Missing Maine in Delaware Bay

Almost empty harbor at Sebasco Resort
Almost empty harbor at Sebasco Resort
A little hike at Sebasco
A little hike at Sebasco
Lounging at Dix Island
Lounging at Dix Island
Quarry at High Island
Quarry at High Island
Just water. In every direction. Bits of land look like floating logs. No mountains, no rocks, no wild life. This is Delaware Bay. Maybe I’m not looking hard enough. Maybe I’m just missing Maine. We spent three blissful weeks there, sailing among islands, rocky shoals, watching birds, porpoises, and distant mountains. There was never a moment of nothingness. Well, maybe in the fog, but at these times I was not bored; I was keenly tuned in to every ripple and sound, searching for our next buoy or shoal.

Recalling our Maine trip, I can’t pinpoint my favorite spot. The tranquility of Roque Island, our first stop, was hard to beat. On shore, there was a delightful community of 5 large homes, looking like they were inhabited, enjoyed, and kept in perfect condition. The rest of the island was deserted with only the occasional horse and rider. Friendly people from California, France, Maine and many points in between were anchored in various places. Each person we met had an interesting life story and were thoroughly enjoying Maine in its summer finery. We saw our first eagle of the trip here, exactly where we were told it would be perched.

Next was Great Wass Island with a hiking trail maintained by the Nature Conservancy Preserve. This 4.5 mile walk brought us through pine forests and a peachy quartz coastline. Even the sand was peachy colored. Clam cars filled the tiny inlet where we tied our dingy, showing us that this island keeps many Scientists busy learning more about our coastline.

Anchoring that night at Mistake Island was lovely. This location makes you feel like you are almost out to sea. Only a small, low island protects you, so you could see and hear the surf while you dine and sleep peacefully. In the morning we dinghied to the Coast Guard station to explore the lighthouse and eat blueberries before setting off for Eastern Harbor.

Eastern Harbor is a typical fisherman’s harbor. Filled with lobster boats on moorings, and lined with simple homes. The few grand homes seemed so out of place and made me wonder why these people build them. Speaking of homes, I found my dream home here. Our friend Jon took us to his friend Donna’s home and we were speechless. OK, I wasn’t speechless because I had so many questions for Donna. Did you build this? Yes. How do you get your water? I carry buckets full from the well every day. Do you use a fridge? No. How do you bathe? Heat up water on the wood stove and bring the pot outside. Does anything need electricity? Just the coffee grinder and we have golf cart batteries. I continued to pummel her with questions as I marveled at the artistry and strength of the chosen beams and branches used to construct this fantastic home. Perfectly grown trunks with their branches intact created the trusses for every room. Wine bottles were mortared in place for a stained glass window/wall at the entry. A fairy home for grown ups. Listening to Caroline Cotter in concert in an old music hall in Eastport topped off this day as completely delightful.

Bar Harbor the next day was such a let down. The harbor was crowded, full of cruise ships, tourist boats, and constant traffic past our boat. Getting off the boat and into the park was a relief. We hiked the Bee Hive and Gorham trails, bringing back fond memories of these trips with our kids. We tried to find the exact rung on the Bee Hive where we left Kenny, at 4 years old, hanging so we could get a great photo of him. We have no evidence of this experience because when we got to the bottom, we noticed the camera had no film (remember the days of rolls of film?!). Luckily the only proof of our parenting decision to leave him on the cliff is in our minds and hearts. Otherwise, we may have been reported to DHS for child endangerment. Trying to keep up with cross country runners Lindsay and Erica is another fond memory. I blamed my slower pace on blisters from my new shoes.

Everyone told us we had to visit Northeast Harbor, so that’s where we went next. Unfortunately, we arrived at sundown and headed out the next morning, barely enough time to stroll around the shore and see Morris Yacht’s positive impact on the area. Maybe if we skipped the stroll, we would have skipped the dinghy repair. When bringing her back aboard, we put a gash in the pontoon, losing all air immediately. This is a huge problem, as the dinghy is our only means of getting off the boat while at anchor unless we swim or SUP. We never go to docks; they are prohibitively expensive. Lucky for us, the previous owners were meticulous about spares and repair kits. The glue tube had directions in French, so we assumed the tube was at least 20 years old. The first owners were French and sold the boat 20 years ago to the second owners. Not sure if old glue would work, Bill carried out the repair and we left it on deck to cure while we headed to Vinalhaven. The repair did cure; we are using the dingy daily, and have a new tube and patches just in case this happens again.

