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56. Massachusetts: Witchcraft and Revolution

We raised the anchor just as the sun was lifting above the horizon on a crisp, clear and chilly morning. We motor-sailed away from the islands of Maine in amazing visibility - what a contrast to the foggy day on which we had arrived! We rounded Cape Elizabeth and headed south-west out into the open sea. Each time we rose to the top of the long swell created far away by Hurricane Leslie, we caught sight of the next Cape, fifty miles ahead. By early afternoon the wind had got up enough to sail the rest of the way to Gosport Harbour, where we picked up a mooring for the night. This isn't quite the Gosport we know back home - it is a remote spot amongst the sparsely inhabited Isles of Shoals - but the nearest city on the mainland is called Portsmouth, in New Hampshire.

Dawn arrived with a pink sky as we slipped the mooring and motored away from the Isles of Shoals. We rounded Cape Ann as the day warmed up under a hazy sun, continued past Gloucester and, in the early afternoon, anchored in Salem Harbour. It was a long dinghy ride through the mooring field to the town and when we got there we found no public landing to get ashore, but fortunately a friendly marina let us tie up our dinghy for the day. Salem had been one of the wealthiest ports in America in the 18th century through privateering and trade, particularly with the East Indies. The town has many fine old buildings, including the imposing Customs House, the "House of Seven Gables", and dozens of elegant homes lining the streets. The Peabody Essex Museum organises tours of some of these, which are all furnished in their original style. The Museum has a particularly fine maritime art section, and at the time of our visit had an exhibition of stunning photographs by Ansel Adams entitled "At the Water's Edge". The local tourist industry, unfortunately, has focussed more on the town's infamous witch trials of 1692. A few young girls had accused nearly two hundred people of witchcraft, resulting in mass hysteria and some extraordinary trials at which twenty men and women were sentenced to death.

Next morning, we took the dinghy round the headland to Marblehead, home to the prestigious Boston Yacht Club. Its harbour is crammed with yachts on moorings and, with its busy, narrow streets and yachty designer stores the small town reminded us rather of Hamble in Hampshire. Its most historic building is the three-storey mansion built by ship owner Jeremiah Lee in 1768. Although built of timber, the exterior facing was cut, bevelled and painted to imitate stone ashlar blocks to give the impression of it being a grand house in the English style. The interior has survived remarkably intact, with original mahogany panelling and British hand-painted wallpaper.

In the afternoon a fresh breeze carried us round to Boston, where we arrived just before dark. We found a place to anchor opposite the city between some derelict quays and the Hyatt airport hotel. Whilst not ideal as it was quite exposed to passing river traffic and the noise of aircraft, it was reasonably accessible and gave us a stunning view of the city. We could watch the giant sculpture of skyscrapers change in mood from early morning, through the day into dusk and darkness. We even managed to find a small public landing stage near the city centre where we could secure the dinghy. Over the course of two days we walked the length of the "Freedom Trail". Marked by a line of red bricks in the pavement, this connects sixteen sites that were significant in the American Revolutionary story. These include the old corner book store, several churches and cemeteries, the home of Paul Revere, a silversmith, bell founder and leading revolutionary, and the Old South Meeting House, where 5,000 colonists gathered in 1773 to protest about the British tax on tea which led to them dumping 342 crates into the harbour: the event that became known as the Boston Tea Party.

At the far end of the trail is the 67m high granite obelisk which commemorates the Battle of Bunker Hill, the first major conflict of the American Revolution. We joined the line of tourists winding their way slowly up the staircase to the top to get the views across Boston and its harbour. Finally, we visited the 1797 frigate USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned warship afloat. She was nicknamed "Old Ironsides" during the War of 1812 after a sailor commented on how shot bounced off her oak hull as if it were made of iron. The ship is maintained in immaculate condition, and tours are given by enthusiastic young naval personnel. Boston had one other surprise: it was the first place in America that we found a butcher's shop. There was also a large fruit and vegetable street market, so we were able to replenish our supplies for the next leg of our journey south.


This blog will be posted later.

