Thursday, September 24, 2020

Bye, Teddy

We are underway downbound on the Kennebec. The really skinny stuff is behind me now, Otto is driving, and I have some time to type. We had a great stop in Augusta, where Hurricane Teddy was pretty much a non-event, just as we prefer it.

Teddy-driven surf at Ocean Point. Photo: Steve Demaranville

Tuesday our friends Ann and Steve from Boothbay drove up for a visit. We were hoping to sit out behind Cushnoc Brewing on one of their picnic tables for lunch, but apparently the back patio only opens at dinner time, and the two tables out front were occupied. We ended up getting two pizzas to go and walked them back to Vector, where we sat on the aft deck.

Louise and Ann showing off Kathleen's quilt. Photo: Steve Demaranville.

The pizza was quite good, and we had a pleasant conversation. Well, when we could hear each other. Apparently, Tuesday was the day when all the Augusta fire trucks have their pumps tested by a service company; every engine in town came down to the boat ramp across from us, connected to a giant suction hose in the river, and blasted water out of a deck gun that the service company had set up on the riverbank. When they ran the pumps up to full speed, the engine noise was a bit overwhelming.

The first of a half dozen fire engines testing their pumps. It was 40° when I took this shot.

I took the e-bike out for a spin around town both before and after lunch. In the morning I rode down to the Capitol, taking the rail trail to a small connector that comes out at Capitol Park. I then rode back to town along State Street, passing the governor's mansion and the Civil War memorial.

Maine Capitol from the eponymous Olmstead-designed park.

In the afternoon, I rode up to Mill Park, which is basically the filled-in remains of the controlling works for the Edwards Dam, which impounded the Kennebec north of Augusta for 162 years. It was the first dam ever to be denied a renewal of operating permit, and was removed in 1999; the native fish populations decimated by the dam are already recovering somewhat.

Standing on part of the old dam, now a park, looking across the river to the ruins of the powerhouse.

There I came across the Tuesday Farmers' Market in a nice pavilion. There was nothing we needed but I picked up a couple of home-made cookies for later. The park also sports a large p├ętanque court, the nicest I've seen. I spent a few minutes walking on the remains of the dam structure.

Farmers' market, Tuesdays 2-6.

Tuesday afternoon and evening, Teddy passed by offshore, on its way to Nova Scotia. The highest winds we saw in Augusta were perhaps fifteen. The coastal forecast was for dozen-footers, though, and I suggested to Ann and Steve that they swing by Ocean Point when they returned home to have a look. They sent us the photos of some spectacular surf.

Vector in downtown Augusta, as seen from Memorial Bridge. I had to crouch below the suicide fence to get this shot.

Following behind the storm were much warmer temperatures. Yesterday was a perfect day, and I took the e-bike out to big-box land near I-95. After a quick stop at Home Depot, a ride around the enormous mall grounds, and a half sandwich on an outside table at Panera Bread, I headed into the Walmart Supercenter for supplies.

Blaine House, the official governor's residence.

I needed four more gallons of motor oil for the main engine, which limited how much else I was able to carry, but still I was able to fill the whole list. The final item was batting for Louise's quilting; they had four packages left, and I took them all. That made the bike look like I rode out of the Grapes of Wrath, but it was all downhill to get home and I made it with no escapees.

Loaded up. The tiny wheels make it look all the more wonky. Not shown: the full backpack. I can only fit three gallons of oil in the basket. The fourth gallon and most of the groceries are in the pack.

With a day finally warm enough for the task, I changed the engine and gear oil on the dinghy outboard, slightly overdue, and then used the remains of the day to ride down to Hallowell on the rail trail. There I found Lee Ann tied to the dock; the skipper reported he was scraping bottom at low tide, so definitely not enough water for Vector. I am glad we did not attempt it on the way up.

The dock and bulkhead in Hallowell, with its colorful Adirondack chairs. Lee Ann just off frame at left.

I spent a few minutes riding around town before heading right back up the rail trail. Back in Augusta I made a quick loop of the eastern shore before returning to Vector and hoisting the e-bike back aboard. We strolled over to the Raging Bull Saloon for dinner on their "deck," a temporary platform in a parking spot. They were using bar stools to rope it off, except here the bar stools are western saddles on posts. We were the only ones dining al fresco.

Beer at the Raging Bull Saloon. Note the saddle-stools. This was our warmest evening.

All in all it was an excellent stop, but this morning the timing of the tide was favorable to leave (yesterday we would have had to leave before breakfast) and we dropped lines just ahead of high tide to have the best water for departure. NOAA discontinued its tide station in Augusta five years ago, so lacking reliable tide information, I've been recording sounder readings over the course of our stay and basically made my own table.

Downtown Hallowell.

