Saturday, September 5, 2020

Fleeing the holiday crowds

We are southbound in Frenchman Bay, running close to the granite shoreline of Mount Desert Island. We enjoyed our brief visit in Bar Harbor (and you can't truly appreciate the down east accent until you hear radio calls to and from the "Bar Harbor harbormaster"), but now that the hordes of Labor Day tourists have arrived, it's time to make tracks.

Tuesday evening we arrived to the enormous bight inside of Roque Island right at 5pm. Two megayachts, two sailboats, and a downeast were already anchored off the "beach" on the north side of the bight, so we headed instead for a small indentation on the west, just north of the Thorofare (map), where we were all alone. We had a quiet night. Roque Island is a very popular "destination" anchorage, likely because anchoring is easy and it's quintessential "remote" Maine. It's not very remote by our standards, so we felt no need to stay more than a night.

Both anchoring and weighing at Roque was a challenge, on account of the anchor roller slowly self-destructing. It keeps coming apart, and I've been running out mid-winch with a crowbar and an Allen key trying to keep it all together for one more cycle. Just before we left Eastport I ordered parts from McMaster-Carr to attempt a more permanent fix, until we can find a machine shop to fabricate a new axle. The Harbormaster's office in Bar Harbor agreed to receive the small UPS package for us.

I might have found my next boat, moored in Bar Harbor.

Wednesday's forecast was acceptable in the morning, with steadily worsening conditions all day, and so we weighed anchor early, before the fairness of tide, wending our way out through the Thorofare and pushing uphill to Jonesport. Jonesport had been our other choice to have the parts delivered, but then we'd be stuck there until the weather improved, so I decided Bar Harbor was a safer choice, since we already had US mail headed there. We again passed through without stopping.

As predicted, our ride worsened throughout the day, at least until we made the right turn up Frenchman Bay, putting the seas behind us. We pulled into the main harbor between Bald Porcupine and Sheep Porcupine islands, and dropped the hook in General Anchorage A, just outside the mooring field (map). That proved to be a bad choice; it was comfortable when we dropped the hook and all the way through dinner aboard, but after dark a swell moved in and we rolled all night.

The roll was still with us in the morning, and so before even considering dropping the tender, we weighed anchor and drove around Bar Island to the other side of the bar, for which both the island and the harbor are named. That's a mile-and-a-half trip to end up just a quarter mile from where we started (map). That quarter mile made all the difference, and we were very comfortable for the rest of our stay.

Moonrise over a very calm anchorage at Roque Island.

The bar uncovers four feet, and for a couple of hours on either side of low tide, forms a trail and 4wd road to Bar Island, a unit of Acadia National Park. At mid-day, though, it was close to high tide, and in the tender I ran right across the bar to the town dock in just a few minutes. I left Vector just as the alert came in that my UPS package had been delivered.  The harbormaster did not have it, though, and in fact told me UPS had not even been there. Hmm.

I instead headed off on other errands, including replenishing the medicine cabinet at the Walgreens in town, and hoofing it all over town looking for a dinner venue that would take a reservation for an outside table. This latter item proved to be a fool's errand; virtually every restaurant told me they were strictly FCFS. Just before making it back to the dock I tried one last time, and scored a 6pm reservation at Testa's, just a block in from the waterfront.

That whole expedition took well over an hour, and still when I returned to the harbormaster office there was no package. He made a few phone calls, and found the package around the corner at the whale watch tour office, which is a completely different address. "New UPS guy" was his best guess. A few minutes later I had my parts in hand.

Bat Harbor at night from our calm anchorage. Lights at far left are the superyacht Rising Sun, with Bald Porcupine Island in the background.

After returning to Vector I immediately started work on the roller axle. My plan was to use a 3" long aluminum "spacer", 5/8" OD and 1/4" ID, drill it out to 17/64", and tap it for 5/16" bolts that, while one size smaller than the 10mm items on the original axle, would nevertheless fit securely in the countersunk holes for them. It all went great right until I tried to tap, wherein I discovered that the tap and die set I had bought at Harbor Freight to replace my ancient, worn ones, was absolute junk and not up to the task.

Fortunately, there is a very nice hardware store right in town, and after a few minutes back and forth on the phone, I determined they had a 5/16" tap in stock and they would be open to 5:30. We had 6pm dinner reservations, so we headed back ashore a bit early, swung past the hardware store, and picked it up. We also picked up a few items at the Hannaford grocery story right next door, and then headed for dinner, stopping first at one of the more appealing, no-reservations places to see if they had a table on their nice deck.

The deck, which had been bustling at lunch, was closed, and we asked why. Well, because of the storm, of course. Storm? Our last check of the weather showed rain arriving well after dark, but apparently the forecast had changed. We hustled straight back to the tender, stopping quickly at our reserved restaurant to wave off and re-book for Friday instead. We made it back to Vector just as the first drops were falling.

My homemade axle alongside the failed original. Original used to be almost the same length, which was part of the problem (the bronze has deformed).

