It’s a moonless, pitch black night and I’m battling quartering seas trying to maintain course. The only lights within view are on our boat, some airplanes in a holding pattern for Logan airport, the occasional fishing boat working traps and the stars. The compass and GPS lag make it impossible to use either to keep our course without risking an accidental gybe. Moreover, staring at either robs me of much of my night vision necessary to avoid unlit lobster pots even though we’re 250’ from the bottom. Since I took the helm at 2:30am I’ve been using The Big Dipper to keep the boat pointed in the direction of Boothbay Harbor.
“Second Star to the Right and Straight On Till Morning”
Those are the directions to Neverland. Growing up, I remembered the star in question as the end of The Big Dipper (more precisely, the vector between Merak and Dubhe). Here I was, 20 years later, sure I was headed to Neverland using that very star to keep my heading.
Maine didn’t disappoint. The seas were always rolly which was eerie when there wasn’t a lick of wind. Oftentimes the shores seemed uninhabited though if you weren’t mindful of the lobster pots you’d quickly be reminded that schools of lobsterman work these shores. Mists worthy of mythical shores just after waking up could lull one into daydreams of lost boys and single handed pirates.
We set off from Boston with 8 nights on Saturday around noon. From Boston you’ve got to head North-Northeast for 100 nautical miles to get to Portland; north of which the cruising grounds bear little resemblance to the coast to the south. The wind was out of the South-Southeast around 15-20 knots. Sunday the wind was forecast to drop to 10 knots and Monday’s forecast called for severe enough storms to keep us in port. The extended forecast called for mostly 5-10 knot winds and we figured we’d have to write off one day of sailing due to being fogged in. If we were going to make it downeast1the coast actually extends northeast so on a map it’s upeast, but I digress at all we’d have to get it in on this leg.
We were only three but we three were sailors. Nobody balked at the 4 hours on 2 hours off watch schedule: one on the helm (no autopilot) and another crew close by to pitch in if necessary (usually trimming or fetching snacks). Our passage plan was simple, get as far downeast as we could before the wind died which we estimated to be noon on Sunday. Stay offshore during the night to avoid any coastwise traffic and hopefully most of the lobster pots since there would be no moonlight.
We made great time during the NE reach to round Cape Ann. After rounding Cape Ann at 6pm we had to bear off; with the quartering swells we couldn’t hold a deep enough course to head to Rockland without assuring that the off watch would be kept up by flogging sails. By 8pm we had calculated that if the winds kept up we could make Rockland. We gybed every two hours when the watch rotated to avoid having to tack crew (it was rolly and the leeward saloon berth was the best place to fall asleep). The wind started dying around first light and by the time the sun came up we were motor-sailing. As we’re sailors when the wind died we started motoring and looking for a nearby interesting port. Boothbay Harbor piqued our interest after reviewing the cruising guide and ActiveCaptain entries. It looked ideal for riding out Monday’s storm because it was protected and seemed to have enough to keep us entertained. We got a breath of wind to sail up to the coast next to some windjammers ghosting along in the haze.
I would definitely head back to Boothbay Harbor. We picked up a mooring at the Tugboat Inn and Marina. Boothbay didn’t seem to have launch service except for yacht club members and guests. Tugboat had an ample dingy dock and nice coin operated showers. The mooring also came with access to their hot tub which was awesome after Monday’s storm. (Unfortunately it wasn’t really all that hot and we couldn’t figure out how to turn up the temperature.)
And storm it did! I organized my Monday around being ashore during the storm which hit just after lunchtime. Ikay and I dinked ashore early so that we could check out the town before it opened and grab breakfast somewhere with good reviews. We strolled about and watched the locals get situated. We situated ourselves in a coffee shop right before the storm hit. One of the downsides of sailing where the cell phone service is reliable is you get the emails from your condo association about flooding while catching drips in the leaky club boat you’re cruising. Andrew, who had slept in and been awoken by the storm, texted us a play by play of the leaks in the deck of our Cal 39. We watched the storm trounce through, checked out flooding our friends had encountered via facebook, Ikay read a book and I reviewed some of the pictures and video I had taken.
