Sunday, September 13, 2015

Headed Down East

We are anchored in Ash Point Cove, in the fork of Harpswell Neck (map). We are finally cruising the part of Maine we came here to see. I expect it will become more beautiful from here, as we move further "down east," until it is time for us to turn around and head south. That time is coming soon -- it's getting cold here.

Cape Elizabeth lighthouse, after making our turn.

The rest of our cruise into Portland Thursday was also quite lovely. Approaching Cape Elizabeth and navigating Casco Bay to the Portland Harbor entrance, between Portland Head and Cushing Island, involves avoiding any number of rocky shoals. While there are numerous modern navigational aids, including buoys and daybeacons, some of which mark specific hazards, with a good chart it's easy to come in using only the centuries-old lighthouses for guidance.

Portland Head Light. I just caught the flash in this shot.

Ram Island Light, well across the channel.

In fairly quick succession we rounded Cape Elizabeth Light, then steered directly for Portland Head Light, abreast of the Ram Island Ledge Light off of Cushing Island. From Portland Head it is another straight course to Spring Point Light, marking the entrance to the harbor. A pair of imposing forts guard the entrance, Fort Preble at Spring Point, and Fort Gorges across the channel on Hog Island.

Fort Preble, at Spring Point.

Spring Point Light, in our wake.

The other side of Portland's defenses, Fort Gorges on Hog Island.

We dropped the hook off Fort Allen Park, part of the Eastern Promenade, between two mooring fields (map). The prominent feature in the park is the mast of the WWII heavy cruiser USS Portland, the only part of the ship saved from the scrapyard. While this was actually the aftermast, as can be seen in this photo, and thus would not have shown any lights, today it shines red and green navigation lights from its yardarms after dusk, making it look as if a giant ship is bearing down on us. It called to mind an old joke about a radio conversation between a warship and a lighthouse (and yes, it was a joke, and not a true story as some on the Internet seem to believe).

The after mast of USS Portland, and some expensive Victorians.

We had a comfortable seven-hour cruise, but by the time we were anchored, the predicted winds were starting to come in, and there was a good chop in the anchorage overnight. We were quite comfortable -- it takes bigger swells to get our 110,000 pounds moving -- but we could see some boats around us bobbing like corks. We enjoyed a nice dinner aboard, indoors this time.

Things remained fairly rough well into Friday, and we simply stayed put, as planned, and got some things done around the boat. I tackled a long-standing project to route the generator crankcase vent back into the airbox in a home-brew PCV setup, and Louise made progress on some quilts. Sometime mid-day, we heard a familiar voice and boat name on the radio, a sailing catamaran that we had met in the Bahamas. The cruising community is a small world. They were already starting their trek south, and seemed surprised we were going the other way. An indoor helm station makes a world of difference.

Even though we had been prepared to stay hunkered down in the boat for the entire day, the winds had let up considerably by late afternoon, and there was even a hint of sunshine, and so we splashed the tender at dinner time and headed ashore. We ended up eating at a funky pizza-type joint right on the dock called Flatbreads. It was fantastic, but we kept remarking how it was impossible to tell which Portland we were in. If you've been to Portland (either one, apparently), you'll know what I mean.

The view toward Portland from our anchorage. A bit of a choppy ride to dinner.

By the time we finished eating, the sun had come out and it turned into a beautiful evening, so we strolled around the town for a while, and stopped into two equally funky markets to pick up what provisions we could. A stop at the wine and liquor store to replenish the beer supply rounded out our shore leave, and we headed home.

I left the tender in the water, thinking we might go ashore for a light breakfast and walk around some more, since we found the waterfront area so delightful. But when I stepped up into the pilothouse I was greeted by a view of two enormous cruise ships in port. That would not have hampered breakfast (cruise passengers seldom eat ashore; they've already paid for all-you-can-eat meals aboard ship), but it would have made strolling around town miserable.

The same view as above, Saturday morning. Liberty of the Seas and Norwegian Dawn.

We briefly considered staying another day to perhaps enjoy another of the myriad well-rated restaurants in the Old Port district, and stroll in the evening after the cruise ships departed, but nothing ashore called us that loudly, and we wanted to get back to cruising the coast, so we weighed anchor late in the morning.

The narrow-gauge tourist train passes us as we prepare to get under way.

I had called ahead on Friday to the harbormaster at the town of Falmouth, just a few miles north, because my guide said there was a dock there with water available for a short tie-up, and a small market nearby. He allowed that we would be the largest vessel ever to tie up there, but it was fine so long as the wind was not blowing too hard. Winds were light Saturday morning, so we headed to Falmouth at high tide, per his suggestion (there turned out to be plenty of depth at the dock).

