August 18, 2022
We are hunkered down in Burnt Coat Harbor on Swan’s Island for a couple days of rain and fog, which has been unusual for this dry, sunny summer. Will is picking meat from one of the four Jonah crabs we bought yesterday after a refreshing swim in the quarry. Along the way, we also bought two “old shell” cooked lobsters from a self-serve seafood shack and eighteen oysters from Tim Trafton’s farm off the public dock. While small, the oysters were super sweet and tender, and the cooked lobsters were a treat we enjoy occasionally. (Will’s lobster trap is now taken apart into flat pieces and stowed in the lazarette for the next design iteration.) The crabcakes he made for lunch were out of this world, and the movie we watched on the laptop was a welcome break from the wind, currents, and lobster pots we faced getting here.
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Last you heard from us, we were on North Haven contemplating a sail further “Down East,” as they say. After an overnight in Merchant Row just south of Stonington, we sailed twenty miles east to the Hinckley Boat Yard in Southwest Harbor to fill up on water and fuel, empty trash, do some laundry, have a hot shower, and pick up a few freshies. We’d read that beyond Schoodic Peninsula, services are almost nonexistent, so we wanted to be prepared.
While tanking up, we discovered that our custom system for pumping pee overboard from our dehydrating toilet was clogged with calcium deposits and nonfunctional. Not only that, but our water tank had a small crack at the top and was leaking. This required a trip to the hardware store a couple of miles in to town for some specialty repair items. On the dock, Kimberly was detailing a gorgeous red Hinckley yacht readying it for its next charter, and we asked to come aboard. “It’s not my boat so I’m not going to say no,” she replied, and we went on board to see what ten grand a week will buy. We learned that since working at the yard, she’s been dreaming of living on a sailboat, so we invited her aboard our boat to see how “the other half” lived. “I’m heading to town after work if you need a ride,” she offered, and we gladly took her up on it. Not only that, but she waited at the hardware store while we were like kids in a candy store, drove us to Hamilton Marine for special glue to repair the water tank, and then drove us back to the yard with our stash! Thankfully, in a mere afternoon, we were able to rig up the hose to a small gas can to collect the pee and repair the tank, and we were back in business!
That evening, we enjoyed another fantastic fish sandwich at Peter Trout’s, which we remembered from last year. At the next table, we were attracted to five-year-old Theo’s interest in boats as he devoured every detail of his new boat book with beautiful woodblock pictures and cutaways. “We live on a boat,” we offered, and he lit up with awe and curiosity as perhaps only a precocious five-year-old can. We spent the next hour getting to know this lovely family who had recently bought a house in the area to complement their life in Brooklyn during COVID. Their attraction to Maine? All those wonderful Robert McCloskey books—One Morning in Maine, Blueberries for Sal, A Time of Wonder, and Burt Dow. “We’ll stop by on our way back through and give you a tour of our boat,” we said, and it was a date!
It took another day for the wind to turn in our favor, so after dropping off a gift for Kimberly to inspire her dreams, we set off for the fabled Roque Island. The winds were a solid 15-20 knots out of the southwest with seas of 2-4 feet, which meant we fairly flew past Schoodic Peninsula, over the Petit Manan Bar, heading almost due east five miles from shore.
First stop, Mistake Island, ten miles from Roque, just past Moose Peak Light perched on pink granite and the amazing cliffs in Main Channel Way. While it looked like a great anchorage on the chart, it was very exposed to the strong southwest winds, so we motored two miles back to Mud Hole on Great Wass Island. This place is literally a hurricane hole deep in an extremely shallow inlet, which you can only enter at half-tide or better, with a deep mud “hole” in the middle. It felt a little weird to be motoring over three feet at low tide, but we had plenty of water and arrived in this idyllic spot in the middle of nowhere to find two other boats, one of which we followed in. We brought fresh baked brownies to our neighbors, because, well, it felt like we were a little community in the making. Which, in fact, is the case in nearly every harbor we enter, where boaters come and go, creating transient water-based “villages,” much like roving rangales of deer or migratory birds on land. It is indeed a different way of connecting with people and the environment, in such a transitory way. Ah, but when everyone leaves and it’s just us in Mud Hole, it’s NIRVANA! The hike along the shore was glorious, giving us a land-based perspective that is such a contrast to our boat-centric vantage point. And inspired by our neighbor (and Chris from our previous blog), we used this opportunity to practice some boat yoga.
