A Trip Through Time
With the Bass Harbor Head light just visible to starboard, we sailed slowly south until the wind died then came back on the nose. By now the crew was growing restless, so we fired up the auxiliary and motored the rest of the way into Frenchboro, on Long Island, where we had lunch and went ashore to do some exploring.
Located some eight miles off Mt. Desert Island, Frenchboro sits on the edge of the open Atlantic and boasts a year-round population of only 70. By the time we got there, just a few days before Labor Day, things had already pretty much shut down. The summer people were mostly gone, and there were only two other pleasure boats in all of Lunt Harbor.
Frenchboro is worlds apart from those parts of Maine that are better known to tourists. It’s the kind of place where you feel you’re stepping back in time, the kind of place only sailors typically get to see, because they’re the only ones with the means and inclination to go there. In the off-season it’s pure magic.
In Frenchboro everybody knows everybody else, and you’re never out of hearing range of the bell buoys offshore. The local kids play in the middle of the road without having to worry about traffic, which is largely golf carts anyway. Big Beach, on the island’s southwestern shore, is comprised not of sand, but of bowling-ball sized granite boulders, and is strewn with buoys, lobster pots, timbers and other marine debris—a testament to the raw power of the Atlantic. The proprietor of the Frenchboro Historical Society told us that during storms the rocks rolling around Big Beach sound like thunder and can be heard the length and breadth of the island.
It was in Frenchboro that we first heard talk of Hurricane Earl. According to the weather forecast, the storm, then making its way up the East Coast, was likely to hit Cape Cod and might reach Maine. Sitting in the Lunt & Lunt Dockside Deli, we watched the Weather Channel for a while with a local lobsterman, who said he was going out to shift his pots later that afternoon. We’d come in to get some ice cream cones after a hot, sticky hike across the island. Hurricanes? Heat waves? It was beginning to feel more like the Caribbean than New England.
The next morning we took advantage of the ebb tide to sail off our mooring on a fluky westerly and steered a course for the mainland. For two hours we gybed back and forth, picking our way through fields of lobster buoys and taking bearings off nearby Crow, Green and Sister islands. We had yet to see a shred of fog, which was fine by me. I shudder to think what it would be like making your way along this coast in poor or no visibility.
Once past Horseshoe Ledge and The Drums, the wind died again, so we motored back in through the Western Way, past a charter schooner, heading out toward open water. Close inshore there was a nice sea breeze, so we turned off the engine and started sailing again. Rounding the red bell buoy off Spurling Point on the northwest corner of Great Cranberry Island, I confess I grew just a little frustrated with the density of the lobster buoys. I understand these guys need to make a living, but come on!
Hardening up to beat into Cranberry Harbor I noticed a Rhodes 19 maybe a quarter of a mile away under full sail going nowhere. Sure enough, looking through the binoculars, I could see her crew reach over the side for what could only have been a buoy line. When I looked over a few minutes later, the boat was on its way again, no harm done.
By the time we had grabbed a mooring and were ashore at Islesford on Little Cranberry Island, preparations for Earl were in full swing. Lobstermen were packing up their traps, and a crew was hauling out the local fleet of Bullseye one-design keelboats. It was mid-week, and the Islesford Dock Restaurant had already shut down for the season, so the island was almost completely devoid of visitors.
Once again, we made a beeline for the nearest ice cream source—the general store-cum-post office a couple of blocks inland. Once again, the sun shone bright in a clear blue sky, while waves broke on the shallows of the “gut” at the head of the harbor. According to the two elderly gentlemen at the general store, it is not unusual for Little Cranberry to host more than a thousand tourists on a busy weekend, but we pretty much had the place to ourselves. It was like taking another step back through time—a combination of off-season quiet and picture-perfect weather.
Back aboard Trillium for dinner, I realized we were the only charter boat left in the harbor. The mooring field was now well over half empty. Earlier in the day I’d called Patricia Tierney at Hinckley Yacht Charters to see if she wanted us to come in early, but she said not to worry. The forecast was looking a little better, and she was sure Trillium would be fine. Apparently the Hinckley crew had been busy hauling boats ever since we left, so there would be plenty of space to tie up Trillium where she’d be nice and safe.