Sailing to Vinalhaven felt a bit like coming home. Our cell connection came back so we could make calls en route, we were heading to visit with George and Cay and stay a bit at their beautifully renovated antique cape, and we were witnessing more sailboats and lobster boats than we had seen the whole prior week. Entering the harbor was entertaining. Lobster boats filled every square foot with only a few unused moorings. Most of these moorings had peanut butter jars duck taped to the pick up buoys. In the jars were notes indicating who owned the mooring, and where to pay $25 to borrow it. Some jars were stuffed with cash!! We picked up the one that said Honor Roll, thinking it was for donations to a local school. It was for donations to the Veterans, an equally excellent cause. As we headed toward shore in our repaired dinghy, we saw a lobster boat tie up to the next mooring. Our boats swung in a way that placed his stern a foot off our beam. Hmm, red scuffs or gouges were not going to look good. We casually asked if we were too big for this mooring, and he replied “we will both be okay” so we took off. Why his comment relaxed us, I have no idea. He didn’t care if his boat crashed into ours; his was a hard working, hard banging boat. Of course it’s “okay” from his perspective. Returning after dark, our inspection yielded a “yep, we’re okay”.

Visiting with Cay and George was magical. The planning and labor that went into the total remodel of their seaside home was evident. Granite walkways, created from their old crumbling foundation were spectacular, the expanded deck was perfect for eagle watching over the tidal river, the new foundation and basement was built to last another century, and the interior work made every room sparkle. But it was the dinners, the conversations, the hikes, and the companionship that resonated most strongly. George took us to a unique coastal site where he showed us spherical formations that resulted from volcanoes and produced these geode-like beauties. Sorry, George; I forgot the terminology! We will return for more Geology lessons and companionship.

After our lovely time in Vinalhaven with Cay and George for two days, we continued exploring both new and familiar places. First we sailed back to Deer Isle to see Fred and his family at Oak Point. We anchored by their family home for a visit then moved across to Center Harbor to anchor because it looked like it might blow. The blow never came, but visiting the Wooden Boat School again was interesting. The next day, we sailed to Castine in a good breeze. We searched the campus of Maine Maritime Academy for Erica’s friend Gretel, but never saw her. Instead, we ran into Al and Diane who have lived here many years (Al has lived here his whole life!) On to Rockland for a safe mooring offered by DJ, Kenny’s best man. We rented a car and drove to Mt Abram for a family gathering. Back to the boat, we had DJ and Carlee aboard and began the plans for them to visit us in the Caribbean.

Off to Dix Island for some new territory. This group of three islands was unique. High Island had huge quarries and plenty of evidence of serious cutting/moving/shipping. How they did this work 100 years ago blows my mind. Dix Island had a quaint, well marked trail for us to walk the perimeter of the island. The residents prefer that visitors don’t go near their homes, and I don’t blame them. They are known to be completely self sustained, living off what the tiny island offers. Leaving this sweet place in the morning was nerve-wracking due to the dense fog. I could barely see past the bow. We passed several buoys which we never saw, but heard their gongs and bells. This was a day we truly appreciated our GPS. It was like a video game, driving the boat to a screen.

Christmas Cove was next with an almost deserted harbor. We picked up a mooring, as it’s too tight to anchor, and tried to go to shore and pay, but they were closed for the season, except weekends, so we scored a free night. We dined aboard with Cam and Julie after we had a gorgeous walk through the tiny town. Boothbay, the next day, was the same as ever, and not very interesting. We are not touristy types, so the one hundred quaint shops selling every type of edible, wearable, or flauntible item was not appealing. But seeing our new French friends again was a treat. Sharing liveaboard experiences of Constitution Marina in Boston with them was fun for us; they plan to try that out this winter with their two young girls.

Sailing to Sebasco Resort Harbor was wild. The wind blew hard on the beam, helping us fly along, until we turned up toward the harbor. We almost chickened out and turned around because it was such a boisterous tight hauled run, but we persevered and made it safely into the quiet harbor. The season was clearly almost over, as the harbor was nearly empty. Ashore we found the resort a great spot to bring a family. There are pools, playgrounds, mellow restaurants, hiking trails, and plenty of green space to spread out. Grandkids…

After this, we traveled back to our old stomping grounds, South Freeport for a dinner aboard with dear old friends Dave and Laura, then a sail past Yarmouth, our favorite town. I could almost jump onto Pam’s property on Cousin’s Island as we passed. Bill had to hold me back. I did not want to sail further, as it meant tying back up to the dock in South Portland, hauling out, fixing the damage hull and coating the bottom with antifouling paint. This all represented work, and that our beautiful Maine Cruise was over.