The ten miles to Roque was easy after the previous sail. We arrived at the huge cove with a mile of sand beach and a number of other boats, so this remote island didn’t feel all that remote after all. We rowed ashore for a walk on the beach, which ended up being a long lesson in humility after getting doused by a wave over the stern of the dinghy and digging deep to get over myself. It was yet another opportunity for deep communication about mutual respect for our differences. Despite resetting our anchor to be more inshore, the swells resulted in a rolly night, so we decided to leave the next morning in the fog for a nearby anchorage. Rounding the corner, we encountered high winds and rough seas, so we retreated to Bunker Cove, a tiny protected inlet where Patriot ships took refuge from the British during the Revolutionary war.
The lone lobster pot in this small anchorage plagued us for an hour as the wind and tide spun this way and that until, in the ten minutes of dropping my guard, it got caught on our rudder. After trying to free it, we cut the toggle, preserving the buoy and trap. Turning the wheel, I discovered it didn’t rotate all the way in one direction and was convinced a piece of line was still stuck. Will disagreed and then said, “Time to try out your new wetsuit!” Reluctantly but with moxie, I stripped down, dragged on the wetsuit, and dipped slowly into the icy water off the transom. Will was right, there was no line caught. So what was causing the wheel to stop? Upon further investigation, he discovered a dangling piece of hardware on the steering quadrant under the pushpit deck that was missing a screw and preventing the wheel from turning. The coincidence was uncanny, and we were happy to have had the occasion to investigate the issue before it became a bigger problem out at sea. As we’ve pointed out in previous blogs, sometimes these “mishaps” are actually opportunities in disguise, and is in fact how Will has learned to live his life; I am slowly catching up.
After four days Down East, we headed back to Southwest Harbor in a light southwest wind with 3-5 foot seas, motoring nine and half hours the whole way. It was good to know the boat could do it, but more importantly, that we could do it. Exhausted, we picked up a mooring and took a nap, then motored a short way up Somes Sound to the beautiful Valley Cove, with its hundred-foot rock face. Once again, we encountered the American Eagle schooner, as well as a number of other boats. The hike up Flying Point Mountain the next day was delightful, complete with blueberries and an international crowd of hikers at Acadia National Park. A delightful Colombian family with a young son was deeply intrigued with living aboard, so Will rowed them out the see the boat and make it real for them. Lingering for another day, we were once again the lone boat for a magical spell as we dove deeper into The Overstory by Richard Powers, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for this outstanding book where trees are the heroes. Spending so much time immersed in nature these past months has given us a deeper appreciation for this magnificent book than we might otherwise have had. We highly recommend you read it if you haven’t already.
Next morning, a large megayacht pulled into our anchorage, so we took that as a sign it was time to move on. After a quick detour in Southwest Harbor to fill our water tanks and walk to town for lunch and some provisions, we were off again. As promised, we took a detour to Duck Cove to visit the family we met over a fish sandwich to show them our boat. We rowed them out, shared a bowl of peanuts and some sparkling rose, and gave them a tour. Theo especially enjoyed counting the number of cabinets, drawers, and cubbies in the boat: 48! He also instructed us on what a tardigrade was—a near microscopic aquatic animal that can survive in almost all environments. A note for all ears: If we can keep this level of curiosity and wonder alive in our souls, we will live happily, like a child. Please remember this!
