. Three quarters of the earth is covered by water and I have seen more of it than most people while standing on the deck of a boat. But there is so much more to see and, I hope, time to see it.

Posted by sailziveli 10:49 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Isle au Haut

semi-overcast

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I never studied French, but Google translate says that this means: Isle at the top. That is, more or less, appropriate. It has Mt. Champlain, some 530-ft. tall, which towers over most of the other islands, save for Mt. Desert Island which holds most of Acadia National Park.

It was also an easy run from Pulpit Harbor, maybe three hours. We were steaming against the tide which was running in. All the floats on the lobster pots were leaning against the tide with little wakes pointing the other direction. All the lobster pots must meant that we have left the “high rent” districts of Castaine and Belfast.

This was another one of those days. All that was needed to scream Fall was a yellow leaf or two. The sky, the clouds, the temperature felt like October, not the end of June.

Along the way today we saw many islands that must be privately owned. One acre, maybe three, with a single home. I don’t know why the idea of owning an island seems so outrageous to me. It’s probably not much different from owning 100 acres and we know lots of folks who do. We saw a good bit of this in the Bahamas. For some reason my mind rejects this. Middle class values, I suppose.

We anchored in Laundry Cove, at the northern end of the island. No hints; Carol did no laundry the entire trip. Last night, Tuesday, was our first night exclusively at anchor. There was a storm, some wind and rain, and we were still there this morning. The experience will not get added to our list of anchoring disasters, a good thing.

It is a mile or more from the anchorage to the town dock. The tide was low when we took the dinghy in and we were able to see all of the hazards listed in the cruising guides. I am glad we did not come in through the Isle au Haut Thoroughfare. That was scary stuff and it looked even more dangerous in the actual viewing than it did in the reading.

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We had seen a church spire from the water so we decided to check it out. It is a Congregational church and it is New England personified. Oddly, there was no road to the church only a boardwalk of some 200-yards up the hill. No parking spaces at the church. It is small; 100 people would probably have filled it up. It takes me back. It’s hard to accept that in days past the congregants might have burned a witch.

There is no town to see; a small market, a lady selling lobster, a notary public, the church and a floating dock. I get the idea that folks here don’t really miss the bustle all that much. It’s quiet and has many comparisons to Spring Creek. I cannot imagine, though, what it is like here in January after a nor’easter has blown through. Staying warm must be work. We saw some fuel oil tanks and some wood piles, but I doubt that much of the wood came from the island; very few hardwood trees. The summer folks all leave after Labor Day; but there are a lot of lobster men here that call the place home.

Two Fall days in a row. Today was sunny but with no warmth; breezy, but we were not under sail. So, we went for a walk in the park, a good day for that. The trails were clear but not marked by name, so we don’t really know where we went. One hour in and another hour back. There were some interesting sights. Lots of fir trees, maybe balsam fir, basically Christmas trees waiting for lights and tinsel.

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We saw these, I think they are swamp iris. There were lots of them growing in a swamp, anyway, and they are irises. We also saw these plants in low, marshy places. They look a lot like hostas but the veins in the leaves are a little different. So, maybe not. Mostly, it was just piney woods, ferns and some sort of igneous rocks thrusting to the surface. I don’t think we ever made it to one of the crests of the “mountains” here; there never were any clear sightlines to the water. Mt. Champlain is on private land so we had no chance to go there.

This island’s history is interesting. It used to be owned by proper Bostonians, Brahmins, who later deeded much of that land to the US Park Service. Today, the northern third is private and the rest is public. It also has something I have never heard of: a private ferry owned by the residents. We saw the town taxi, today. It looked like it was a 1930’s something from a movie about prohibition, except it had way more body rust than any car in the movies. Eliot Ness could have stood on the running board chasing a bad guy.

We’ll eat on board tonight. There is more weather coming through.

Posted by sailziveli 07:36 Archived in USA Tagged islands sailing sailboats maine Comments (0)

It's Just Simple Math

Pulpit Harbor on North Haven Island

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The math is pretty simple, probably second grade level. We saw it entering and leaving Belfast Harbor. When we went into the harbor the water’s depth was 26-ft.; when we left the next day it was 13-ft. So, it shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it kinda was.

The trip south to Pulpit Harbor was easy and short. Less than 20 nm, not quite four hours. The harbor’s entrance was a little tricky to see from the open water if you had never been there before; we hadn’t. Between the charts and the cruising guides, no big deal. The charts showed Pulpit Rock guarding the harbor. It was big, it was an obvious navigational issue and it looked nothing like any pulpit I have ever seen. Maybe some rum-soaked sailor was having an attack of conscience when first he spied the rock.