54. A Month in Maine - Part III

Rockland's redeeming feature is the Farnsworth Art Museum, which has some fine paintings by Maine artists. There are works by three generations of the Wyeth Family: the illustrator N.C., his son Andrew, a realist, and grandson Jamie. Also featured are Winslow Homer, with his beautifully observed pictures of people in small boats, and the impressionist Frank Benson. Otherwise, Rockland is a rather unattractive ferry port with a large harbour, of which the area set aside for anchoring is exposed and a long dinghy ride from the quay. Whilst there, Kurt and Katy (of Interlude) offered to drive us to Bangor for a day at the American Folk Festival. Matador and Indy Plus had made the long journey up river, and a couple of other crews also got there by car, so it made for quite a social gathering. Some twenty bands were playing on five stages over three days.

It was time to leave Penobscot Bay and start heading back south, and, with some bad weather expected, we sought shelter in Maple Juice Cove, off the St. George River. We stayed for three nights and managed to get some useful jobs done, including fitting a wash-down pump for cleaning off the mud that clung to the chain and anchor every time they were raised. One morning, we took a dinghy tour of the bay but found nowhere to land as the entire shoreline was taken up by private homes. It rained for most of the third day, compounded by a thunderstorm. That evening, a pair of small, open luggers from the Outward Bound School sailed into the cove with eight bedraggled crew members in each. They seemed happy enough though, as they anchored, erected tents, cooked supper and settled down for the night in what must have been very cramped conditions.

We set off down river with a cold and gusty north-westerly blowing, dodging the inevitable dense conglomeration of lobster pots. However it was a good sail on a route that weaved its way through a maze of islands to an anchorage off Boothbay, a busy fishing harbour and holiday town. Like many such places, it is served by a free "trolley" bus service for the benefit of tourists. The driver of this one was particularly helpful: she took us to the laundrette, picked us up when we were done and drove us to the supermarket, telling us to leave our laundry bags in the bus, then picked us up again on her next round and dropped us, laundry and shopping right by the dinghy dock! And all the while she gave us a running commentary about everything we wanted to know about Boothbay. This was the last few days of the service, as next week she would be back driving the school bus.

We had a pleasant sail of about thirty miles across island-studded Casco Bay to Portland, the State capital. It is apparent that the city has undergone some major clearances of run-down areas, including the waterfront, but there is still much to be done as there are still many ugly gaps between the new developments. This is the first place on the coast where we encountered beggars and other down-and-outs. There is plenty of culture available however, including the Portland Museum of Art which has a good collections of Maine, American and European art. To remind us of familiar territory closer to home, there was a temporary exhibition of pictures of the Normandy coast. There were also some good sculptures dotted around the city, including one of local boy John Ford, director of many Westerns and "How Green Was My Valley", a film about a welsh mining family.

We would have stopped off at Jewell Island on our way to Portland, but being Labour Day weekend we expected it to be too crowded. We visited a few days after and found only two boats in its wonderful, hidden anchorage. One was Linda Lee, owned by the Florida couple Tom and Linda, whom we'd first met at Somes Harbour. We enjoyed a couple of evenings together, taking it in turns to cook supper. The island is uninhabited now, but had been used as a look-out station and defence battery during both World Wars. It is now reverting back to nature, but every now and then when wandering the trails one encounters a derelict building or piece of equipment, including two tall watch-towers which can still be climbed to get magnificent views of, on the day we were there, the fog blowing in across the tree-tops.

Our final stop in Maine was Great Chebeaque Island, where we went to find protection in its lee from the strong north wind that had been forecast. The island is served by a car ferry and has a large number of summer homes, but also has a sizeable community of permanent residents, many of them earning a living by lobster fishing. We saw one fisherwoman unloading a boat: perhaps the pot markers coloured pale blue with pink spots that we had seen on the way in had been hers! The level, quiet roads made it a good place to explore by bicycle, and we stopped off for lunch at the island's general store, the only place that seemed to be open. It was now well into September with definite signs of the end of summer, so time to leave this north-eastern extremity of America before the weather turned too unfriendly. We'd enjoyed our month in Maine immensely, with its wonderful cruising waters, lovely scenery, interesting places and the people we met there. We just could have done with a little less fog and far fewer lobster pots!