That made all the difference, and the spot that read just seven feet on our way upriver carried ten feet on our way out, a much less nerve-wracking experience. We cruised right past Hallowell and also Gardiner, where we might have anchored but there was certainly no room at the dock. We arrived at the turn for Richmond just below mid-tide and falling, and while we probably could have easily cleared the shoal at the entrance and made it to the dock, we decided instead to keep riding the ebb downriver.

Civil War memorial.

Tonight we should be in Bath again, or else anchored nearby, and tomorrow we will use the first of two very nice outside windows to exit the Kennebec, round Cape Small, and make our way back into Casco Bay. My part for the master head is waiting for me in Portland, along with a third pair of lithium batteries, and we need to get those aboard before our clock expires in Maine. We'll get in a visit with our friends there, who have been gracious enough to receive all this, and then use the next available window to continue south. 

Lithgow Library.

Update: We are tied to the town dock in Bath (map), again with permission to stay the night. As I finish typing it's 80°, a far cry from two days ago when we did not even make it into the 60s. The riverside park is busy; clearly everyone is enjoying the nice weather.

When we were singling up this morning we found this wheel trapped with other detritus between the bow and the dock. The river always flows downstream here, where the outflow overcomes the tide. I pulled it out and left it on the dock.

My next post will likely be departing Portland.

The old arsenal. This shoal is covered at high tide. I shot this from the bridge, since I could not snap it from the helm while driving.

Gratuitous shot of the last engine of the day running its pump. Warmer now, at least.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Capital investment

We are under way upbound on the Kennebec River. We're bound for Augusta, the state capital, or as close as we can get given channel conditions. Winds from Hurricane Teddy will arrive tomorrow, with 16' waves out in the Gulf of Maine. We figure we'll be most protected here, some 35 miles inland.

Vecor, looking diminutive at the Augusta city dock, on the Kennebec. The river was like a mirror this evening, a condition not likely to repeat during our stay.

We had a lovely night off Farnham Point on the Damariscotta, where it was dark and quiet. As much as I would have liked to run the dozen miles up to the head of navigation at the towns of Newcastle and Damariscotta, nature delivered us another very good day to run outside, and we seized the opportunity, heading back down river in the morning.

In order to have a favorable tide for most of the day, we had to push against the flood to leave the river, but as soon as we turned around Ocean Point and into Booth Bay we had it with us. So much so that I had to dial the throttle way back in order to time our arrival at the Southport Island swing bridge in the Townsend Gut. Still, I had to station-keep for several minutes.

Vector at anchor in the Sheepscot, off Wiscasset. I snapped this from the deck at the Twin Schooner Pub; that's Sprague's Lobster  in the foreground.

Once through the bridge we finished retracing our steps from the last trip, turning north out of the gut into the Sheepscot River. We rode the flood all the way to the head of navigation at Wiscasset, where we dropped the hook in the designated anchorage across the river (map). The Sheepscot is stunningly beautiful, and we had a very nice cruise.

Wiscasset, being right on US-1, is a tourist town, and on a sunny weekend it was quite busy. We went ashore in the warmest part of the afternoon to stroll around and take it all in; we had passed through here in Odyssey but did not stop. Wiscasset belongs to Museum in the Streets, with many historic buildings. We enjoyed our walk.

Downtown Bath, from in front of the aptly named Over The Moon lingerie shop.

We knew it would be far too cold at dinner time to want to sit outside at any of the three or four restaurants in town, and so before returning to the tender, we stopped for an afternoon beer on the otherwise empty deck at the Twin Schooner Pub, part of Sarah's Cafe. Two lobster shacks were doing a brisk business in lobster rolls, including Reds Eats, which is famous enough that the line, well past lunch hour, literally went around the block. I thought briefly about returning ashore at dinner time and picking up a couple of rolls to go, but even that would have been a frosty experience, and a tourist town is not the best place for a lobster roll.

The lighting was not in my favor, but I snapped this Zumwalt-class stealth ship in front of Bath Iron Works as we made for the railroad bridge. It showed up fine on radar. The Zumwalt herself was there on our last pass through.

We left the tender in the water, in case I wanted to return in the morning, or maybe land at the Edgecomb landing across the river. With chilly temps, I was uninspired all morning, and we decked the tender well ahead of the change of tide, for more flexibility in our departure.

Another view of downtown Bath, behind the historic Hallet's Drug Store clock.

Just a mile and a half south of town, on a tidal channel known as the Back River (one of numerous channels with that same name), which was our planned next leg, lies the Cowseagan Narrows, crossed by a high bridge that connects the enormous Westport Island to the mainland. After seeing a warning on the chart and studying the Coast Pilot on this stretch, we wanted to hit it fairly close to slack:

Currents are strong and erratic through Back River and in the vicinity of the fixed Cowseagan Narrows Bridge, clearance 48 feet, that crosses Cowseagan Narrows about 2 miles south of Wiscasset. The edges and shoals in the narrows make the channel quite narrow at this point. Mariners are advised that passage through the narrows should not be attempted without local knowledge, and then only by small boats at slack water.

