Adventures of Puff Stuff: Maine 2001

By Sam and Arlene Wykoff

What do you think about cruising the Maine coast this vacation? What, spend our precious vacation fog bound in an anchorage with 10 foot tides; perhaps when we retire and have more time. This annual debate took place for the past several years, always ending on the conservative note. This year was different. On August 25 we hooked up our Mac 26, Puff Stuff (PS) and made the 11 hour drive from Stillwater N.J. to Rockland Me arriving at 1800 and a falling tide. A local Mac 25 sailor was just hauling out and suggested anchoring just off the mooring field. The ramp is 2 lanes wide, has a nice floating dock and lots of good parking. By 1930, the anchor was down near marker"3", the sun was down and we were down below huddled around the oil lamp and stove.

Sunday brought a clear day ( hey, maybe this fog thing is overstated) with 15 SW. We filled the water tanks at a local marina and reached across the bay under jib alone. Some careful chart reading and observing outbound boats got us through the rocks and small islands off Vinalhaven's Carver Harbor. A quick circle of the harbor confirmed the cruising guides description as a working harbor and also confirmed no room to anchor. We did see a harbor seal, which made the visit worth while. Back out in the bay under full sail we rounded the south end of Vinalhaven and reached up the East side to Winter harbor. This is a narrow 2 mile long bay with only a few summer homes. The first mile in is easy with 65 feet gradually shoaling to 20. The next mile requires following the lobster pots around some 2 foot shoals that nearly block the bay. The reward is a post card anchorage in 20 feet surrounded by pine trees and pink granite. We shared the spot with one other boat. Although hot and sunny, at 58 F the water was too cold for us. A short row in the dink got us a chat with our neighbor, an ex Cape Dory salesman, sailing a Cape Dory, of course. A hike across the island forming one side of the bay revealed a nice old farm on the next bay.

Monday Arnold forecast bad stuff late in the day, so we decided to stay put and get some much needed exercise. We found a path next to a long abandoned shack perched high on the shore and followed it to the road. 3 miles later we were in downtown Vinalhaven, which looks better from shore than from the water. It was lobster roll for lunch, of course. The town has 6 ferries a day to the mainland, but a good percentage of the shops were for sale. On the walk back to PS we found a wild black berry patch and picked a few quarts.

Tuesday morning it was blackberry pancakes. We pulled the anchor in bright sun and wove our way back through the narrow spots, hitting bottom once with the rudder. Fortunately, we have a sacrificial waxed twine loop in the line, with several replacements tied on for quick recovery. As we approached the mouth of the bay, we could see a fog bank sitting outside. A short motor out into it made for an easy decision to delay our departure until after lunch. Seal Bay joins Winter Harbor at the entrance and offered a nice lunch stop. At 1330 the fog was still waiting for us just off the island. We had planned an 18 nm run North to Bucks Harbor on Eggemoggin Reach, but it was getting late and Arnold had severe T storms scheduled for the evening. So discretion lead us deeper into Seal Bay to a beautiful anchorage behind Hay Island with two 60+ foot ketches ... not everyone can sail a Mac. A dinghy tour at low tide netted us 2 dozen mussels that made great appetizers for the BBQ steak. True to his word, Arnold delivered rain with a distant light show around midnight.

Wednesday's fresh high-pressure system gave us clear skies and a rare NW breeze. Following our new philosophy, we ran with it the 8nm to Moores Harbor on Isle au Haut. The strong current in the bay pulled some of the lobster pot floats under and made it a real challenging sail. We were rewarded with the most beautiful anchorage I have seen outside of the Caribbean. The anchorages tend to be a lot deeper than we are used to and my 25 foot lead line often came up short. With the anchor down at 1230 and lunch down shortly after, we rowed to the head of the harbor and hauled the dingy 40 feet up the shore at low tide to keep it safe while we explored. Much of the island is part of Acadia National Park, but basically undeveloped. We hiked 2 miles to the village of Isle au Haut, which is very picturesque. The general store provided Dove bars as energy for the return hike. We returned to the harbor via a park trail through the pine forest of the island. Back on PS we finally mastered the temperature control on the gas grill to deliver 2 perfect 12 inch pizzas; I guess the previous burnt offerings were worth it.

Thursday dawned clear and bright with light East wind. We motored through the narrow Isle au Haut thorofare and past town. Under full sail and a filling South wind we reached NE 18nm to Mackeral Cove on Swan Island. Amidst several small islands, rocks and marks in the entrance we made a wrong turn and had to backtrack a half mile. Mackeral cove is large and offers little. We are the only cruising boat here. We anchored in 7 feet MLW, as close as we could get to the windward shore, which was still too far to offer full protection. At 1700 it was 60F and quite breezy. Too cool on deck, we retreated below for some R&R. The evening was another picture perfect one, with red sunset, clear sky and full moon. The area is very similar to the North Channel, except there are larger open passages between islands and the anchorages are deeper.

