Captain Kevins Down-East Adventure 2020
Down-East Cruise Summer 2020
July 4th, 2020 finds me socket-in Rockland Harbor Maine on a cold, raw afternoon. I’m busy performing the post-launch ritual of whipping my vessel into “Ship Shape” having recently launched at my go-to ramp for Penobscot Bay. I have the better part of a week to probe and explore the further reaches of the area known as “the Bold Coast”, East of Schoodic Point. The thoughts of a Down-East cruise started to take shape over the winter (as many cruising plans do). Several passages from my MAPTECH Guide helped set the hook. Comments like, “the real Maine starts East of Schoodic Point”, or “Tidal Ranges of over 25’, resulting in strong currents, will challenge even the seasoned sailor”, or “beware of uncharted hazards”. Add in the fact I had not cruised East of Mount Desert Island and I was in.
Today was not the day to get underway. I had towed my 21’ Pilot (more on the craft later) from my home in NH’s Lakes Region. I was correct in thinking I would miss most of the Holiday traffic by traveling on the 4th. Today was a day to drive, launch, organize and then enjoy a beer at the in-town brewery. I was soon to get a reality check as to how the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the Coast. Rockland, usually bustling during the summer months, was all but closed. A walk up and down Main St left me without a beer, a coffee or a full stomach. Grateful for my well provisioned vessel, I return to the docks.
The Harbor Master was long gone prior to my arrival. The lonely launch operator was happy to offer up the empty dock for the night. Clearly not a typical 4th of July.
Back aboard my floating home for the next week I was grateful for both the weather protection provided by a full canvas enclosure and my auxiliary heat source. Regardless of the forecast, I knew enough to bring a small propane heater for those cool Maine mornings. Not that I expected to be using it on a July evening. Tucked inside with music, tuna tacos, charts to broad over and yes, a can of beer, I was clearly making the best of the situation.
So, what exactly is the situation? Well thanks for asking.
I’m abord my Eastern 21’ Pilot looking for challenge and adventure. Originally I had sold the family on the runabout suggesting it could pull my 17yr old son on a wakeboard, my wife could entertain with her girlfriends up on the Lake and I could still find a way to continue my Coastal Cruising. For my purposes I had designed (and with the help of the local Canvas Guy) and installed a convertible top, side and aft curtains to create a full enclosure. Unlike the popular bimini tops the convertible top snaps directly to the windshield. The slight loss of headroom is more than made up with the improvement in weather protection. Even on days of fair weather it creates a comfortable environment. When retaining warmth isn’t the key I had a 2nd set of screened side curtains made to allow for a flow of air. While inside my glorified tent I would spend much of my down-time on the portside bench that multi-tasked as a aft-facing lounger with seatback, berth and work bench. My cooler could move next to me as a makeshift cockpit table. I use a camp style stove to boil water for my coffee (if you’ve read any of my blogs you know how important coffee is to my day) and music pumps thru a small yet high quality speaker blue-toothed off of my smart phone. The Pilot has a small cuddy with screened hatch where I keep my personal items organized and serves as a second berth during inclement weather. Some would call it roughing it however with my history of self-sufficient travel to remote areas while operating out of a backpack this seems far from it.
I wake to more of the same. Socked in with a cool rawness to the rain. Visibility is at a half mile. Unrushed to get underway yet still an early start, I enjoy coffee and breakfast aboard while reviewing my charts. 7:50 am finds me slipping the lines and getting underway towards the Fox Island Thorofare that separates North Vinalhaven and Vinalhaven then across to Deer Isle and Stonington. Very much aware I’m on a similar route as the State Ferry, I keep a close watch by poking my sombrero covered head up thru the unsnapped corner of my canvas top. Operating on compass and a 5” GPS I estimate a 40 min first-leg making 8.5 mph. As if on-command the Nuns and Cans appear out of the fog. To describe things as “uneventful” discredits the senses as they work in harmony delivering data in the form of sound, smell, movement and to a lesser extent sight. Small victories are waged and won with each confirmation of each desired waypoint. Long before Satellites aided the Mariner I depended on Dead-Reckoning, using speed-distance-time to calculate where on this planet I was at a given time. Although I have embraced and appreciate how the technologies have made travel on the ocean safer and easier my charts and tools are always present at the helm. Often throughout the trip my eye would glance at my orienteering compass first then the GPS for backup. 3hrs later I’m in Stonington Maine looking for coffee and conversation. I find coffee.
I’m focused on three things during this trip. Certainly the cruising is number #1 with everything that comes with it. I love exploring by boat and using all the skills that come into play operating in a wild, remote area. I also wanted to enjoy time on my inflatable Stand-up-Paddle board. While I’m not new to the paddle-sports game this new board is touted as a high quality performance model. I looked forward to trying it in the waves.
I also wanted to focus on another favorite of mine, hiking on the Maine Islands. Several groups including the Maine Coast Heritage Trust and the folks at the Maine Island Trails maintain a network of trails along the Coast. I planned on overnighting at Frenchboro on Long Island in hopes of stomping around on a weather whipped island at the edge of the continent.
Jackpot! Upon arrived in Lunt Harbor, I almost immediately meet David and Sandy Lunt. David’s family has been living and working on the island continuously for over 200yrs
(he’s quick to point out that he’s only been around for 84 of those years). They graciously offered me free docking for the night (not even a mooring) and were generous with their time and knowledge of their island and trails that run thru it. Their son had chronicled life growing up on a Maine Island in a book titled Hauling by Hand (the book is next to my reading chair now).
Despite my far-to-short stay I could almost start to feel the pulse of the community. Sandy offered she would tell her son a visitor was at the dock for the night. Somehow, I felt word of my visit got around.
Despite my late start, and thanks to the long summer days, I was able to ramble over almost 10 miles of remote yet well maintained trails. From the time I left Frechboro to the time I returned I did not encounter a single person. Truly a Heaven-sent place.
I’m watching and listening as a small working port wakes up. Skiffs carrying Lobstermen (and woman) to their boats waiting patiently in the Harbor.
By 7am and I’m riding on the back of a ground swell towards Mount Desert Island. I plan on running up Somes Sound, the deep fiord cut into the heart of MDI. Again, the persistent fog creates an ominous effect. I can hear the waves breaking to port, trusting my line is true.
After cruising the Sound and refueling in SW Harbor I set my sights further East. This next leg will see Schoodic Point pass on my port beam with Jonesport as my next stop. Visibility is still limited however a promising high-pressure pattern is pushing thru. The 2S Bell appears as it’s supposed to setting up the way to another test-piece, the Petite Manan Bar. The Bar runs approximately 1.5 miles from the Point to Petit Manan Island. It’s known to break in all but settled weather prompting the Guide Book to issue several highlighted warnings. “Take the longer route around if unsure” says the prudent sailor. But what fun is that? Despite the lack of any real view I depend on my ears and the quicker motion of my vessel to tell me things are closer at hand. The West bell greets me hello and the East Gong wishes me goodbye. As if entering a different dimension, the sun burns thru the sky and for the first time on the journey the aft curtain comes off.