That kind of verbiage is enough to give any mariner pause. We could see the bridge from our anchorage, and could also observe some boats on moorings between us and the bridge, which I used as something of a current gauge. When it looked like things were pretty slack, we weighed anchor and headed toward the narrows, secure in the knowledge that we had an extra ten feet of depth at close to high tide.

Bath has decorated the barricades protecting the outside dining. The cranes at left reflect the Bath Iron Works shipyard.

As it turned out, it was easy to navigate and to control, even having to dodge lobster floats, but my timing was off ever so slightly, and we shot through the narrows with three knots behind us. I'm glad we were paying close attention, because hitting those narrows at mid-tide would have been quite the wild ride.

The tides meet just a few miles further, at Youngs Point, and our timing there was perfect. We had favorable tide the whole way, so much so that, when we reached the confluence of the Sasanoa in Hockomock Bay, we had to drop the hook in the exact same spot we did five years ago, this time to wait for the tide to actually become less favorable, so we would not have five knots or more behind us at Upper Hell Gate.

The old Customs House in Bath. Pretty much every port city in Maine had a Customs House; we've seen one at almost every stop.

Reading my blog entry from that passage reminds me that five years ago, we were a lot less experienced and thus a lot more nervous about such things. On that passage, we wanted to hit the gate at slack, with a touch of current against us. Now I am happy to have it behind us, but not five knots' worth. Just as we dropped the hook to wait, I saw the local Boothbay tour boat, Pink Lady II, on our AIS, coming up through Hell Gate against the tide, so I called on the radio to ask about conditions. He reported four to five knots, but said we would be good in about an hour. Local knowledge.

Bath City Hall.

In order to reach him, I had to time my call in between the Coast Guard and Sea Tow handling a Mayday call just a few miles from us, a cruiser that ran up on the rocks near Spectacle Island. When the call first came in and we copied the location, we could see it was very close to us. But at our speed and against the tide we were 45 minutes out, and the fast boats coming from Boothbay arrived in perhaps ten minutes or so. All six aboard were rescued and the boat was recovered.

We set a timer for an hour, and when it was up we weighed anchor and continued through the Sasanoa and Upper Hell Gate, retracing our old steps to the Kennebec. We shot out into the river well before the railroad bridge tender's quitting time of 4:30; the bridge was already open but we called to advise her of our passage.

Vector in her "usual spot" at the Bath town dock, in front of the park.

I had originally planned to end the day upriver at Richmond, but the hour at anchor meant we ran out of tide just as we cleared the bridges, and it was already 4:30. I called the Bath Harbormaster on the phone for permission to tie to their float overnight (map), which we shared with a Loop boat named Lee Ann. We topped up our water tank, and walked into town, insulated pizza-carrier in hand, to pick up a pie at well-rated Bruno's Woodfired Pizza.

The takeout pizza plan was again owing to the low temperatures and stiff breeze that is making outdoor dining uncomfortable. But when we arrived to place our order, they showed us their back patio, protected from the wind and sporting a warm gas fireplace. We had a nice pizza dinner with draft beers next to the fire and were quite comfortable. Bruno's is new since our last visit, and we can recommend it.

Downtown Augusta; their town mural, left, is smaller than Bangor's.

Much of the rest of the town is just as we left it five years ago, including the nice dock and adjacent park, and the shops and restaurants along the main street. The quilt shop that Louise visited back then seems to have gone away, and some places are struggling. Bath Iron Works continues to build the Zumwalt-class stealth ships here.

This morning we went back ashore after it warmed up a bit (it was in the 30s overnight) and walked to the IGA grocery across the street to stock up on a few provisions. This continues to be one of the very easiest-to-access grocery stops, especially to a Vector-friendly dock. We dropped lines at the turn of the tide, just after lunch.

The Olde Federal Building, Augusta.

It has been a beautiful cruise, with the leaves just starting to turn. The river is blissfully free of pot floats, and is mostly unspoiled forestland along the shores. Few come up this way; we've seen only two other boats since we left the dock. Lee Ann left ahead of us, bound for Hallowell, so we will pass them later. Their presence there means that Hallowell will not be a backup option for us if Augusta does not work out, but we'll figure something out.

Vector at the Augusta dock. We're using the whole float.

Update: Well, I almost managed to finish this post, in fact I was loading the photos, when things got very skinny, and I had to hand-steer for the rest of the trip. And by skinny, I mean both narrow (most of the way) and shallow (in some spots). We did cross one 7.5' sounding, at a tide level of perhaps +1.5' or maybe even 2'.