I spent the evening wrapping up the "machining" of two axles with my newly acquired tap, and we had a nice dinner on board. The rain brought with it a foggy mist that alternately enveloped the town and the hills and was actually quite beautiful. We were also entertained by some very wet park-goers scrambling from Bar Island back across the land bridge to town.

Yesterday morning I installed the new axle in the anchor roller, which is working like a charm. I made two, so that I would have a spare, and I ordered several extra bolts, since they have a habit of leaping overboard whenever I work on the roller. I would still like a properly-machined replacement made from bronze or stainless, but this should hold us for a good long time now and we can shop for that at leisure.

Both of my packages arrived at the post office by yesterday, and so we also went ashore in the morning to pick them up. One is a modem to replace our finicky AT&T hot spot, which several times a day stops passing TCP traffic (but not other IP traffic); sadly, the top-of-the-line Nighthawk did not fix that, so it's a more insidious problem. The other was a pair of transient voltage suppressor diodes, which became my project for the afternoon.

Boring photo of twenty bucks' worth of suppressor diodes.

We've now tested most of the possible scenarios with the new lithium batteries, but one possibility, albeit remote, is that the batteries will disconnect themselves just as the alternator is pumping out maximum charge. Disconnecting batteries at full charge current can cause a momentary spike in voltage at the alternator output, up to hundreds of volts, which can blow the rectifier diodes in the alternator. Worse than ruining a $90 alternator, the spike can also take out very expensive marine electronics connected to the 24 volt system. A suppressor diode across the output will clamp this transient to ground before it can cause damage.

Suppressor diode installed across the alternator output. In series is an inline fuse holder with a 20-amp fuse, which will blow if the avalanche lasts too long. LED at top, in parallel with the suppressor, alerts us if the fuse has blown. Larger can is a capacitor for EMI suppression, stock on this military alternator.

We ventured back ashore at dinner time, heading straight for our reservation at Testa's, who had been very nice about moving our reservation back a day. Dinner was good, and we strolled back through the grounds of the Bar Harbor Hotel on our way back to the tender. It being Friday evening, the holiday weekend crowds were already mounting, signaling it was time for us to leave. I should be clear that this is likely nothing close to the "normal" Labor Day weekend crowd, but still too dense for our tastes in the Covid era, and we saw license plates from myriad states with much higher case counts than Maine.

We went ashore one final time mid-day today, once we could cross the bar, to offload our recycling and pick up some fresh milk. We've become quite adept at zig-zagging and crossing streets to maintain a minimum six foot distance (ten if they are unmasked), but today challenged those skills. We left town just a few minutes after arriving, a half gallon of milk in hand. We weighed anchor with the tide.

Update: We are anchored in the bight of Swans Island (map), a lovely and peaceful anchorage. I had to stop typing more or less as soon as we passed the southern tip of Mount Desert Island. First because of traffic; lots and lots of sailboats out on a holiday weekend in that area. But then because we were driving into the sun, and I could not see the pot floats until I was right on top of them.

David Geffen's 436' yacht Rising Sun (originally built for Larry Ellison) alone in Bar Harbor Anchorage A, which often sports a cruise ship. This is the infamous yacht from which he posted his tone-deaf sheltering Instagram.

I steered by hand the last full hour of the trip, and even then we hit a couple. One somehow got caught up on part of our running gear, maybe one of the fins, and we dragged it a couple of miles without realizing it. We had to cut it loose, but with its float still attached, and all we can do is hope the lobsterman catches up with it eventually. Louise spent an hour on the Internet trying to find out if there was a way to connect the markings on the floats somehow to let him know, but it appears there is not. We still have a short piece of line fouled on some part of the boat, but everything seems to be working normally, and I am not going swimming in 62° water to try to free it.

Tomorrow will will continue west across Eggemoggin Reach to Penobscot Bay and Castine. From there we will head up the Penobscot River to Bangor, the third-largest city in Maine (behind Portland and Lewiston). We are in no hurry to leave Maine, and so are very much enjoying the freedom to slowly explore the myriad bays and inlets of this part of the coast.


  1. You are in some beautiful waters! Recommend anchoring up at head of Somes Sound, dinghy in to lobster pound at marina there. Very pretty.

    1. We stayed in Somes Harbor on our last visit. We enjoyed it very much, and we even use a photo of the boat there on our calling cards. This time around we skipped it, because the buses are not running (nor would we get on one) and we wanted to be able to access some services.

  2. Sweet looking boat at Bar Harbor! Do you think Louise would approve of a new boat? :)
    I really appreciate the links to the maps in your blog as I've never traveled & don't know where anything is when it comes to the waterways. The waters look beautiful around Maine.

    1. LOL, when we bought this boat I told Louise I only had one boat in me. I'm not going to repeat all the work I've done on Vector on another boat :D

      I'm glad you are using the map links; I often wonder if anyone clicks on them.


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