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.

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.


  1. The fall weather pattern has definitely hit. We keep trying to go out, only to change our plans because of weather. The next four days include “gusting to 30” so we think we’re just going to put it off again. Sorry you missed Belfast. We really enjoy our visits there.

    1. It's on our list for next time now, for sure. Looks like you got back to BI, anyway. I hope we can connect when we come by.


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