Two small tables outside State Lunch. We are the only outdoor diners in Augusta.

We made it through successfully, though, and we're tied to the city dock in downtown Augusta (map). I called the city's community services office to let them know we wanted to stay on the dock; the manager, who also serves as harbormaster, welcomed us to Augusta and let me know he would inform the police that we are here.

Our view from dinner. It's hard to capture just how nicely painted these facades are.

We tried to anchor in the river before coming to the dock, but the bottom is scoured rock. We're still ruminating about whether this dock is up to the challenge of holding Vector in 20kt winds, gusting to 30. That said, we'll likely stay put, as it's nice here, and about as far as we can get from the storm. Dinner time rolled around before I finished the post, and we had a very pleasant dinner at a cocktail bar called State Lunch, just a couple of blocks from the dock, on Water Street, in the old downtown.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Running before the storm

We are underway on a southwesterly heading in the Gulf of Maine, having left Penobscot Bay via the Muscle Ridge Channel this morning. As I begin typing we are just offshore Mosquito Island. We are making a run for the Damariscotta River, with Hurricane Teddy barreling toward us. This will be our second named storm this year, having already ridden out Bertha, minor (for us) though it was, and our sixth major named storm on the boat.

We had a comfortable afternoon aboard Monday, and we splashed the tender in the warmest part of the day and I went ashore to explore a bit and drop a package at the post office. I was pleased to find that Rockland has put some barricades in the street and several places had outside tables, although many were dark Monday evening.

We returned ashore at dinner time and dined under a canopy in a parking lot, across from Cafe Miranda. We were a bit shielded from the wind, and the food was quite good and reasonably priced. We strolled the town a bit, then bashed our way back across the harbor to Vector, where we would be pinned down for the next 48 hours.

As expected, winds clocked around to the southwest on Tuesday, and escalated steadily throughout the day. It was way too windy to try to get ashore at all, but we were mostly comfortable on board. Louise sewed and I got a few projects done, and we had a quiet dinner aboard. Winds were in the 20-30 range when we turned in.


Sunset over Rockland through the smoke from, I kid you not, the fires on the west coast.

By Wednesday morning, winds had climbed into the 30-40 range, gale force. Even though we were fairly southwest in the harbor, we still had enough fetch to have a bumpy morning, and with winds only forecast to increase, we weighed anchor before lunch and moved as close to the southwest corner as we dared get, out of Anchorage A in an area called Seal Ledge. We dropped the hook just a hundred yards or so from a rock shoal that uncovers, marked with a daybeacon (map).

Things were a bit more comfortable there, but we stil had gale force winds all day. We were certain we'd be stuck on the boat another evening, but right at dinner time the winds laid down into the 20's, and we seized the opportunity to run ashore at the nearby boat ramp. It would have been way too far in the conditions to go all the way to the town dock.

Landing at the boat ramp sent us to a restaurant we would not otherwise have tried, Primo. This is a high end, farm-to-table affair, which is almost never our thing, but they had outside tables on a lovely patio overlooking the bay, on the lee side of the building. We were surprisingly comfortable, and the food and service were top notch. They grow many of the herbs and veggies right on the property, and even raise their own chickens.

It was good to get off the boat, even if we had a bit of a wet ride back, the wind having picked up again while we were away. Still, we were mostly comfortable, but we noticed a lot of clunking overnight, which we attributed to the snubber. As it turned out, the carabiner we use for a chain hook on the snubber finally corroded through overnight and was gone by morning, In hindsight, we should have recognized the excess noise and gone out to check, so as not to load the windlass and anchor roller.

Apparently the coasties also use Anchorage A to practice with their 47' Motor Life Boat.

While we were pinned down on the boat for two days by gales, a part of the country was, of course, faring much worse. It was painful to watch the coverage roll in from the gulf on the landfall of slow-moving but destructive Hurricane Sally. With lots of time on my hands I wrote up a quick set of suggestions for those on the Western Rivers still working their way down to the gulf. My post to the Great Loop groups on Facebook quickly took off, and was picked up by a magazine editor who asked if he could republish it. It's making the rounds; one version is here.

By yesterday morning, the harbor was nearly flat calm, and it was a beautiful day. It's easy to be deceived by these harbor conditions, but we knew the ocean conditions would still be bad after two straight days of gale force winds. We settled in to to enjoy a final day of calm in Rockland.

I headed ashore after lunch with the e-bike to run some errands. That included filling the dinghy gas tank, which was a perfect fit in my new basket, stopping at Lowes to check out some floor and window covering options (both are in need of replacement in the saloon), and making a provisioning run to Walmart. Between my backpack and the basket I managed to fit four gallons of motor oil along with the rest of the provisions; the main engine is nearly due for a change and I will need to source another four gallons someplace.