Arnold provided cloudy skies, small craft warnings and a stiff SE wind Friday morning. At 0800 the anchor was up and we ran the 19nm North to Blue Hill under working jib. At times we were surfing at over 5 knots in 3 to 4 foot waves. We saw several seals along the way, as they popped up next to us. Entering Blue Hill's relatively narrow and rocky channel at right angles to the 4 foot waves kept us on our toes. Once inside the harbor there is full protection, lots of moorings tucked among the numerous rocks and not much space to anchor. We found a protected d scenic area in the SW corner outside the mooring field in 9 feet MLW. We set 2 anchors as bad weather was forecast and we had rocks on 3 sides. The town dock and only marina are both dry at MLW. The yacht club on the East shore has 10 feet at MLW and offers ice, water and fuel. Pumpout stations are very scarce in this area; people look at you a little strange when you ask. A 1.5 mile hike to town from the club allowed us to restock the food locker and rewarded us with a great Friday night special all-you-can-eat fish fry at a local restaurant. Finding our way back to PS across the rock strewn harbor in the dark was a minor price to pay.

Arnold made good on his promise of rain for Saturday morning, but with a fresh coffee cake on-board we hardly noticed. Our peaceful anchorage now has white caps and 30mph winds. As we were about to attempt a surely wet dinghy ride to town to see the local fair, we noticed our stern getting precariously close to the lee shore. A quick tug on the danforth rode revealed our second anchor was dragging with 6:1 scope. I have only ever dragged twice in heavy weather, and both times it was a Danforth. We pulled in the Danforth and dinghied out the 35lb Bruce, which we should have set in the first place, knowing the forecast. It bit and we hung on it and the Delta the rest of the very windy day.

Sunday dawned clear and crisp with a lingering NW breeze. We left early to take advantage of the NW wind, as it was time to start working our way back West. We were able to run the spinnaker for the first 7 nm, then the wind swung to SE and dropped to nil. A half-hour later we had 15 knots on the nose. Two reefs later, we were beating our way into SE Bay for the night. This is a large bay on Deere Isle that offers some protected areas a few miles in. Being adventurous, we passed the first anchorage to check out a smaller, shallower and much trickier area. After some interpretation of the chart and navigating around rocks and shoals we found a good-looking spot that the chart said had 10 feet MLW. As I reached for the lead line, the rudder hit and we ran aground in mud. Unable to free ourselves with the motor, I went wadding in the cold muddy water. Once free, we reset the rudder, but had no centerboard. Fearing the cable had snapped, we worked a rope back under the hull from the bow and secured the board up. We returned to the first anchorage and dropped in 10 feet, cleaned up the mud mess and checked the board. We had no weight on the pendant and none on the rope around the hull. Was the board gone or wedged in the trunk? As I prepared for a cold dive to check, the boat rocked and down went the board. It was definitely cocktail hour.

With strong SW wind Monday morning, we beat back out SE Bay and into the Deere Isle Thorofare. This is a well-marked path through a 5 mile string of small islands off the south shore of Deere Isle. The wind was on thye nose, with little room to tack, so we motored the entire length. Oncw clear, it was a full sail reach up the East side of N. Haven island, around the North tip and then a double reefed beat down the West side to Pulpit harbor. Along the way we passed 4 tall ships. Pulpit is a nearly fully enclosed harbor with good holding in 20 feet. As we were dinghying to shore for a walk, in sailed a tall ship that anchored off our stern for the night. The nearest town is N haven, about 2 miles. There is a harbor dinghy dock, which makes shore access easy and a grocery store about 1 mile.

Arnold was forecasting T storms for Tuesday night, so our first thought was to stay in Pulpit and hike the island. Unfortunately, the wind was predicted to go NW with the storms, leaving us exposed. Tuesday morning we opted for the 12 mile beat back to Rockland in 15+ on the nose. As skies darkened, we motored the last few miles into Rockland harbor and anchored near the ramp with moderate protection. We spent the afternoon exploring the town and had a great seafood dinner at Conti's, about half mile up the waterfront from the ramp. As we rowed the last 50 yards back to PS the rain began to fall and lasted most of the night. Thursday was sunny and cold for our pullout. The ramp is good at all tides and the parking proved quite safe. Overall the adventure was quite pleasant: we had excellent weather, although the second week was cool; afternoon winds tended to be heavy if you needed to go to windward; good anchorages were always close, tides and fog were not a problem; navigation required close attention at times; there were some truly unique and beautiful locations.