|Across the Bay of Fundy
Sunday, September 9, 2007
As Carla and I cast off, Kobuk drifts away from the dock. Patrice and Darryl and Sheila--gradually shrinking into dark and diminutive figures--stand there waving to us. We are somewhat distracted by the nautical duties at hand, but somehow manage to pay attention to our friends for as long as there is only shouting distance between us. But then, the distance becomes too great and we are on our own, motoring out of Yarmouth Harbour on a sunny September day. Blue skies and a temperate breeze carry us along with the ebbing tide and help us on towards Cape Forchu where we will turn right and head northward up the coast.
Nine days have passed since I returned to Yarmouth, and every one has been eventful. Carla drew me in to her large circle of good friends and close relatives, kept me from slipping off into my hermitic habits, and helped me--for the first time in my life--to feel like an engenue. It was, by my standards, a social whirlwind. Each day was an event that involved people rather than places, and this was quite a remarkable change. The days passed by like the fluttered pages of an open book in a breeze. All the while, Kobuk rested comfortably ashore, repaired and painted by Sheldon and waiting for the day when we would return to the voyage.
I invited Carla to spend a few days with me on Kobuk and in the end the best arrangement was for her to depart from Yarmouth on board and then return home on The Cat when we get to Bar Harbor. This is courageous on her part for we must cross the Bay of Fundy in order to get to Bar Harbor. The crossing is not inherently dangerous, but it is the biggest crossing so far and it is in an area where tides are huge, tidal currents are strong, and the opposition of tides and strong winds can turn the ocean into a serpent's nest. Not if we are lucky, but one cannot count on always being lucky. Anyway, it is one thing for me to take on this challenge when I already know a fair amount about what Kobuk can and cannot do; it is quite another for her to set out on such a venture when she knows so little about what kind of sailer I am and what kind of boat Kobuk might be. Kobuk is so small she always looks like a fragile eggshell next to everything else in harbor, and this surely has not escaped Carla's notice.
Once we round Cape Forchu and head up the coast, the ebbing tide cuts our speed to a meager four miles per hour and we spend most of the day pushing against the wind and waves at a snail's pace. The picturesque shore creeps slowly by, remaining in view for hours on end. We are warm and reasonably comfortable, but the onrushing waves striking us on the port bow rock and roll us just enough to make us feel as if we have to hang on. It takes most of the day for us to reach Cape St. Mary's, but deep in the afternoon we leave it to starboard and strike out across St. Marys Bay towards Grand Passage.
Along the western, Bay of Fundy side of Nova Scotia a long, pencil-thin peninsula extends down for tens of miles. Known as the Digby Neck, its protrudes southward, paralleling the coast but gradually drawing more distant from it. In two places, it is interrupted by narrow passages, the first separating Digby Neck from Long Island and the second partitioning Long Island from Brier Island. It is that second passage--the one separating Brier and Long Islands--that is our destination for the day. Since by now it is getting late in the day, the seas have calmed enough for us to motor across at speed using the main engine. The passage is rather more harsh and hard driving that Kobuk likes, but after so many hours of putting along at such a slow pace it is hard to resist overdoing it a little.
With the Grand Passage close enough to see the individual trees of the two neighboring islands, the jet drive sucks in a matting of seaweed and we are obliged to finish the day's voyage under Yamaha power. We motor into the Grand Passage and slip along its southwestern side at an ever increasing pace as the flowing tide races through the cut. The day is done when we round the breakwater and tie off next to a Zodiac within the cavernous walls of the Westport Harbor. The tidal range here is well over twenty feet and so our entrance shortly after low tide presents us with breakwater walls of stone that tower above us. Glistening black from their recent wetness, they scowl down at our insignificance. In this region of the world, when the tide is out it looks as if somebody emptied the ocean.
Yarmouth Harbor: 43* 50.223' N / 66* 07.357' W
Westport, Brier Island: 44* 15.856' N / 66* 20.919' W
Distance: 41 miles
Total Distance: 5,752 miles
Monday, September 10, 2007
Westport has the look of a place at the end of the world. It is a village gone mute for lack of anybody to talk to and the resultant silence settles down on the place unapologetically. Both Carla and I luxuriate in this sort of retreat, but it is not for everybody. Green moss encrusts the shingles of any aged or untended home and the streets are resentful of all traffic, vehicular or pedestrian. Most homes are well-tended and some show signs of thoughtful landscaping. Regularly and frequently, the ferry arrives from Long Island, but even so cars rarely pass by and you feel free to walk in the middle of any street in town. One house actually has its children's basketball hoop mounted for play next to the street, thereby avoiding the need to pave the driveway up to the garage.