It was such a nice day that I rode to Walmart in my shirtsleeves, but on my way home the skies darkened and the temperature dropped. Nevertheless we managed to return ashore at dinner time for a final dinner at North Beacon Oyster right on the main drag. Dinner was good, if a bit close to traffic on the street.

Dinghy fuel tank in the ebike basket. Fits like a glove and makes the bike look gas-powered. I just filled it like this at the gas station.

This morning a re-check of the weather confirmed that today was the right day to get out of Dodge. We bashed our way out of the harbor, with seas just port of on the nose. But after making our turn to starboard around Owls Head and taking this southwesterly course, seas have been behind us and it has been a comfortable ride.

Update: We are anchored in the Damariscotta River, just inside a small peninsula called Farnham Point (map). I had to stop typing well offshore due to increasing pot float density. We took the outside route to get beyond the 3nm limit and, umm, take care of business. During that process we observed that the forward tank has stopped flowing into the aft tank, which is where the macerator and pumpout are connected.

The only working head on the boat right now empties into the forward tank, and so the very first order of business after getting the hook set here was to deal with the flow problem. I will spare you the details; suffice it to say it is an unpleasant task, but we now have enough experience to make it relatively fast. After the "repair" I showered and plopped down in an easy chair with a beer. Soon afterward we moved on to dinner, and I am just now getting back to the keyboard.

A key reason for making a beeline here to the Damariscotta, rather than any intermediate stops in Muscongus Bay, which is probably a lovely cruising ground, is that we can run upriver to the head of navigation and be nearly 20 miles inland for storm protection. But at this writing, it looks like we still have another day of good weather on the outside, and so we can round Ocean Point, head up through Booth Bay into Townsend Gut, and make our way to the Sheepscot, which will give us more options as well as allow us to keep cruising until the storm is closer.

We're still on the fence as to whether we will continue first to Newcastle and Damariscotta, the head of navigation on this river. If we do so, it will be a day cruise, running upriver in the morning on the flood, spending the midday hour in town, and coming right back downriver on the ebb to make Townsend Gut by days end. We'll decide in the morning, after another check of the weather.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Weather-driven routing

We are underway southbound in the western arm of Penobscot Bay, out of Gilkey Harbor and bound for Rockland. I've been steering by hand until now, driving around pot floats, which are finally thinning out enough for me to type. Yesterday proved to be something of a goat rope, and, as so often happens, the weather has taken over and is making our decisions for us.

The night view from our anchorage in Bucksport. That's Jupiter at upper left, above the Narrows Bridge. Fort Knox is lit at right.

We had a pleasant stay in Bucksport. I went ashore in the afternoon to explore, and I found two auto parts stores that would not reopen until today, and a small Hannaford grocery, although there was nothing we needed. What I did not find were any restaurants open for dinner with outside seating. So I took some photos, enjoyed the main street and the river walk, and returned home for the duration.

Not to be outdone by Bangor, Bucksport also has a mural.

We have moved into a fall weather pattern here in Maine, where windows for movement in open water become shorter, fewer, and further between. And thus it was that, when we were ready to leave Bucksport, we knew we were about to be pinned down someplace for the better part of a week. Our plan had been to make Vinalhaven by way of Belfast, but Vinalhaven did not offer the protection we'd need.

The Buck Memorial Library is in this impressive 1887 stone edifice.

We switched gears to aim for Rockland instead, even though it was not on our plan for this season. The harbor offers more protection there, and there are plenty of services ashore if we need them. We weighed anchor with the tide and headed back downriver for Belfast.

This classic street clock in front of the offices of the "Bucksport Enterprise" fittingly proclaims it to be a 'Wicked Good Read'

As it turned out, conditions rapidly became worse than forecast. We entered Penobscot Bay with winds blowing 30-35 from the south. It pushed the bay up into a frothy mess, and we bashed through two to three footers on short period all the way to Belfast. We were hoping to find some protection deep in the harbor, and we were willing to (gasp) pay for a mooring to get it. We also needed a pumpout, to give us the freedom to hunker down someplace for a while without worrying about tank capacity.

Vector peacefully at anchor in Bucksport.

Belfast has plenty of services and restaurants, and we were looking forward to spending a night. But the harbor is open to the southeast, and as we got closer to the inner harbor, it became clear that even the moorings were uncomfortable. I neglected to capture it on camera, but we could see very large boats, some steel, pitching wildly even on the closer-in moorings. Three Nordhavns in port were wisely tied to docks behind a breakwall -- $2.50 a foot or more, and sold out for the night.

This sign on the river walk belies Bucksport's sense of its own place in the world.

