Bonnie James and Jim Miller sailed their Newfoundland-registered Victoire yacht ‘Vagrant Sea’ from the Queen City Yacht Club in Toronto via the Intercoastal Waterway (ICW) to the Bahamas.
Cruising the New England Coast – Part 1
If you’ve read our previous articles, you will know that Jim and I can’t resist the chance to try out a new cruising location. In the summer of 2007 we were offered a couple of weeks’ sailing along the New England Coast. The 59-foot American-registered sailboat on which we had sailed Newfoundland’s south coast in 2006 was en route to Rhode Island. The owners, Frans and Mary, were arranging a roster of friends to crew various legs of the trip and we signed on for mid- to late August. We would join the vessel in Casco Bay, Maine, and take our leave in Massachusetts.
We drove across Newfoundland and through the Maritimes. Before joining Remedios we spent a day and a night on the Maine seashore, enjoying old towns such as Belfast and Camden. Many coastal towns have old main streets full of large red brick buildings that date back to the 19th century. While the towns no longer have the same importance in commerce and manufacturing as they did 50 or 100 years ago, they are bustling places in summer. Tourists seeking relief from the stifling heat of the big cities on the U.S. eastern seaboard flock to the coast by the tens of thousands.
Remedios was moored at a resort in Sebasco Harbour. We had a quick meet and greet with the departing crew. They were an American couple who were taking a break – get this – from a circumnavigation on their own vessel. They had left their boat in Tasmania, Australia, and were spending the summer traveling the U.S., but happy to spend a little time back on the water.
The resort had no rental docks; all guest boats were on moorings and came to the floating dock only for fuel or for loading passengers and supplies. A crewed tender ferried us between dock and boat. We were to learn that it is common for facilities along this coast to offer moorings only. Where docks exist, they are invariably floating rather than fixed. With a tidal range of 8-10 feet (and much higher as you go east toward New Brunswick) it only makes sense. Boaters expect to be on moorings and don’t mind using their dinghy for shuttling to and from shore. It’s obvious that setting up a mooring field for visitor accommodation can be done much faster, cheaper and easier than building a wharf or floating dock. Mooring balls are widespread in Maine, even in sparsely populated areas.
A stiff breeze was bouncing the boat the afternoon that we arrived. After a quick poll of the crew, Frans decided to set off in search of better anchorage. As Remedios motored out of the harbour, we were horrified to see the boat headed straight hundreds of lobster buoys. Wasn’t our skipper paying attention? Obviously we had missed the channel. Wrong. That’s the way things would be for the next week. The water’s surface, not just inside the coves and harbours but for miles offshore, was covered with brightly painted buoys. They looked like confetti, decorated with the multiple stripes and patterns that lobster men use to distinguish their gear. You steer through the maze, trying your best to avoid a direct hit. Often we heard the scrape of a buoy along the hull, but we never snagged a pot.
We anchored for the night at Snow Island, in Harpswell, sharing the cove with half a dozen other sailboats, a few bald eagles and some osprey. A local man dropped by in a small open boat and pointed out a nearby house, dock and boat that he said belonged to Dodge Morgan. Morgan is best known for sailing solo non-stop around the world and for the book he wrote about the trip, The Voyage of American Promise. Now in his 70s, Morgan lives alone on the island which lacks a road link to the mainland. Our evening at Snow Island was topped with a brilliant lightning show.
In Casco Bay we had our choice of hundreds of destinations. We also had resources at hand to assist in making the hard decisions. Once we cleared away the breakfast dishes, the table would be covered with two or three cruising guides and charts for immediate area. The guides did not simply describe the location and its amenities; they rated anchorages, clubs and marinas on a star system. Snow Island is 4-star, which is understandable given that it is well-sheltered, scenic, not overrun with personal watercraft and free of noise and light pollution. To plan our day’s run, we looked for 3- or 4-star destinations within about 25 – 40 miles.
Next step was to contact our booking service. Frans had access to the highest level concierge service of Marina Life. His membership entitled him to request a reservation be made on his behalf at a suitable club or marina. Requests could be submitted by phone or email. Since this was the busiest part of the season, the service was not always able to assist us. It likely works best when planning a trip long in advance.
We spent the next few nights borrowing moorings in fairly remote areas. Remote is a relative term. We never found an anchorage where no houses were in sight. A few coves had only simple cottages overlooking the water. Frequently there would be the latest in 5000-square-foot vacation homes. It was a happy day when the tallest buildings around were lighthouses rather than industrial structures. The sheer number of boats was also impressive. It was not unusual to see more sailboats in a single day than there are on the entire island of Newfoundland.
The rules governing moorings are a bit vague. Often the moorings are for rent, so you tie on and wait for the owner – which could be a private business, a harbour authority or a yacht club – to come and collect. We were told of moorings that operated on the honour system, with a plastic container attached to receive payment. In one case, the mooring’s owner asked that the visitor contribute an original poem. Several times there were no posted instructions and no one around to ask. We then selected the biggest, sturdiest mooring of the lot and crossed our fingers that it would hold, and that we would not be ousted by an outraged owner in the middle of the night.
Fair winds and snug harbours,
Bonnie James – Vagrant Sea
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