In this part of the world, town docks and harbormaster departments are run by the police, and we were greeted at the Town Landing by the assistant harbormaster, a police officer. Handy if they need to jump in the patrol boat to do maritime law enforcement. It was an easy floating dock, but I could see how we could easily damage it in a blow.  The time limit is 20 minutes, but we asked for more time since it takes a while to fill our tank, and I wanted to walk to the store.

Vector at the Falmouth Town Landing.

We started the water fill and the generator so Louise could start the long-overdue laundry, and I walked up a good size hill to the Town Landing Market. This proved to be fairly well stocked, but very expensive, and I picked up only a few necessities. The only thing that looked inexpensive to me there were the lobsters -- fully cooked ones could be had for $7 apiece, they looked to be about a pound.

The Town Landing Market, up the hill from the dock.

We were at the dock for perhaps an hour, and we shoved off with little fanfare and a full water tank. Nice folks there in Falmouth. After getting the boat turned around and threading my way back through the town mooring field, we steered a course across Casco Bay, dodging and weaving among the myriad islands that comprise the bulk of the land area in this part of the state. Many of the islands are served by ferries from Portland; we had docked the dinghy just across from the ferry docks there.

In case you thought I was making fun of how Down Easters talk, it would appear they are aware...

I deliberately set a short route for the day, allowing for the water stop and also for getting my feet wet in a whole new kind of driving. This is our first experience navigating these deep, rocky channels with their significant and sometimes tricky currents, and "going aground" here means hitting a rock, a more dire event than running onto sand or mud, where I can usually just back out with damage to little other than pride and maybe bottom paint.

Driving around the islands and through the cuts proved no problem, but I found myself exhausted from dodging all the lobster pots. I'll be trying to keep to four-hour days from here on out until we are out of lobster-land.

Typical Maine island scenery. My chart says it will be dry under that bridge in the distance at low tide.

Shortly after we made our final turn, around the western fork of Harpswell Neck, as we were motoring to our anchorage here, we were hailed on the radio by someone at the nearby Dolphin Restaurant and Marina. I answered and we ended up chatting with Chris, one of the owners, who recognized Vector from the blog of our friends Steph and Martin aboard Blossom. Turns out that Chris had been aboard Blossom at the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show last year.

We had been hemming and hawing about whether to eat aboard or head ashore to the Dolphin for dinner, but the call on the radio gave us a good excuse to give them a try. Chris was manning the bar for the evening, and we chatted with him over a beer while we waited for a table -- the place was packed. The food was tasty and the draft beer all local; we can recommend it as a cruising stop.

I had figured to weigh anchor this morning and continue on to the Kennebec River and then upriver to the city of Bath, which has a free dock for one night. That plan was nixed when Louise discovered a quilt shop just a few blocks from the town dock, but closed on Mondays. I was informed in no uncertain terms that we would be in Bath on Tuesday.

Not wanting to push our luck at the town dock for two nights, we opted to just stay here another day, and head to Bath tomorrow, which will mean we will still be there Tuesday morning and Louise can get her fix. Just as well, because today was a bleak, cold, rainy day -- not the best cruising weather -- and an allergy attack, my first in a long time, sapped all my energy anyway. It ended up being a quiet day at home, although I did get one project done.

Tomorrow we will weigh anchor in time to have a push most of the way up the Kennebec, arriving at Bath close to slack water to make docking simpler. We should be tied alongside by 3ish, assuming there is room at the dock, which will give us plenty of time to explore.


  1. Welcome to Maine! As a native and long time reader of this blog, I hope you have a wonderful trip "Downeast". I will be traveling on Rt 1 over the Bath bridge tomorrow and will attempt to see Vector moored in this lovely little town. There is a Zumwalt sitting in the river at BIW ~ you can't miss it!

    1. Just catching up on a backlog of comments now... Thanks, and I hope you got to see Vector. We had a lovely time in Bath, it was a great stop. I did see the Zumwalt -- I kept trying to figure out if the radar profile was really any different than anything else (it did show up on our radar, but we were, of course, very close).

  2. Maine is utterly lovely but I remember ending a sailing charter in Penobscot Bay after Labor Day and remarking to my wife it suddenly felt like winter. It can turn cold and gray real fast. Hope you have left over summer weather.

    1. We had a few cold days, but mostly perfect weather while we were down east.


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