It’s a fairly sheltered place, a good anchorage for any vessel. The shore is lined with nice houses, many of which have docks to the water. There were many mooring balls, all of them private according to the cruising guide, most of them vacant according to a quick assessment. So, despite the vacancies, we decided to be good citizens and anchor for the night, not wanting to usurp another’s property.

Anchoring. Every sailor has stories of what happened during an anchoring gone bad. We have Ocracoke and Awenda Creek, and weren’t interested in adding to that litany. This is the first time we had even anchored with a nylon rode (rope). Our boat had a heavy steel chain and a massive anchor although we did carry spare nylon rodes and extra anchors. So, some aspects of this were new to us. Nylon stretches and stretches even more when it gets wet. First lesson: it becomes a 150-ft. rubber band, literally. It would stretch and then contract as the wind worked on the boat. Not a problem, just new information until on one of the stretches the rudder crossed the pendant of a mooring ball. That took a while to untangle and made us decide to re-anchor somewhere else with more swing room.

Fair enough, learn from your mistakes. It’s hard to pull a 12,000-lb. boat into a 20-knot wind without a windless, but we did and moved to a new spot. A couple of hours later, as the tide was running out I looked at the depth gauge: 6-ft. of water with a 5-ft. draft and a couple more hours before the tide was low.

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We were going to be aground before the tide had completely run out. Rookie mistake!. I had not done the math; the water was too shallow. It’s even harder to pull the boat the second time, but we did, again. All thoughts of good citizenship evaporated and we took and empty mooring ball for the night. No one showed up; no one complained.

We had never seen tides quite like this in all of our travels. Two high tides and two low tides every day, with about 10-ft. to 12-ft. difference between the high and low. Thus means that every hour of every day the water level is changing by 20-in. to 24-in. up, down, then up again.

There were two schooners in the harbor that stayed the night. They were from Castaine or Belfast, or both. This one left a sail up to help it betterr ride into the wind. It was having a cookout that smelled pretty good, but there were no invites.

We never made to the Pulpit Harbor Inn for dinner; closed on Mondays. So, we stayed on the boat and went to bed early.

Posted by sailziveli 10:15 Archived in USA Tagged sailing sailboats maine Comments (0)

New Plan

Belfast, ME

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Carol said she needed to do some shopping, not in the sense that we needed stuff on the boat or else we would perish of thirst or hunger. No, she just needed to go shopping. Shopping is elemental for her, like oxygen, necessary to sustain life. So, I told her that the cruising guide said there are lots of stores in Belfast, Maine, a mere 10 nm west of Castaine, so off we went on this Sunday morning.

And a great morning it was. When we slipped the mooring the water's surface was like glass. Great for some photographic shots, but not so great for sailing. A warm sun was shining on us motored west. For a while we were the only boat in motion, at least that we could see. It was like we owned the moment, not having to share it with any other boaters.

After a couple of hours a light breeze came up from the SW, not even close to being a wind. It was just enough to fill the sails and to push the boat. We only topped 4 knots a couple of times and those times were quite evanescent. And with the breeze other sails started to go up. It was like white flowers blooming from the sea.

Belfast was a surprise. A lot of sailboats, including two schooners that take folks out for day cruises. I guess that I still have schooner envy. I would love to sail one of those vessels but I see no way to make that happen. I would guess that there are at least 100 mooring balls here, probably more. Maybe one in three is in use.

For the first couple of days we spent a lot of energy dodging lobster pots. They were thick ... in the harbors, in the channels and in the open water. About halfway through Eggemoggin Reach they almost disappeared. Not coincidentally, we started seeing really nice homes lining the coasts of the islands and mainland. Best guess: this place is too expensive for lobster men to live and too far away for them to waste time and fuel getting here.

For all the time that we spent fogged in we are both pretty red in the face. Some sun, some wind and my face looks like a crispy critter and so do the backs of my hands. For all the sunscreen and SPF 50 clothing, Carols is also pretty pink.

We are now on the western side of Penobscot Bay, an area that I never even considered in the original cruising plan. The trick is to get back east without going over the same ground. So, the new plan is to head to Pulpit Harbor on the island of North Haven. There is an old inn there, the Pulpit Harbor Inn, which is supposed to have good food. I'm sure Carol can be talked into forgoing cooking on the boat. From there, a couple of nights at Isle Au Haut, a tricky bit getting to Mackerel Cove and then back to Bass Harbor.

I had thought that renting a boat might not be a good idea, that I would endlessly compare this boat to ours and not like the differences. And, there has been some of that. But mostly it has been about accepting the boat for what it is and learning to work within those constraints. With our boat we were married. With this boat it's just a first date.