53. The OCC Maine Rally

We picked up a mooring off Camden Yacht Club and were immediately welcomed by John, commodore of the Ocean Cruising Club, and Jenny with an invitation to drinks on their boat Al Shaheen. Camden is a busy harbour crammed full of yachts as well as being the base for some of the old schooners which take visitors on sailing trips. The town has a bustling high street lined with shops, most of which are geared to the tourist trade - selling nick-nacks and designer clothing. There is an excellent library with some interesting local works of art and artefacts, and a surprising number of second-hand book-shops. Not one of the local shops sells groceries, meat, fruit or vegetables, nor could any refill our propane gas bottle, but fortunately John borrowed a car and gave us a lift to the out of town supermarket and hardware store to stock up with supplies for the week ahead. The opening function for the rally was a lobster party at the Yacht Club. There we met many of the members for the first time, all with the common bond of having completed a non-stop passage of over 1,000 miles in a small boat. The Club has a strong US membership but it was founded in Britain, which was well represented here by eight boats. The itinerary for the next few days was to take us to some out-of-the-way anchorages within the maze of islands and waterways in the near locality that we probably wouldn't have visited otherwise.

The first stopover was in Pulpit Harbour on Northaven Island, where we took part in our first "raft-up" and pot-luck supper, a particularly American social occasion where boats anchor alongside each other and everyone brings something to eat which is shared around. From there we sailed round the top of Northaven, wriggling our way through a group of small outlying islands and the usual scattering of pot markers. In an idle moment I counted approximately 200 within a ½ mile radius. Down the other side we continued to Vinalhaven and entered a tight and winding inlet between a mass of small tree-covered islands to anchor in Seal Bay. In the afternoon there was a scavenger hunt, for which we were given a set of clues and questions to answer. It involved a long dinghy ride round to the adjoining Winter Harbour and a scramble up Starboard Rock - a spectacular slab faced hill on the water's edge, to find a survey triangulation marker and examples of such items as bracken, lichen, seaweed and shells. We didn't do too badly with the answers, and found the largest piece of kelp when we nearly ran over it with the outboard. There was some controversy however because the Americans insisted that a bivalve mollusc that is reckoned to be an aphrodisiac was a mussel, whereas all the Brits reckoned the answer should have been an oyster! We were invited for supper on board another Egret, an immaculately varnished "Bristol 45.5" centre-boarder, along with a couple of other crews.

Next we headed back to the narrow cut between Northaven and Vinalhaven, known as "Fox Island Thorofare", and turned off into Perry Creek where we were allocated a mooring. We raced each other across the bay by dinghy to Zeke point, where lunch had been arranged at the summer home of members Pam and Harvey Geiger. Afterwards we explored the upper reaches of Perry Creek by dinghy, passing a delightful houseboat on the way. In the evening all the Brits were invited for drinks on the commodore's boat. A dense fog enveloped the creek next morning, but gradually the other boats around us were revealed one by one. We continued down the "Thorofare", through a cut east of Leadbetter island to Hurricane Island, where we anchored on the east side. The pinkish grey granite here was quarried in the late 19th century by Irish workmen and fashioned by Italian masons, all of whom lived with their families on the island. It was shipped by schooner to cities further south for incorporation into building and civil engineering works, including the Brooklyn Bridge. Apart from the disused quarries, there are remains of old steam engines and the foundations of buildings gradually disappearing into the undergrowth. Hurricane Island later became home to an Outward Bound School, which has since moved elsewhere, and now a new education centre is getting underway. We had a good long walk along the steep and overgrown trails on the island, and also attended a talk about the new facilities. That being the end of a fascinating and extremely enjoyable rally, all the boats dispersed to various destinations, in our case to Rockland.

