Cruising

Gut Instinct

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The strong south wind was mild, even though it was blowing in off the frigid Atlantic. Gusts swept over the crags of Allen Island and churned the waters in the anchorage enough to awaken me to the moan of the rigging. I looked up from my bunk and saw a full peach moon perfectly framed in the companionway of my friend’s venerable 1960s-vintage Tartan 27. Evidently, the ship’s cat had a touch of insomnia. She was sitting sphinx-like on the bridgedeck looking at the moon, too.

I got up, nudged the cat aside, went forward and let out some more anchor rode to increase the scope. The foredeck was damp with dew, chilling my bare feet. I lingered for a moment, taking in the scene. To the north was Port Clyde. In the distance, I could see a lighthouse flashing, marking the east end of Maine’s Muscongus Bay.

My friend Neville and I had planned to continue east to Penobscot Bay, but a gale warning had been issued for the next day, and considering our schedules, we both thought it prudent to head back to our home waters near Boothbay Harbor. The Boothbay area in mid-coast Maine is a cruiser’s playground, rich with scenic coves, intriguing inside passages—like Townsend Gut—and great restaurants and shops. Neville and I kept our boats in Ebenecook Harbor, on the west side of Southport Island, which is only a stone’s throw from the touristy and fun Boothbay Harbor.

Satisfied that we weren’t dragging anchor, I went below to my bunk, listened to Neville snoring and watched the cat watching the moon until I finally drifted off to sleep.

HOMEWARD BOUND

The next day the wind was fluky for our sail west across Muscongus Bay and past Pemaquid Light, which has a small museum and a stunning view of the rocky coast. Neville, a sailing purist, was satisfied to drift and trim, drift and trim. No iron genny for him, unless it was absolutely necessary. No gale either, or at least not yet.

On a previous cruise together, we’d sailed through the Thread of Life, a picturesque passage between islands and ledges that is quintessential Maine, and proceeded up Johns Bay to Poorhouse Cove, an off-the-beaten-path anchorage on the Johns River. To the east, across Johns Bay, is Pemaquid Harbor and Fort William Henry at the Colonial Pemaquid State Historic Site. The original fort, armed with about 20 cannon, was built in 1692 and featured a 29-foot-tall stone tower. The fort’s walls stood over 20 feet high and it housed about 60 English soldiers. Today, you can explore a replica of the original bastion and learn much about the local history of the area in an intriguing museum with a vast array of artifacts.

Pemaquid, or “Pemasquid” as I have often called it, marks the west end of Muscongus Bay, and is one of many long peninsulas that protrude into the Atlantic from the Maine coast. A gull on the wing can fly a straight-line course of about 250 miles from west to east and cover the entire area, but factor in the myriad peninsulas, coves and more than 6,000 islands, and you get a whopping 5,000 miles of granite shoreline studded with fragrant pines.

After passing Pemaquid Point we turned north into Johns Bay where Neville reluctantly turned on the engine and steered for the swing bridge at The Gut in South Bristol. The Gut is one of many inside passages that save considerable time and distance, allowing you to snake between islands and the mainland instead of having to go all the way around offshore. In our case, The Gut represented a quick route from Johns Bay to the Damariscotta River, just east of Boothbay Harbor. The river is home to the famous and scenic Christmas Cove, where Capt. John Smith dropped anchor in 1614 during his exploration of New England. The tiny cove is well protected, and the marina offers moorings, dockage and an excellent restaurant. Offshore to the south is Damariscove Island, a nature preserve that is also well worth a visit.

The tide runs swiftly through The Gut, as it does most everywhere in Maine where a channel is narrow, and so we timed our approach to the swing bridge very carefully. After getting sucked through we set sail and were soon heading north again, up the Damariscotta River to Seal Cove. At the head of the cove, we picked up a private mooring, with the owner’s permission, and settled in for the night—both of us wondered what had happened to the forecast gale.

“You see a gale?” I asked.

“No, mate. I don’t,” Neville said in his thick British accent. Tall and lanky, with a beaky nose, Neville is in his late 60s and bears a striking resemblance to Washington Irving’s Ichabod Crane. He’s the kind of waterman who will sail his Tartan right up to its mooring in a crowded mooring field, scaring the bejesus out of other skippers staring wide-eyed at this crazy Brit about to T-bone their fancy yachts. In a word, cool.

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