We found ourselves in Mackerel Cove on Swan’s Island for a night of high winds, so next day we reached out to our friend Doug, who started the Sweet Chariot Music Festival and whom we got to know last year. We invited him aboard and he was quite intrigued with our modern boat, given his 1950’s classic Sparkman & Stephens. He was especially impressed by our navigation app on the tablet, and he determined to buy one the next day. We’ve since given him some phone coaching, as it’s sometimes hard to transition to new technology when you’re old school like he is. But you know what they say, “Once you go tech, it’s hard to go beck.” (Sorry!) But seriously, Navionics is a wonder and makes navigating so easy, without costing thousands of dollars.
Cruising up the Eggemoggin Reach and under the Deer Island bridge was a thrill, then making our way past a seal-covered rock into Horseshoe Cove was equally delightful. At low tide, we rowed ashore to forage for mussels and once again came back with a bucketful. Despite the doomsayers who are convinced the green crabs have eaten all the Maine mussels, we haven’t found that to be the case. Although this small harbor was full of sailboats on moorings, no one was aboard so we had the place virtually to ourselves, allowing a cockpit shower from our Sun Shower and dancing on deck. Life is good!
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The next phase of our trip included a ten day stay on a floating dock in Belfast harbor next to our friend Sandy, who owns her own 33’ sailboat. During that time, I took a bus to Portland where I spent two days getting my house ready to rent to a lovely family of six after a long-term rental to my cousin. It was strange seeing familiar places on land by bus and car, not to mention my house, which I haven’t lived in for over a year. I feel an uncanny distance from it—the rooms and furniture are too big, the stuff too extensive, and the yard too static. It was a healthy reminder of my current choice to live aboard a 36’ sailboat.
After a wonderful visit with my son, daughter-in-law, and mother, I hopped in a car and drove three hours inland to Toothaker Island on Mooselookmeguntic Lake. Will and Sandy joined me after a couple of days, and we all enjoyed the scene that happens there each year around this time, colloquially known as “The Party.” Communal cooking and feasting at The Clubhouse, camping and swimming, spontaneous conversation and music, and an overall spirit of community has made this island of ex-sailors living off-the-grid and their three generations of extended family a magical touchstone for me for many years. I was glad to share it with Will and our new friend.
After the island, we spent another couple of days on the dock in Belfast with Sandy, enjoying this small town. Finding it somewhat difficult to leave, we had a farewell dance and picnic on the dock and boat deck before heading out. Sometimes, it can get a bit too “comfortable” being tethered in one place, and both we and the boat kept whispering, “It’s time to go sailing!” And this time, we had a new crewmember—Ray, our new Raymarine wheel drive for our autopilot, which came in the mail back in Portland and Will installed in Belfast. Ray works like a dream, and we’re continually testing him in different wind and weather conditions. So far so amazing. Now we can both eat our salad in the cockpit at the same time while underway, and we can spend our time dodging lobster pots with a touch of a button. We’re very happy!
Holbrook Sanctuary near Castine was tranquil and the hikes energizing. The Barred and Butter Islands eight miles to the south were so delightful we spent three nights, watching the sunsets, rowing, hiking, making spontaneous art, and communing with nature and each other.
Isle au Haut was a treasure, including a vigorous hike up Duck Harbor Mountain, part of Acadia National Park, where we peered onto our boat from almost three hundred feet up, and gorgeous sunsets over Flake Island. We were also treated to a tour of the old Point Lookout Club, now privately owned by friends of the family who share it widely with their extended family and friends. It’s amazing how many gems like this one still exist on these more remote islands that haven’t changed in decades, a far cry from the tear-down mentality of the Portland waterfront, say, or name any other place you can think of on the mainland.
We continue to be struck by the simplicity and beauty of life on the islands of Maine. And to be able to see them by boat is such a gift, which we marvel at almost daily, recognizing both the privilege and determination that it takes to be here. And for that we are ongoingly grateful.
3 thoughts on “NIRVANA S3:E3”
Thank you for sharing your experience, especially all the photos- you’ve had some gorgeous moments! Also, nice to see your faces, even in pictures.
Glad to know the crew of the S/Y Nirvana is still living the good life. Thanks for sharing your stories with such vivid color. Hope to cross paths again soon. – Chris & Alex