So, here I sit, watching all that Delaware has to offer me. Nothing. I know that there is more to this place, and I’m just being impatient, or just simply missing Maine. Perhaps this will be a recurring feeling as I pass through places that don’t immediately appeal to me. I’ll be missing Maine, my family, my friends, my other life.

Out of Our Comfort Zone in New York City

Times Square
Times Square
Bouncy dinghy ride to NYC
Bouncy dinghy ride to NYC
Anchored right beside the Statue of Liberty!
Anchored right beside the Statue of Liberty!
Most people who live their entire lives in New England enjoy visits to New York City.  Bill and I are not like most people.  Our only trips there were to catch flights, drive through on route to Philadelphia, and a few times through by boat.  There were only two enjoyable trips there.  The first was when we joined Mike and Heidi on their Schooner Montowese for a Tall Ship Parade in 1986.  We did tie to a pier and go ashore for a few hours, but all I remember of this trip is the hundreds of beautiful old boats and the unique experience to participate.  Then there was Junior Journey last April with the whole junior class of Casco Bay High School.  This trip will remain in my memory as a wonderful opportunity to connect deeply with a bunch of truly inspirational young adults.  My NYC experiences were completely through their eyes, and their reactions to all they saw and did, while I barely remember my own vision.

Some less appealing memories of NYC were when Kenny said “I’m gonna throw up” soon after he consumed a disgusting breakfast choice from McDonalds.  There was no place to pull over in the traffic so the family had the unfortunate experience of Kenny following through.  While Kenny was unfazed, Lindsay cried, saying “we need to get out of this car!”  Then there was the time we were catching an early flight to Puerto Rico, and we stayed in a hotel near the airport.  We arrived at midnight and left by 5 am, not enough time to see NYC, but plenty of time for Erica to develop a terrible allergic reaction to something.  She boarded the plane saying “I’m really itchy on my legs”  and sure enough, she had a serious rash that invaded her whole body and lasted all week.  Instead of surfing with the rest of us, she spent her week in the hospital, or in an air-conditioned room so that the heat didn’t aggravate the rash.  Luckily, Erica was a great sport, and the other eight of us carried on with our week’s plans.

Fast forward a few years to this week.  We sailed down Long Island Sound and anchored right under the Throg’s Neck Bridge at King’s Point.  So far so good.  Up at daybreak, we raised anchor and headed for the East River.  The currents snort through at almost our boat speed, so we planned to traverse the worst part, Hell Gate, at slack water.  Again, so far so good.  Then we saw the Coast Guard Boats and NYC Police boats stopping all traffic.  Huh?  What were we supposed to do?  We had to anchor right at Hell Gate!  For four hours!  Finally, they let us go through the west channel, when the bridge opened.  Ten boats had piled up in our tiny anchorage area and we all had to race to get to that opening.  We all raised anchors and motored over and made it, but not without some racing heartbeats.  This is how we get exercise these days.  Panic attacks!  I don’t think the Pope at the UN appreciated all this security and we certainly didn’t either, but all was well late afternoon.  This unscheduled delay meant that we couldn’t make it to Sandy Hook tonight, so we dropped anchor right beside the Statue of Liberty.  This was a crazy narrow and shallow channel into the anchorage, but amazingly tranquil once there.  Before entering the narrow channel, we negotiated the rough water, with huge ferries, cruise ships, speed boats, tugs with barges, all crisscrossing our path and each other’s.  Ahh…Anchor down.  Breathing easier…

So there we were, in the anchorage but concerned about leaving our boat unattended, and our dinghy vulnerable to theft at some city pier.  Why did we worry?  We Mainers think city dwellers are scary.  Not so.   This is why we are taking this journey.  To explore and to understand other cultures.  We had a fabulous (albeit wet) experience taking the dinghy into town, then a water taxi from NJ to NYC, then on foot and by subway to all the sights.  Food was amazing, music and dancing were entertaining, and the people all seemed friendly and welcoming.  OK, so I think we could do NYC again.  Our mission to learn about cultures is on course.

Our First Bump of the Journey

Bill fixing hole
Bill is preparing to apply the first small oval of fiberglass. Eight layers of consecutively larger pieces followed.
keel damage
Pretty bad gash. No water got in the boat. This is one tough vessel.
keel fixed
Look at that finished product. Bill has a new career now.

Many of you have heard about our bump. The one which resulted in a hole in the boat as big as your head. It was bad. We had just been talking about the fact that we have never gone aground in Alembic. We regularly went aground on Wings, our Westsail 32. Sometimes we kedged off. Sometimes we slept aboard at an angle until the next tide lifted us off the mud. Other times we just powered through it or backed off and went on our way. Never was it a big deal. These full keel, sturdy vessels don’t mind a bit of mud. The prop is far enough up, the bottom is flat and wide for a good eight feet. We even considered standing these boats against a pier, letting the tide run out, and painting the bottom. But this was no mud grounding. This was a front end cracking bump.

