Go-to Islands Destinations: Mount Desert Island - Sail Magazine

Go-to Islands Destinations: Mount Desert Island

Author:
Publish date:
You are spoilt for choice when it comes to shoreside activities.

You are spoilt for choice when it comes to shoreside activities.

Let’s face it—without islands to sail to, cruising wouldn’t be nearly as much fun. No matter where you sail, arriving at a destination by boat has a magic of its own. 

Mount Desert Island

By Tom Egan44.3924° N, 68.3021° W

All the qualities that make Maine a great cruising destination can be found on Mount Desert Island. Whether your cruising style requires a shorepower hookup and fine dining ashore, quaint working harbors with moorings, lobster rolls and colorful waterfront characters, or an anchorage in pristine natural surroundings with hiking and eagle spotting opportunities, MDI has it all.

Approaching by sea you will be awed by MDI’s mountainous terrain. West Coast readers may scoff, but at 1,529ft, Cadillac Mountain is the highest mountain on the East Coast of the United States. It was this vegetationless glacier-scrubbed rocky dome that inspired Samuel de Champlain to call this place “Isles des Monts Desert” in 1604. Though it’s technically an island, you can abandon any idea of circumnavigating it aboard a boat with a mast, as a low fixed bridge crosses the shallow Mount Desert Narrows connecting MDI to the mainland. The land has a rich history worthy of a little reading. Shell mounds tell of 6,000 years of Native American occupation, followed by French Jesuits in 1613, English troops in 1759 and American millionaires in the late 1800s. Summer residents including the Rockefellers, Morgans, Fords, Vanderbilts, Carnegies and Astors felt a need to protect and preserve their seasonal playground, and in an act of public generosity worthy of nostalgia, a group led by George B. Dorr gifted a large portion of the island to a public trust that eventually became Acadia National Park.

On the east side of the island alongside Frenchman’s Bay, one finds the iconic town of Bar Harbor, departure port of the Nova Scotia ferry and a mecca for many of the two million tourists visiting the park each year. The harbormaster can hook you up with a dock or mooring. On shore, a poor lobster doesn’t stand a chance as a dozen restaurants offer the buggers boiled, steamed, grilled, baked or stuffed. After you’ve bought the obligatory T-shirt and tourmaline jewelry (Maine’s official gem stone) you can kick back with a pint at the Lompoc Café and play a round of bocce, all the while listening to live music. Try a Cadillac Mountain Stout or any of the fine offerings of the Atlantic Brewing Company, which was founded on this site in 1990.

You can just relax and enjoy the view from your boat

You can just relax and enjoy the view from your boat

If Bar Harbor is a tourist town with a bit of a yachting scene, then the twin ports of Northeast Harbor and Southwest Harbor on opposite wings of the butterfly-shaped island’s south side are true yachting towns that welcome the occasional tourist.

Northeast Harbor is ringed by stately homes and offers great protection from the weather. Moorings, slips and every yacht service imaginable are cheerfully provided for along the waterfront. Try provisioning at the Farmer’s Market near the ferry terminal, open from 0900 to 1200 on Thursdays, for great local produce.

If life let you choose where and when to suffer marine equipment failure, you could pick no better place than Southwest Harbor, where there is a Coast Guard station and several top-notch service yards to fix any conceivable boat problem. Our favorite reason to visit Southwest Harbor is for some of the best yacht-gawking on the east coast. The impeccably maintained fleet of Hinckleys, professionally pampered by their builder’s yard at the mouth of the harbor, will likely trigger a severe case of varnish envy.

If you prefer a quieter, picturesque, working harbor backdrop for your sunset happy hour, check out Bass Harbor on the southwest tip of the island or Seal Harbor a little farther east. (One of 13 Harbors, coves or bays in the state named “Seal,” by our count.) Or if getting back to nature is more your thing, the east side of the island features a handful of beautiful little coves, where you might find yourself the only boat among the pine trees and rocky shoreline. That said, for shear natural beauty, the anchorage we never miss is Valley Cove in Somes Sound.

Somes is a true glacier-carved fjord like no other this side of Norway, and Valley Cove is tucked into the lee of a 600ft cliff. A short dinghy ride to the beach puts you on Flying Mountain Trail for one of the most scenic hikes in Maine. There is nothing like looking down at your boat gently bobbing at anchor hundreds of feet below and then scanning the horizon for 30 miles in every direction to make you appreciate this special part of the world.

June 2017

Save

Related

daviscards

Davis Instruments: Quick Reference Cards

CHECK THESEIf you’re sailing with new crew this summer or your kids have suddenly and inexplicably started to look up from their phones and take an interest in the finer points of cruising, these Quick Reference Cards from Davis are a great way to further their boating education. ...read more

01-rbir18-596

Another Epic Round Britain Race

There are basically two kinds of offshore sailboat races out there: those that take place annually, like the Fastnet and Chicago-to-Mackinac races; and those that take place every other year, like the Transpac and Newport-Bermuda race, in part so the competitors have sufficient ...read more

01b_WALKING-KEDGE-OUT-cmykpromo

Getting More Use From Kedge Anchors

If you are cruising, you need at least two anchors on board for the simple reason that you must have a backup. Imagine having to slip your anchor on a stormy night with other boats dragging down on yours, or having your rope rode severed by some unseen underwater obstacle, ...read more

SailAwayCharter

How-to: Navigating on a Bareboat Charter

So you graduated from navigation class where you practiced dead reckoning, doubling the angle on the bow and maybe even celestial nav, and you now feel well prepared for your first charter trip. Well, you won’t be doing any of that on vacation—not past the first day, anyway.Most ...read more

04-Turtle-rescue

Turtle Rescue in the Vic-Maui

Strange and often wonderful things can happen in the course of an offshore sailboat race, and one of the strangest and most wonderful things we’ve heard of recently took place during the 2,300-mile 2018 Vic-Maui race, from Victoria, British Columbia, to Lahaina, Hawaii.It ...read more

dorcap-open-blue

ATN Inc: Dorcap

COOL SLEEPYou’re fast asleep in a snug anchorage, forehatch open to catch the breeze, when you’re rudely awakened by a sneaky rain squall. Now you’re not only awake and wet, you’re sweltering with the hatch closed. Sucks, right? That’s why ATN came up with the Dorcap, an ...read more

HIGH-RES-29312-Tahiti-GSP

Ask Sail: Who has the right-of-way

WHO HAS RIGHT-OF-WAY?Q: I sail in Narragansett Bay, which is a relatively narrow body of water that has upwind boats generally going south and downwind boats generally going north. When sailboats are racing, the starboard tack boat has the right-of-way over the port tack boat, so ...read more