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Sailing Maine: shell heaps reveal that Indians have been visiting mount desert island off the coast of Maine in the US for about 6,000 years, and with good reason: the island's mix of history, seasonal colours, pine trees and lobsters give it a charm all its own.

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We didn't actually eat a moose burger in our four weeks in Maine, but were told that the cute moose's meat is very lean and apparently a staple Fare for some families on the outer islands of Penobscot Bay. It is a different world out there, real, completely removed from the glitz and glamour of New England's lower reaches. Rocks, pine trees, wooden houses and lobsterpots. Lots of those. And fog.

Maine's waters are some of the most spectacular cruising grounds in the world, where sailors can enjoy thousands of rocky islands, protected anchorages, charming towns and sheltered passages comparable to the Croatian coast or the Swedish archipelago. Kids and adults alike were thrilled to see ospreys, sea eagles, big seals, dolphins and pilot whales.

My husband John and I set off from the lovely Maine town of Camden with seven people on our Swan 46 Senta-our family of four including Finn, six, and Lizzie. three, my parents, and our friend Peter. We cast the lines off at midday on a Friday at the end of June and in a gentle, 12-knot breeze, under big genoa and main, beam-reached all the way to Pulpit Harbor on Northaven Island just 10 miles away.

With Senta safely on a mooring, Finn drove the dinghy and us onto a pebble beach for some driftwood gathering. The sun had disappeared and it was bitter cold, confirming the local saying that 'if you don't like the Maine weather, wait ten minutes.' Right on dusk, the Camden schooners arrived one after another under full sail for the last night of their weekly tourist cruise. Anchoring an original 19th century schooner without an engine in a tight spot requires a lot of skill and was exciting to watch.

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Perry Creek on Vinalhaven Island, our next stop, was highly recommended by the locals for its natural beauty. In the entrance, an osprey nest with bird in residence fascinated everyone. However, a few minutes later when we were safely on the mooring, we agreed it was too cold to enjoy the scenery.

The next morning, we had our first taste of the big, white nothing. Apparently due to the long, cold winter, it was a bad fog season. The fog was thick and we were nervous. Peter and I were peeping into the fog air in the cockpit when another boat confidently motored past us. We weren't too proud to ask for help, and without hesitation made a quick inquiry about their destination, which turned out to be close to ours, so we dropped the mooring and were on their tail. Our guides, an elderly couple, slowly motored from buoy to buoy close to the shore. It was scary to us fog novices. We could have stayed, but the German half of our crew wanted to get back to Camden to watch Germany lose against Spain in the final of the European Soccer Championship.

The dense fog in Camden's harbour delayed our start again the next day and it wasn't till around 11 that we set off into a misty sunshine. The cruise to Carvers Harbor on Vinalhaven Island was only 12 miles, and we tacked into a nice, fresh southeasterly breeze all the way there. The guidebook described it as "essentially a lobstering town, not a yachting town or a vacation town. No effort is made to accommodate yachts or yachtsmen", which was fine by us. We wanted to see the real America. Later in the trip, a fellow yachtie incredulously asked us, "You went into Carvers Harbor? Nobody I know has ever gone in there. What was it like?"

It started out fine but by day two it had the feel of "Deliverance". Entering the harbour, we had a lucky break in a packed bay with wall-to-wall lobster boats. A lobsterman called Derek came out in his tinny and showed us a seaweedy mooring that hadn't been used in a while. When $30 had changed hands, Peter hopped into our benefactor's dinghy and a few minutes later came back with a bucker full of fresh lobsters, caught that day, for $5 a piece.

Carvers Harbor in sunshine was beautiful and quintessential Maine. A racing green Hinckley picnic boat drove by, passing wooden wharfs on stilts, clapboard houses with mountains of lobster pots on front of them. A seal swam past Senta and looked at us curiously with his round brown eyes.

Next morning, no picnic boats in sight. No boats in sight, really. The thickest fog any of us had ever seen had settled on the harbour. A dinghy expedition was mounted and the bravest of us ventured ashore. There was fog in the streets, on the harbour parking lot; you couldn't see a thing. Motoring back along the grey, forlorn wharfs, John was trying to keep a steady direction in order to find Senta out there in the bay, somewhere. "For future reference take a compass", the skipper admitted. Finally, we found her. We decided to stay put until the fog lifted, having seen substantial reefs on the way in. Not even the lobstermen went out that day.

A lot of agonising went on about where to spend the 4th of July, Independence Day in the USA. Nothing could compare to the circus we'd experienced at Provincetown, Cape Cod the previous year, but still, we thought it would be nice to find some celebrations up here. In Southwest Harbor on Mount Desert Island there might be the chance of a party. It was a long day in variable winds and a choppy sea to get there.

Mount Desert Island (some pronounce it the French way: de-ZERT) had been the local Indian population's summer holiday camp even six thousand years ago. it later became a favourite destination for artists, journalists and certain affluent families like the Rockefellers. Today Acadia National Park offers holiday pleasures to everyone. Southwest Harbor is the home of the famous Hinckley yard and Dysarts Great Harbor Marina is one the few sizeable marinas in the area. At the 4th of July barbecue at the marina we met a lot of nice power boaters from Florida and Carolina, ate hot dogs and ribs and soon sang Happy Birthday for a blonde labrador named Uncle Sam, followed by birthday cake for the dog.

From Northeast Harbor, we took a bus across the fiord-like Somes Sound to Bar Harbor, the main tourist centre of Mount Desert island, if not Maine. From the bus we could see some of the island's impressive mountains and lakes and admire the summerhouses of the rich and famous.

The next day, we had another sail in bad visibility. In Winter Harbor, the fog settled in. The yacht club's heated pool was included in the mooring fees and immediately became a hit with kids and adults alike. On day two in thick, chilling fog the decision had to be made whether to continue in the mostly foggy conditions into the notorious Bay of Fundy with its ripping tides toward Nova Scotia or head back and hope for less fog and some sunshine closer to the mainland. Setting out without visibility didn't make us nervous any longer. Radar and computer navigation worked well. But motoring around in damp, cold fog dodging lobster pots without even seeing the lovely islands was not our idea of a summer cruise. We wanted balmy evenings in the cockpit, not huddling under the back dodger like penguins. So back it was. Returning to Southwest Harbor, the managers of Great Harbor Marine Jane and Micah and their son Jacob, who is Finn's age, greeted us like family and soon we were in Jane's car on the way to Echo Lake for a very cold swim.

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The fog had lifted and Frenchboro on Long Island turned out to be another highlight of the trip. With only one ferry connection a week, it attracts no tourists and has only 65 inhabitants all year round. There was lobster wharfs, lobster boats and lobster pots. To get there, we motored into a solid 30-knot headwind. The skipper was not happy to see other boats beam reaching to other destinations.

The little community with its museum, white church and schoolhouse and a tiny shop was extremely welcoming, we ended up sitting in front of the shop with lobsterman Ski and his colleagues all afternoon, hearing about lobster fishing and moose shooting while the kids played with the local gang. Ski told us that he went moose shooting once a year with a friend and one animal cut up into moose burgers and steaks lasted two families a whole year. A different world.
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Title Annotation:Destination
Author:Eriksen, Karen
Publication:Offshore Yachting
Geographic Code:1U1ME
Date:Oct 1, 2008
Words:1444
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