Tafts Cruising guide was in my hands, as I read the exact instructions for entering Mud Hole. The wheel was in Bill’s hands, as he carefully followed what I read. We both stared at the depth sounder, which was reading 13 feet or more. Seeing the 40 foot Hinckley further in the tiny cove gave us that false sense of security that “if he could get in there, so could we”. Then Bang. My tea spilled, we bounced off something hard. I dashed below, certain that I’d see water spurting from somewhere. But no. Nothing. We backed off, turned out of the cove entrance, and dropped anchor quickly so Bill could dive in with a snorkel for inspections. He came up pale. “There’s a big hole”. Ugh. We had hit a rock that came up like a building, right on the centerline of the boat, a foot up from the bottom of the keel.

The next thirty minutes was a blur, but we decided that we were not going to sink, so we might as well dinghy into the cove and begin our hike around Great Wass Island. This was our intention in the first place. The four mile hike did wonders for our frazzled brains, and we returned to Alembic with a renewed understanding of the cove depths. Taft recommended coming in at low tide, when you could best see the bottom contours, but I think he should have been more clear that this exploration should be done by dinghy. Coming back at high tide, as the Hinkley had done, would be easy, when the staggering rocks were covered by another 13 feet of water.

We carried on with our Maine cruise, knowing that we would haul out in South Portland to repair this damage. The photo shows the nasty gash. Bill ground down the fiberglass, applied eight layers of fiberglass, sanded it smooth, and it was better than new. We had to haul to scrub and paint the whole bottom with antifouling anyway, so this “little project” was not much more work. Our devotion to the Whitby has risen a few notches.

Shake Down Cruise

You know when you shake your jeans or a tote bag upside down to see if anything falls out?  You always hope to find money, but you usually find bills, trash, or other unpleasant things.  Well, that’s what a shake down cruise is all about.  You hope to find that you, your partner, and your boat are chock-full of magical ideas, strengths, and unexpected delights, but you always brace yourself for the disappointments.  And you welcome anything that comes up, because it is all part of the learning process, and it’s all preparing you for the Big Day.

So, our shake down cruise started off dismally.  Actually, only the sky was dismal; we were ecstatic and Alembic was performing flawlessly.  We wanted to try out all of the systems that hadn’t been tried as a live aboard dockside.  Would our refrigeration hold up without 110 power? Could our batteries be capable or taking and holding a full charge?  How are we going to shower?  How do I use this new pressure cooker, and would we like the food that came out of it?  Were our anchors adequate?  Was all of our gear appropriately stowed?  Would that tiny oil drip coming from the engine become a problem?  How do we use the new whisker pole?  Could we come about with the newly installed inner jib?  Would our tattered main sail hold up until we made it to the Chesapeake to pick up the new one?

After 3 weeks, we found out that we were all set; all systems were more than adequate.  But what we discovered was that new issues would pop up that we hadn’t even wondered about.  We would experience joys and frustrations that we hadn’t prepared for.  The people and the sights along the way were far above our expectations, and our blunders were also far above our plans.  Blunders happen in life, and we should all expect this.  No amount of planning can prepare you for them.

So, blunders?  Yes.  First, we hit a rock on day two that put a hole in our boat the size of your head!  I dashed below, waiting to see the gushing water and hear the bilge pumps come to life.  Silence.  Weird.  Bill quickly donned the mask and snorkel and checked it out.  Yes, it was big.  No, we would not sink.  More about this later…  Several days later, while stowing our dinghy on deck to prepare for more sailing (a daily routine), we heard hissing.  Not good.  The dinghy, our only method of getting ashore, soon collapsed into a limp, useless piece of plastic.  A hose clamp on a stanchion was sharper than we thought.  More on this later…  Then, our third problem was lack of internet.  We hadn’t anticipated needing internet, or considered what life would be like without it.  Erica totaled her car in Colorado (yes, everyone was fine) and we had to conduct ridiculous feats just to communicate with her, the auto shop, and our insurance company.  Luckily State Farms was wonderful, and Erica took control.  She bought a new car, registered it in CO, got new parking stickers, and was off and rolling without much assistance.

Learning experiences are what we are out here for, and this shakedown cruise delivered!  There is only so much preparation for life; you have to roll with the unexpected.  We are looking forward to many more new experiences, hopefully with a little less damage.