A Down East Idyll, with Hurricanes!
We were ghosting toward the mainland, gybing back and forth to make the most of a faint morning breeze. The sun was out and it was hot. To the north I could see swells breaking over Horseshoe Ledge and a rock formation called The Drums. I was also keeping an eye out for lobster buoys. The tide was ebbing, setting up a wicked crosscurrent in spots, and I’d already been forced to alter course dramatically a few times when our meager boat speed failed to get us across them in time. Welcome to the Maine coast!
Not that I’m complaining. It was some of the most rewarding sailing I’ve ever done, like a chess game afloat, the complete opposite of sitting back and letting the autopilot do all the work. There’s nothing like inshore piloting to get you in touch with your surroundings, and this was piloting in spades.
My wife, Shelly, my daughter, Bridget, and I had started out in Southwest Harbor, on the south end of Mount Desert Island, where we’d picked up the Hinckley Pilot 35 sloop Trillium from the Hinckley dock. I’ve chartered a lot of boats over the years, but nothing like Trillium. Built in 1966, she is the very essence of what comes to mind when somebody says “Hinckley.”
Belowdecks, the saloon, head, galley and V-berth were encased in wood trim. On deck everything was brightwork and polish. Trillium’s topsides were a shining royal blue with a gold cove stripe and the distinctive Hinckley logo just forward of her heartstopping traditional transom.
Trillium has been in the Sheridan family for over three decades, the first two in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1994 she underwent a complete restoration—the kind that makes no sense financially, but makes all the sense in the world if you truly love your boat. Even in a part of the world chock-a-block with beautiful boats, Trillium is a head-turner.
Trillium is certainly no lightweight, and I wondered how she would perform in the light air we expected. Although narrow, Trillium displaces a hefty 13,500 pounds, not counting provisions. She also has a full keel with an attached rudder—which means plenty of wetted surface area.
On the plus side, this kind of hull is far less likely to snag a lobster pot. Nonetheless, I wondered if we might not find ourselves motoring a lot.
Our first day out we picked up the boat at 1300 and were underway by 1500, threading the needle between Clark Point and Greening Island before making our way north into Somes Sound. The wind was light, funneling up the long fjord-like bay from the south-southeast. Gybing from cat’s paw to cat’s paw, we were just able to maintain steerage under jib alone. It was slow going, but also wonderfully relaxing. A number of powerboats and a huge ketch flying a Bermudian flag motored by, but we were in no hurry. We also did a good job of holding our own against another sloop under jib and main with about the same LOA. Although the “competition,” with its more modern hull shape, would slip away with each fresh puff, Trillium reeled her back in when the breeze fell to nothing. Clearly, this was a boat that carried her momentum with ease. Bridget, who had turned 6 only a few weeks earlier, appreciated the stable deck and mill-pond conditions, so who was I to complain?
That night we grabbed a mooring just off Abel’s Lobster Pound at the head of the sound and dinghied ashore for supper. Sitting outside at a picnic table amid a forest of tiki torches, the night felt almost tropical, thanks to a heat wave that was sending afternoon temperatures into the mid-90s. In an act of filial defiance, Bridget declared it was “unfair” eating a “cuddly” lobster and that she was having a hotdog. Sounds great, honey, could you please pass the melted butter?
The next day we ghosted back down the sound, with the wind from the north-northwest. Once again I fought the urge to fire up the auxiliary and was soon rewarded. We’d seen a seal poking around while getting underway, and no sooner did we unfurl our jib than we saw a pair of dolphins. At one point a lobster boat motored by with a trio of daysailers in tow. Otherwise we had the entire sound to ourselves. A few minutes later, another pair of dolphins appeared. It was so quiet we could hear them breathing as they broke the surface.
Later, at the mouth of the sound, we got our first real taste of the local currents in action in “The Narrows,” where the appropriately named Middle Rock is marked by a green buoy. Hardening up a little to give it a wide berth, I found myself suddenly swept down on a cluster of brightly painted lobster buoys. Only by heating things up to a close reach was I able to squirt by without making contact. Still, it had been a near thing.
From there, we went north of Greening Island, fell off around Eastern Point, and headed south through the Western Way, between Mount Desert and Great Cranberry islands. South Bunker Ledge was much quieter than when I’d first laid eyes on it from the beach two days before. But I still made sure to keep a respectful distance.