52. A Month in Maine – Part 1

Mount Desert Island forms the greater part of The Acadia National Park - a popular holiday destination. Somes Sound cuts right into its heart, with Somes Harbour at its head: an attractive and sheltered bay surrounded by a rocky, wooded shoreline. From the landing stage it is a short walk to the hamlet of Somesville. We were keen to grab the opportunity of a good forecast to climb Mount Cadillac, at 1,530ft the highest mountain on the east coast of America. We caught the free bus to Bar Harbour, bought a trail map from the rangers' hut and planned our ascent. We decided to take the Gorge Path up, which looked challenging, but probably easier going up than down. It turned out to be a very enjoyable scramble over rocky terrain through dripping forest along the course of a seasonal stream, with a final steep ascent to the top. As we emerged sweating but triumphant onto the summit we met the gaze of hundreds of tourists who had taken the easy way up by bus or car. The views from the top were magnificent on this crystal clear day. We could look down upon the maze of inlets and islands all around us and the distant views northwards towards Canada and southwards to the rest of Maine. We descended by the west ridge to the main road where we hailed a crowded bus to take us home. On another day we took the bus to South-West Harbour, home of the renowned Hinckley yacht building company and the Wendell Gilley bird-carving museum. We were pleased to meet up with Mark and Julia on "Rachel", friends of friends whom we'd somehow missed meeting in the Chesapeake. "Eye Candy" caught up with us again here just as we were ready to move on, but we made time for coffee with Andrew and Clare before lifting our anchor.

Visibility was down to less than ¾ mile as we left Somes Sound, and we were surprised to encounter a racing fleet of keelboats - they emerged and disappeared one by one in the mist, which must make for interesting race tactics. It gradually cleared as we crossed open waters to Swan's Island, where we dropped the anchor in Mackerel Cove. On our second day we took our bikes ashore for a tour of the island, including a visit to Burntcoat Harbour, a fishing port where time seems to have stood still. There are lots of summer homes, but it must be very bleak for the full time islanders in the winter. It seemed quite desolate enough for us as the rain started coming down, and we returned to the boat absolutely soaked.

We awoke surrounded by dense fog, but it thinned sufficiently by mid-morning to set off through York Narrows, a cut between small rocky islets. When it finally cleared we saw vast numbers of lobster floats stretching out across Jericho Bay. We made a lunch-time stop to visit the Wooden Boat School, also home of Wooden Boat Magazine. Maine is a particular stronghold for wooden boats, including small canoes and dinghies, fleets of one-design centre-boarders by the "Wizard of Bristol" Nathaniel Herreshof, and beautiful classic cruisers. Almost all are kept in immaculate condition for their emergence during the brief summer season. There are also quite a number of old trading schooners converted to take visitors on sailing holidays. Few of them have engines, although they always tow a work-boat close astern to push them into port when the wind goes light. We continued on through Eggemoggin Reach, under a slender suspension bridge and out into East Penobscot Bay, before turning into Smith Cove, where we anchored close to the elegant British motor yacht Blue Guitar, a 103ft Destiny class built by Camper & Nicholson's in 1967, and apparently once, and possibly still, owned by Eric Clapton. The neighboring town of Castine is notable for the substantial remains of Fort George, the last post surrendered by the British at the close of the revolutionary wars in 1784.

Next day we had a lovely sail to windward, enjoyable particularly because we were in an area of West Penobscot Bay with far fewer lobster pot floats than normal. We anchored in Kilkey Harbour, and sat out the next day on board whilst it rained solidly and the wind got up. The following morning we landed the dinghy at Dark Harbour for a walk down the lanes of Isleboro Island, an area of exclusive summer homes. After lunch we sailed to Camden, where we were booked in to join the Ocean Cruising Club's Maine rally.