We continued all the way into the harbor anyway, because we still wanted a pumpout. We pulled up to the city fuel dock, and spent literally an hour trying to get their anemic pump to empty our tank. We were able to get maybe ten percent out of it in fits and starts before giving up altogether. They did not charge us, but I did tip the dockhand.

Numerous historic plaques line the river walk. This one speaks in the present tense of the bridge that was demolished in 2013 after the new narrows bridge opened.

They told us they had one 65' mooring available, and we did stop and look at it on our way out, but it was clear it would be miserable until sometime in the middle of the night when the winds shifted. It would also be a miserable, wet ride to and from town. As much as we wanted to spend a night, we opted to continue to more protected waters.

The Fort Point Light Station, in the eponymous state park, where the river transitions to the bay. Had we not been outrunning weather, we could have anchored in the nearby cove, where the park has a dinghy landing, and explored a little.

Heading straight to Rockland would have put us in harbor a bit past dinner time with the late start. It would also have us bashing into seas the rest of the day. Instead we chose to cross the bay and make for Gilkey Harbor, protected by Islesboro, Warren, Spruce, and Seven Hundred Acre Islands. Things calmed right down as soon as we passed the Islesboro ferry landing, and we drove around the corner and dropped the hook in Cradle Cove, a protected anchorage with good holding (map).

Islesboro ferry landing and light station.

This morning we weighed anchor with the tide for the two-plus-hour run to Rockland Harbor. Conditions today are much better, but it is a short-lived lull. My weather router says that Friday is likely our earliest window to leave. And even at that, we may have to move around the harbor some to be comfortable throughout our stay.

Gratuitous shot of Vector with the Penobscot Narrows Bridge as backdrop.

Update:
We are anchored in Rockland Harbor General Anchorage A, in pretty much the exact same spot we used five years ago (map). Once again we are the only vessel in the anchorage. We're only a couple hundred yards from the edge of the mooring field, not a long ride to the town landing at all. It's a bit choppy with today's north wind, but tolerable, and this is where we want to be when the wind clocks around tomorrow.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Bangor bust

We are underway downbound on the Penobscot River, after a somewhat surprising five full days in Bangor, Maine, which was not a bust at all (I could not resist the play on words, which also serves as a reminder of how to pronounce "Bangor"). The river is like glass, and I have a knot of current behind me. Right now it's a perfect day, in the low 60s, although it was 46° when we awoke this morning.

This mural is along the main crossroad to Brewer. The rooms above appear to be a flophouse; Bangor has a large homeless population.

We had a lovely night at Swans Island after my last post. As I was looking at the chart for the morning route, I realized we'd been to Swans before, except we were on the opposite, south end of the island, in Burnt Coat Harbor, where we met up with friends. Before we weighed anchor I did a quick inspection with the underwater camera from the tender; it appears we still have a line caught in our port fin, with a small pot float attached. I can't reach it without diving.

Castine, Maine, home of the Maine Maritime Academy. Ship at left is their training vessel, State of Maine.

We got under way on a fair tide and worked our way around a number of small islands on our way to Eggemoggin Reach. Here we retraced our steps from five years ago, passing under the Deer Isle Bridge and out into Penobscot Bay. We then turned north into new territory for us, rounding Cape Rosier and continuing upriver to Nautilus Island and Castine, where we dropped the hook in a small cove near Henry Island, behind a barge mooring (map).

We were a little apprehensive about arriving to a coastal town in the middle of a holiday weekend, especially since Castine, at least among boaters, is overhyped. As it turned out, the place was dead. It's a quaint town and we strolled around, but the lone restaurant with outside seating was dark for Sunday, even on the holiday weekend. The waterfront place never opened this season, the hotel's restaurant is closed for the pandemic, and the only going concern right on the corner was indoor-only. Moreover, it was not properly spaced and folks were not being careful.

Sunset from our anchorage in Castine, over sandwiches. Barge in foreground is a notch barge hailing from Oyster Bay, NY. It looks to have been there a long time.

Right near the town dock is a small grocery (more like a c-store) with a service deli. We picked up a couple of home-made sandwiches and brought them back to the boat for dinner. The sandwiches were actually pretty good, including my homemade meatball sandwich. It was a pretty stop, but we have no need to repeat it on the downbound leg.

Penobscot Narrows Bridge, and beyond, the town of Bucksport.

Monday morning we weighed anchor with the flood and continued north through the upper reaches of Penobscot Bay. Rounding the first corner at Dice Head, coming out of Castine, the chart had me swing wide to keep clear of the security zone around a "wind turbine," but we saw no such turbine in the water. It turns out to have been an experimental floating system run by the university that is now long gone, but the security zone and its marker buoys remain.