Posted by sailziveli 16:41 Comments (0)

Burnt Coat Harbor & Castine Bay

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My whole reason for doing this in June was to avoid the crowds. Did I ever get that right. In Blue Hill Harbor they were having a new employee orientation the day we were there. Tonight, we tried to eat at an old inn and were told that they hadn’t even staffed up yet. Clearly, mission accomplished.

So, left Blue Hill Harbor a little after 0800; got the boat into open water and futzed around with the sails which eventually we got up. Since there was no particular hurry we decided to sail the whole way. Slow going for the first few miles; just not very much wind. Then we came from the lee of Long Island, one of a dozen, or so, in these part with this same name, and things really heated up.

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Without trying very hard, the boat’s speed picked up, and up and up. At one point we were sailing over 8 knots, something that never, ever happened in our boat. This boat flies. Despite all that speed, this schooner went by us like we were at a standstill. That in no way diminished the fun. It was bright, it was sunny and we were sailing. What else could there be on such a day.

I had forgotten, I guess, how physical sailing like that can be. Sailing slow is easy; sailing fast is working the lines and fighting the helm to hold the line with the wind. Boats, sometimes, tend to move into the wind when the boat heels over and the rudder has less purchase in the water. This is called weather helm and it is a constant tug-of-war between the boat, the wind and the helm. Fun first, fatigue second and the sails came down the last mile or two.

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So, finally we made it to Burnt Coat Harbor. There are not any local legends, at least in the cruising guides to tell us whose coat got burnt, when the fire occurred or how the flames started. Inquiring minds will never know. The harbor is a working harbor mostly devoted to lobster, a few scallops, clams and mussels. It was interesting that the men had formed a co-op, vertical integration, it seems. Anyway, this place had a restaurant a couple of miles away in Minturn, which being old and tired, seemed like a long hike, so we did not even bother going ashore. We grabbed a mooring ball and called it a day.

We buttoned up the boat for the night and then there was the problem: no power for any of the boat’s systems. We could start the boat, but nothing else would power up. Big problem because without a chart plotter I wasn’t going anywhere other than to bed. We called Carlton J. who maintains the boat for the owner and he allowed that he would be out the next morning, by boat, probably fifteen miles from Bass Harbor.

I really figured that the trip was over. We would get towed back to port and disembark, then head back home. When Carlton came along side in his boat the next morning, he had brought his wife and two dogs, one of which was bigger than me. Turns out the problem was nothing more than a loose battery cable; easily tightened and power returned.

The weather forecast was lousy: rain, fog and high winds, too high for sailing. So where to go? We had planned on a place called Bucks Harbor but there are no mooring balls these and I did not want to anchor in a strange boat, in a strange place and rely on everything going right in bad weather.

We decided to traverse the whole length of Eggemoggin Reach and head for Castaine Bay with mooring balls and restaurants. It was a tedious day. Some rain but mostly just gray. No wind, so we motored the whole way intent on beating the weather, which we did.

What made the day enjoyable was lighthouses, three of them. One at the entrance to Burnt Coat Harbor, the second in Eggemoggin Reach and the final one at the entrance to Castine Bay. Lighthouses seem anachronistic in today’s digital world. But these areas have working boats with local residents, and sometimes electronics fail, and sometimes they fail on a dark and stormy night.

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This evening, after dinner, as we were walking back to the boat, we saw the fog rolling in, just like in San Francisco Bay. You cannot call Castaine Bay big although it is bigger than the other places we have been. It is a quaint village on a pretty bay.

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They claim to have real elm trees, 300 or so, that have not been infected with the Dutch elm disease. The leaves looked about right; this tree is in the town square next to the library next to which these flowers were blooming.

As we had driven, and now cruised around these coasts of Maine I have been struck by how lush the greenery is. In the woods you see lots of ferns, moss and such and reminds me of the Olympic peninsula in Washington state. It seems to be a kind of rain forest, just skip the word tropical.
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The weather has been a frustration, of course. But after all those years on our boat we know that it is just part of the deal. What has been getting me is the lack of good cellular coverage. Everywhere we have been on the trip has had only 1X coverage. This works for voice, but forget about data, it just cannot happen. I am at the library in Castine using their free wifi and I am greatly appreciative for having it.

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The fog is still with us but the high winds never did arrive. Laying over in this place was a good choice. We get to eat out both night, a haddock fish fry last night, get some ice and other supplies Tomorrow, Sunday, we'll head south to Isle du Haut, a remote island mostly owned by the US Park Service. It is considered part of the Acadia Nat'l Park and has hiking trails. The island actually has a little height, topping 500-ft. I think. There are only three places to anchor, no mooring balls, and all three anchorages have liabilities. I doubt that the cell phones will actually work there, but even if they do, no data so, no blog.

Posted by sailziveli 12:30 Archived in USA Tagged sailing sailboats maine Comments (0)

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