Monday night, after the storm passed we assessed our situation. Coastwise we were about 150nm from Boston with 6 days (Tuesday – Sunday 7pm) of sailing left. The winds were generally forecast to be 5-10 with 15 knots mixed in for a few hours at a time the rest of the week. We figured if we only got one fogged in day we could make our way back via daily 25nm hops and visit lots of ports along the way. Given our draft we might have a big hop (45nm) from Portland south to Portsmouth or Isle of Shoals. The forecast had decided that Boothbay Harbor was as far downeast as we were going to make it.
Tuesday we left early and tried to stop by Seguin Island but the moorings were all occupied. From our flyby it looked like a really cool lunch spot, I intend to visit some other time. We sailed on to Sebasco Harbor Resort working hard for every mile in the light breeze. Sebasco is worth checking out but I don’t recommend staying there overnight, it’s got a still water pond nearby and the mosquitos were absolutely terrible! Though I did partake in their sauna before my shower 🙂
Wednesday we headed to Portland. We sailed about a third of the way there and then were forced to motor the rest of the way. We got a mooring in Portland and again the facilities were excellent though Portland Yacht Services didn’t have the spa perks we had become accustomed to.
Thursday we planned to leave early but it turned out to be our fogged in day. We had to memorize the order of the boats in the mooring field to dinghy between our boat and shore. I didn’t mind though, Portland was a great stop.
At 4pm the fog was obliterated by a strong onshore breeze. There was conflicting information in the cruising guides and we tried calling ahead to inquire about draft requirements and mooring availability in Wells or Saco but didn’t get ahold of anyone. Out in the Gulf of Maine around sunset we weighed our options and decided without verification that we couldn’t visit an intermediate port; especially if we’d have to enter in the dark so we decided on another overnight to either Rockport, Isle of Shoals or Portsmouth.
We started the passage tacking out past Portland Head Light double reefed and shook out the last reef around midnight. We continued sailing until sunrise. The crew were very tired after a long week and the wind was light so I opted to continue singlehanded while everyone else slept below. It was tricky with just a wheel lock as an autopilot but I was able to get the boat balanced well enough not to need constant helm attention and multitasked myself through a few tacks. I got a few winks in after the crew woke up and prepared a hearty breakfast; by this time we had already passed Isle of Shoals and pressed on for Rockport.
We arrived in Rockport a bit after lunchtime on Friday. That put our average SOG at 4.4 knots. But we wound up traveling over 100nm when it’s a 65nm trip as a straight line. Our VMG for the passage was under 3 knots. When the wind wasn’t too light for us to make good VMG to windward it was too strong to point well. It was still my favorite passage of the trip because I sailed the whole time and because of the time I got to spend singlehanding the boat.
Rockport turned out to be an excellent decision. The town was beautiful and the Sandy Bay Yacht Club was very accommodating. We tied up alongside their dock and had lots of help with our lines. This was a good thing because the dock wasn’t a floating dock and there was 10+ feet of tidal range. They provided us fender boards to protect Legal Stimulant from the pilings. After that bit of adventure it was an immensely comfortable place to be tied up for the night. Having taken extra shifts sailing on the overnight down I slept like the dead.
Saturday morning I did a bit of exploring in Rockport. I love working ports early in the morning; grabbing breakfast alongside fisherman in a local diner gives you a sense of the character of a place that you simply can’t get once their boats have left for the day. The diner I found myself in didn’t disappoint and I conversed with a few locals; even the waitresses seemed to have a relationship with the sea and asked lots of questions about our bareboat charter in the British Virgin Islands.
We decided to cut our trip short and get back Saturday because Sunday’s forecast called for nothing but rain and misery. Besides, we all needed a day ashore to catch up on sleep before real life caught up with us on Monday.
|↑1||the coast actually extends northeast so on a map it’s upeast, but I digress|