A few miles later, the bay narrows down to the Penobscot River, right around the tip of Verona Island. The river is narrow, deep, and scenic, and we had a lovely cruise. Eventually we came to the Penobscot Narrows, just downriver of Bucksport, and under the Penobscot Narrows Bridge. We crossed this bridge in Odyssey a decade ago, when it was relatively new, and I lamented that we did not know the observatory at the top of the west tower was open. I was surprised to see it open and full of tourists as we passed beneath it in Vector.

Fort Knox, guarding the narrows. Not the one with the gold.

One of our options was to stop for the night in Bucksport after passing the narrows. As we approached, we could see Bucksport was very busy, a fact we attributed simply to Labor Day. The town was full of cruiser motorcycles, and there was a lot of activity on the water, with myriad small boats packing the docks, most sporting Trump campaign flags. We decided it would be a safer and more pleasant visit on the downbound leg, and, with plenty of fair tide left, we opted to continue all the way to Bangor, the head of navigation.

Vector at anchor in the Penobscot at Bangor, as seen from Brewer. Hollywood Casino in background.

From Bucksport to Bangor, an easy and scenic cruise, we passed four more small-boat marinas, and all seemed unusually busy, with yet more Trump flags. I became concerned we'd arrive to find a zoo in Bangor, with no place to dock or anchor. Going ashore in safety was less of a concern, as we knew we could just wait until the holiday weekend was over. When we passed a public greenspace filling up with lawn chairs facing the river and yet more Trump flags, I finally connected the dots and realized it was a boat parade.

Fortunately, we arrived in Bangor ahead of any happenings. The city transient docks were empty, and the river was devoid of boats, anchored or otherwise. We dropped the hook across from the city docks, on the Brewer side of the river, in a spot marked on our charts. The flood was still running, and the wind was blowing upriver at 25-30 as I spun the boat around and we lowered the anchor.

Bangor (and Brewer, right) at night from our quiet anchorage.

I'm not sure what sort of boat anyone was in when they marked this spot as a viable anchorage; probably nothing larger than a center console. But we found the bottom to be scoured down to rock, and after dragging the bottom for 50' in two different spots, we instead headed back downriver to another marked spot near the amphitheater, indicated as "good for concerts." We found the same bottom conditions here and once again had to regroup.

Lots of streets have these colorful barricades to make more outdoor dining.

We gave it one more try a bit further downriver, across from the casino, before we'd give up and just tie to the dock at $70 per night. The third time's the charm, as they say, and after dragging for 20' or so, the anchor grabbed in what we assume to be some gravel (map). We were holding fast, so we put out a bit more scope and the snubber and called it good enough until we could see what would happen when the tide changed.

Thus we were relaxing in the saloon, glad to be inside and out of the 30kt wind, when the aforementioned Trump boat parade arrived. It turns out that it was both a boat and a motorcycle event, and the bikers had arrived in town ahead of the boats and were lining the city waterfront and making quite the ruckus as the boats turned around to head back to Bucksport, the nominal starting point. It was a bit amusing to watch some struggle in the small-craft-advisory conditions, and we half expected a repeat of Austin, but it seems they all made it out. Of course, they did stir the river up, and waked us in both directions.

Trump boat parade between us and town. This picture does not capture the chaos.

By dinner time it was blissfully quiet, and, confident our anchor was holding in both directions, we splashed the tender and headed ashore. There's a brewpub right at the top of the dock with lots of nice patio seating, but we opted to walk the few blocks to downtown instead. We are glad we did.

West Market Square downtown, with several eateries. We ate at Blaze, right in the square.

Unlike tourism-driven coastal Maine, where the downtowns can often look like caricatures of themselves, Bangor has a practical yet eclectic downtown that has arisen organically over two centuries. The core is vibrant, at least given the circumstances, with a dozen or more eating and drinking establishments, a handful of shops, and the sort of infrastructure you'd expect to find in one of the state's largest cities. And they've gone the extra mile to block parking spaces and even whole streets or sidewalks to create more outdoor dining during the pandemic.

We opted for the roped-off sidewalk in front of Blaze, a tiny regional chain of wood-fired oven places (we had seen one in Bar Harbor). Several restaurants are right here in the market square, and on a pleasant, if windy, evening, all had outside patrons. The food was excellent and the staff friendly; we can recommend it, although we did not try the pizza on this visit.

This whimsical sign is on the Maine Discovery Museum.

Tuesday I returned ashore stag to do some exploring. Almost immediately I bumped into the enormous Shaw's grocery store, the nicest we've seen in quite some time. I loaded up on fresh produce and a number of other items on the provisioning list, which I then ended up hauling all over town. I scoped out a number of other dinner options, and enjoyed walking along the Kenduskeag Stream, once the center of commerce in Bangor.

Century-old courthouse.

