I didn’t grow up in Maine, but my father retired there when I was in high school, so I consider myself a “Mainiac.” During my father’s Navy career, we moved all over the world, never staying for more than a couple years. When my family moved to Maine, I hoped to set roots and make long-lasting friendships.
Unfortunately, after college my career kept me away from my adopted state for decades, except for occasional family visits. I sailed a lot, mostly on the Chesapeake Bay near my homeport of Norfolk, VA. Always in the back of my mind was the desire to return “home” on my boat, but it was an itch I just couldn’t scratch as my own Navy career got in the way. With my parents now gone and the rest of us not getting any younger, my wife and I decided a voyage to my adopted state should happen sooner rather than later.
In the summer of 2017, after we sold our sailboat and bought a Kadey-Krogen 48, we headed north. On a beautiful June morning traveling with another Krogen, we left our slip in Hampton, VA, and made a direct overnight run to New York’s Staten Island. Some of my childhood was spent in this area, so I started to feel the pull of “home.” Passing by the Statue of Liberty was a thrill, as was running the infamous “Hell’s Gate” on the East River to Long Island Sound.
The draw toward my home state grew stronger as we cruised east on the Sound, with several stops along the way including Newport, RI, for a memorable 40th anniversary celebration of the Kadey- Krogen yacht line. And I got to tick off another place I lived as a kid. I was slowly checking off childhood haunts, which felt like feeding a kid a snack — one little piece of cookie at a time!
Finally after a fast run through Cape Cod Canal, we made it to Kittery, the first place I lived in Maine during my father’s last tour of duty. Another key destination was South Port Marine, just across the bridge from Portland, where the staff is very accommodating. When they heard I was hosting elderly family members, they moved a few boats so we could tie to a face dock for easier boarding.
South Portland was worth the visit, and within an easy walk of the marina we found a great grocery and liquor store. Across the street was Foulmouthed Brewery with wonderful beer and even better food. We will return!
Also on our memory lane agenda was Dolphin Marina, which is in the town of Harpswell on Casco Bay. I practically grew up at this place. Long before co-owner Mimi Saxton and her husband Bill built their new restaurant on the hill next door, this place was a boat yard owned by her father, where I spent hours working on friends’ boats and walking down to the coffee shop for to-die-for fish chowder with a gigantic blueberry muffin.
Alas, the boat yard is long gone, but the marina has expanded, and the ever-present Mimi presides over the restaurant and its world-class menu. Her chowder is still the best in the world. Even my mother, who was an excellent cook, could never duplicate her recipe. When you stay at the marina, every morning the staff delivers fresh blueberry muffins and hot coffee compliments of the restaurant.
Some of my family still lives in the state, and a big reason we came to Maine was to attend a family gathering that included a day cruise around Casco Bay on our Krogen. By far, this reunion was the best
part of our trip — the icing on the cake.
Tips for a Memorable Trip to Maine
Maine hosts many outstanding seaside destinations, so I’d like to mention highlights from our Downeast cruise and offer insights to entice others to journey there.
Most marinas in Maine are not like ones we find elsewhere. Because of large tides, marina docks here are almost all floating, but many facilities, especially in more remote areas, center around mooring balls or floats. Lots of places have a shore shuttle service, so you don’t have to put your dink in the water. Some harbors even have “public” moorings with a milk bottle attached. Pick up the mooring for the night and leave cash in the jug! The owners eventually pick it up. Great system.
If you travel to northern New England before mid-June, you’re going to see fog. Even if you arrive after June, you see fog, too! It’s a northern way of life as much as rocky shores and lobster pots. Its presence softens the sound of waves hitting the coastline and puts an enchanting sheen on everything it touches. Radar is a must, because fog can roll in on a sunny afternoon far faster than you can return to harbor.
If you don’t like lobster, well, I feel sorry for you, and Maine may not be your cup of tea. In my opinion, lobster should only be served two ways: steamed with lots of butter, fresh corn on the cob and boiled potatoes on the side, or as lobster salad with a hint of seasoning and enough mayo to hold it together heaped into a New England top-sliced roll with a side of fresh-cut onion rings. Make sure you bring a big pot and don’t be afraid to hail lobstermen to see if he (or she) will sell you a few “bugs.” If you don’t want to cook, restaurants throughout Maine will gladly steam them for you. The bottom line is Maine = Lobster!
Maine’s coast is simply too long to explore in one season. Heck, some cruisers who have spent every summer in the state for decades find new haunts all the time. I’d suggest you pick a destination the farthest “Downeast” you plan to go (Mt. Desert Island, for example), get there quickly and then move back south and west as the summer wanes. You don’t want to reach Acadia National Park, where you could spend weeks hiking and biking, but immediately must turn around and head home. Kittery, Portland, Freeport, Boothbay Harbor, Camden, Rockland, Belfast and Bar Harbor all beckon, but you’ll discover dozens of other wonderful places to stop. Choose destinations that most interest you and plan to see others next time.
If you plan to spend time off the boat and like traveling in something other than a rental car, then bring good hiking shoes and sturdy bikes. You’ll find no shortage of hiking trails, but our favorites were in Acadia National Park on Mt. Desert Island. We brought our folding boat bikes, which were fine, but next time we’ll hoist better mountain bikes to make riding the many miles of trails a bit easier.
The summer of 2017 was magical for us. I got to show my wife my childhood haunts, reconnect with old friends, visit family whom we see far too infrequently and reunite with the most beautiful cruising grounds imaginable. If you are considering a cruise Downeast, I have one last piece of advice … GO!
Tim Leighton is a retired Naval officer and pilot with American Airlines. He and his wife Diane homeport in Hampton, VA, but travel extensively throughout the Eastern Seaboard and the Bahamas on their 1996 48-foot Kadey-Krogen trawler. They are definitely heading back to Maine in the summer of 2019.