51. Heading Down East

It was a chilly and overcast as we left the Mystic River and headed out from Long Island Sound into the choppy waters of the open sea. Tacking up Block Island Sound it started to drizzle, and it was raining heavily by the time we reached Narragansett Bay. We tucked into Dutch Harbour off Jamestown for the night and turned on our diesel heater for the first time in many months to warm and dry things out. The next day was the first of August, and with sunshine and a decent westerly breeze we enjoyed a glorious fetch up to the head of Buzzards Bay. With a swift current behind us we made the tricky sharp turn off the fairway into a narrow channel leading to Onset Harbour. This is a popular anchorage for yachts preparing to transit Cape Cod Canal. The 5 mile long canal was first opened in 1914 to provide an alternative route to the long and sometimes treacherous passage around Cape Cod and the Nantucket Shoals. Widening to its present 146m and construction of two 41m high road bridges and a massive vertical lift railroad bridge were completed in 1940, making it the widest sea level canal in the world. A thin veil of mist gradually cleared as we set off early to ride the favourable 4 knot tide through the Canal. We exited onto a calm sea under a hazy sun, set the cruising chute and wafted downwind in a 10-15 knot breeze to Cape Ann. We rounded the Cape and entered Sandy Bay off Rockport, Massachusetts, where we anchored off the town beach.

Rockport seems like another world in comparison to the low-lying scenery further south. As befits its name, the surrounding shoreline is rocky, and the town started life exporting stone from the quarries of Cape Ann. The place is now a holiday resort and an artists' colony, reminding us rather of St. Ives in Cornwall. It was packed with tourists wandering about the inner harbour and the narrow streets lined with quaint cottages - now mainly turned into galleries and trinket shops. One grand house behind the beach has been completely rebuilt as a concert hall, with a huge picture window overlooking the bay as a backdrop to the stage. We stayed two nights to have time for a look around and to buy our first New England lobster. We even went for a swim from the boat, although the water was getting decidedly chilly now that we were away from the Gulf Stream.

We felt we were making our way "up north" to Maine, but in the days of sailing ships they talked about heading "down east" because the prevailing winds were from astern. (In reality the course is roughly north-east.) It was a sunny, windless morning with patchy visibility of around 3 miles as we cleared Rockport's outer breakwater. Three dolphins came over to say hello, but didn't stick around long. Then it was "thar she blows", as we saw two northern right whales spouting in the distance. An easterly breeze filled in after lunch so we set the mainsail and number one genoa, and cut the engine. The wind gradually freshened and backed so that by 1700 we were romping along across a flat sea at 6.7 knots. We ate bangers and mash for supper ahead of a red sunset. Just before midnight however we ran into a dense fog bank, for which Maine is notorious. Shortly after, the AIS alarm went off warning of a ship heading straight for us. I called up the tanker "Noreaster" on the VHF and agreed with the watch officer that we would both alter course to pass port to port. We never saw the ship even though the instruments told us it had been within 0.2 miles of us. At 0230 we heard the mournful whistle from the lighthouse on Matinicus Rock.

The sky started to lighten with the coming of dawn but the fog just got thicker. We were now in the world of unlimited lobster pots, whose tethers are another hazard of Maine waters. It needed both of us on constant watch to con the boat with one eye glued to the radar screen, another on the electronic chart plotter and two looking out for the pot marker floats and other craft. Visibility was down to around 50m as we navigated from buoy to buoy between Mount Desert and Great Cranberry Islands, zigzagging all the way to avoid the myriad of gaily painted floats. We entered Somes Sound, a small fiord-like bay, at noon, the fog gradually lifting like a stage curtain to reveal for the first time the beautiful scenery of Maine. We anchored at the head of the Sound completely exhausted. Firefly was close by, so after a couple of hours' sleep we rowed over for welcome drinks with Leo and Poupette, the first time we'd encountered them since the storms of Cape May.

10/02/2012 | Joyce Moon
Hi Amanda and Patrick
I really enjoy reading about your exciting travels although maybe not your day and night in the fog. I alway think fog is every frighting. Last wednesday evening race in the enterprise at Broadwater this week, which i will miss. Just now thinking of our ski ing hoildays. Fair winds in the right direction Joyce
10/18/2012 | Pam
We have just returned from a superb 3 week holiday in the US, starting with 4 days in NY, a week in San Francisco and Yosemite NP and a week in New England including a stay at Bar Harbour, Acadia NP and a drive down the Maine Coast as far as Boston. We missed you as you had already left! We looked out over Somes Sound on a bright sunny afternoon. Very scenic but full of lobster pots. Tasty though!

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