A man-made island divides the stream into a pair of canals, and once held the Customs House, post office, and other important structures, all destroyed in the great fire of 1911. The island is now all parkland, and looking downstream it is easy to envision the schooners that used to land here at high tide. The railroad crosses the mouth of the stream on what use to be a swing span, now welded closed. Sadly, the historic and beautiful Bangor Union Station, serving the Bangor and Aroostok and the Maine Central railroads was demolished at the end of passenger service, to be replaced by an uninspiring strip mall.

Downtown Bangor is now the head of navigation on the Penobscot, although at one time, schooners could travel another mile or two by passing through the very narrow swing span of the Bangor-Brewer rail bridge. The bridge is still in service, running across granite abutments over a century old, but the swing span is now fixed. If we timed the tide, we could take Vector past both the highway and rail bridges and make it most of the way to the old (1875) Bangor Dam or even a bit beyond -- the dam collapsed from disrepair after Bangor realized they were drinking the effluent of upriver industry.

Rail bridge over the Penobscot. Very narrow spans at left were once the swing spans; the turntable pier is leaning a bit. Well upriver, center frame, are the remains of the water works and dam.

During the course of our week I went ashore a couple more times, wandering a bit further around town and also crossing the river to Brewer. There are actually two nice waterfront restaurants in Brewer, including a brewpub close to where we anchored, but Brewer has not seen fit to provide any access for boats. Tying up to the shoreline is out of the question with a 12' tide swing, so the only way to get there is a very long walk over the bridge.

Yesterday we passed this 9/11 memorial at the firehouse. One of thousands nationwide.

Well, really what I mean is the only safe way, for us, during the pandemic. Bangor/Brewer does have a transit system, and I saw numerous buses throughout the area on my walks. In normal times, I would gladly have hopped on a bus to go out and see the Cole Transportation Museum, or the Paul Bunyan Statue -- Bangor is the historic capital of the Maine lumber industry. But neither of us is comfortable using public transit right now, and we only have one bicycle between us. None of these opportunities warranted tying up to the dock long enough to offload scooters.

It was refreshing to be off the tourist trail for a bit and in a real city that felt safe and comfortable to us. That's why we lingered as long as we did, and, honestly we could easily have stayed another week. However, it is getting late in the season, the clock is ticking on our Maine visit (we are allowed 60 days), and we have some more cruising we'd like to do before leaving the state.

New latch to keep the freezer closed. Needs a bit of finish, including replacing the tape at left, which keeps the bolt from scratching in the open position

No stay of several days would be complete without a passel of maintenance projects, and this was no exception. Starting with the camera system, which was inaccessible from the Internet when I checked before our first visit ashore. I like to be able to check in on the boat if we're away during an early tide change to make sure we're not dragging. That turned out to just be a bad Ethernet cable, the replacement of which involved spelunking under the helm to its very far reaches -- a tight squeeze.

Innards of an automotive cube relay "welded closed."

Early in our stay the master head macerator pump made a very loud noise and jammed, the second time this has happened in the last few months. I'm suspecting some part of the innards has worked loose and jammed in the pump. Trying to unjam it electrically just caused yet another relay to weld its contacts closed, and so I now must bit the bullet and take the thing apart, a dirty job. I've ordered a replacement pump, just in case; I don't want to get it all apart and find I can't fix the one that's in there without the spare on hand. In the meantime, we're using the forward head.

I also pulled the refrigerator out of the cabinet for the first time since the cat passed away. It's been drawing more power, and I wanted to clean the coils and see what else I could do. Previously that was difficult to do on account of the automatic litter box which lived next to it in the same cabinet. While I had it out, I fabricated a latch to keep the freezer door tightly closed at all times; it has a habit of popping open a very small amount when the fridge door is closed. Also while I was back there I added a much needed power outlet under the flybridge stairs.

The line at Bagel Central this morning. Good, but we're a long way from New York.

In addition to the aforementioned Blaze, we also had nice meals at Portland Pie (a pizza joint), Seadog Brewing right by the dock, and Evenrood's, whose logo is a dragonfly like the character from The Rescuers. We ate at home last night since the temperature, which had been lovely all week, plummeted into the 50s.

This morning we weighed anchor and brought Vector to the dock to top up our water tank. While we were filling I ran downtown and grabbed a couple of breakfast bagel sandwiches from Bagel Central, which was packed on a Saturday morning. As was the coffeehouse just down the block.

The view from our anchorage this afternoon. Narrows bridge and Fort Knox. Bucksport is off-frame to the right.

Update: We are anchored in the Eastern Channel of the Penobscot, near the Verona Bridge in Bucksport (map). Bucksport looks not nearly as busy as last weekend, even though it is Saturday. We'll go ashore this afternoon in the warmest part of the day. We had a lovely cruise back downriver; some of the trees are just starting to turn. I expect we will have some spectacular fall color before we are finished in Maine.