Go-to Islands Destinations: Mount Desert Island

Author:
Updated:
Original:
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

T31A4577

Cruising the Eagle Class 53

Sailing at 19 knots in 15 knots of breeze is not an earth-shattering experience anymore. I was thinking about that on a perfect late summer day in Narragansett Bay while we were slicing along on the most technologically advanced cruising catamaran I’ve ever seen—the Eagle Class ...read more

1.-Exterior-old-port-600x

Know-how: Replacing Portlights

Years ago when my wife and I were running sailboats in the Caribbean we once had a guest who, when we're at anchor, would occasionally look out the big saloon ports at the, ahem, “scenery.” (We spent a lot of time in the French islands back then.) More recently, if this same ...read more

Nathan-Bates-San-Diego,-CA

SAIL Reader's Photographs

Are you out there sailing, cruising and living the sailing life? If so, we’d love to see it. Send your sailing photos to sailmail@sailmagazine.com And don’t forget to sign up for our free eNewsletter. We saw this rainbow on the west coast of Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas Islands, ...read more

10-002

Ask Sail: Analog or Digital

Q: I am redoing my voltage distribution panel and can’t decide between a needle movement voltmeter or a digital illuminated voltmeter to monitor my house and starting battery voltages. Which way would be best? — J. Henshaw, Tampa FL GORDON WEST REPLIES I would say do both types ...read more

Ultime-maxi-trimaran-2048x

Video: The Power of an Ultime Tri

. If there was ever any doubt as to the speed potential for the eye-popping Ultime maxi-trimaran class, the first 24 hours of the Brest Atlantiques race have surely put such doubts to rest. The drone footage above of Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier’s Gitana Edmond de ...read more

Brest-Atlantiques-2048x

Video: Brest Atlantiques Fleet on its Way

The four monster trimarans taking part in the 14,000-mile Brest Atlantiques race, from Brest, France, to Brazil and then Cape Town and back, found themselves battling brutal conditions under deeply reefed sails from the word go. The event in many ways represents the pinnacle ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell. Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com Fine-tuning a Sure-fire Solution  It’s fun to look back over a summer’s cruising by way of the track my chartplotter has recorded. Where the track really comes into its own, though, is piloting out of ...read more