In the morning, Carla and I walk out along the main street that parallels the shore. We follow it all the way to its end at a rocky overlook of the southeastern entrance to Grand Passage. From here it is only a very short stroll to the top of a nearby grassy knoll where a pedestal holds a plaque commemorating Joshua Slocum who grew up in this area. For those of you who are not familiar with this man, he was the first to ever sail around the world alone, something that he did back in the 1890's. His book, Sailing Alone Around the World, is a beautifully understated narrative. When an adventure is real, people will be attracted to it without it being promoted. To see the truth of this, read Slocum's account of how he rebuilt a ketch, named it Spray, and took her to sea.
The leap from Brier Island to Grand Manan is nearly forty miles of open water crossing. It stands in front of us now with the sort of weather conditions one might hope for but should never expect to get. The wind is light and the sea is nothing more than a mild mass of gently heaving hummocks. This is ideal. This is too good to be true. I am anxious to be off, and so after a quick swim to clear the jet drive of the clogging seaweed we set out to seaward. The strategy will be to motor across fast using the big engine, but the waters near Brier Island are world famous for their whale population so we resolve to go slowly for the first few miles in hopes of making a sighting or two.
No more than three miles off shore, we cross paths with two humpback whales that stay quiet at the surface as we approach. We motor up beside them and they appear to appreciate our presence. They do not dive. They do not swim away. They simply drift along at a very lazy pace and allow us to draw so near that our boathook extended would reach most of the way from Kobuk to the nearest of them. Once we are paying proper attention, he (or she) begins to entertain us with little belly rolls that allow one flipper to be raised high in the air and then to loft the giant mermaid tail as well. The routine is repeated a number of times while the accompanying whale appears periodically a short distance farther away. Each of them occasionally expells a gusty mist through the blowhole, and then the show is continued. The one nearest us is at least twice as long as Kobuk and the other looks to be about the same size. Their size is intimidating but their behavior is not. They seem to enjoy the company and even appear to treat is as an opportunity to show off. Only occasionally do they disappear below the surface, the only behavior that raises a little anxiety as we wonder whether they might not upend Kobuk when they resurface. But, no, they know where we are and always reappear at about the same short distance from us. We stand there snacking and drinking tea while the great humpbacks frolic lazily in our presence
The sky is a gray veil and mottled shades of silver play across the muted waters as we motor up to speed and set out across the Bay of Fundy. An uncommon abundance of birds skim along the oily, hummocky surface of the bay as we speed towards the unseen shore. The light is such that they appear as black waifs against a silver and pewter background. Our passage is swift and uneventful until at last we sight White Head Island off the southern end of Grand Manan, and then close with the dark, fir-studded shore of the main island itself. As we approach North Head where we will be seeking shelter for the night, a foggy overcast slips in to cover the tops of all the trees, leaving only the tidal zone visible in the deepening gray light. Only a mile or so before arriving at the entrance buoy for Long Island Bay, the fog settles down right to water level, completely obscuring the shore and making the entrance buoy look paradoxically more distant the closer we get to it. By now, however, we are in the protection of the bay where the waters are calm. We stumble around aimlessly for a short while before raising the specter of the coastline in the fog and eventually finding the North Head Harbor.
North Head, Grand Manan: 44* 45.772' N / 66* 20.919' W
Distance: 44 miles
Total Distance: 5,796 miles
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
On this foggy morning the air is so ripe with moisture that you feel as if you would get your face wet if you were to run through it. There is some visibility and the other boats in the harbor appear in a ghastly sort of way, but the conditions are thick enough that Kobuk will stay put for the day. Carla and I stroll up to the ferry terminal where public restrooms make our life easier, and before we are done it dawns on us that a ferry trip to the mainland might be a good way to make something of a fogbound day. We run back to Kobuk to scare up some breakfast before departing--fried eggs that Carla brings to the point of perfection. But just then a character appears on board Gemmanny, the nifty yellow and white fishing boat to which Kobuk is tied, and wants to talk with us. His name is David Outhouse and he appraises us through a weathered character-lined face that sees the world through one enlarged eye under an arched brow and one half closed one. Carla offers him breakfast, but he is happy to simply talk while we eat. And talk he does. He is a fisherman, supposedly retired for the last five years but so energetic and active that the word "retired" gives a thoroughly misleading impression of who we are dealing with.
David fished for thirty five years and spends the next hour or so explaining how he did it, what happened when the government quotas were enacted, which fish are caught in what manner, and why he loved the life so much that he finally, after five years of deprivation, had to buy this lovely vessel to which Kobuk is now tied. Gemmany is no longer a working fishing boat; she has been converted to a pleasure boat with French doors in the cabin, a fire pit in the open area aft, and such accoutrements as a retractable, LED-screen television down below. At first we are unsure what to think of David as he stands in the back of his boat talking across to us while we eat, but he is so entertaining, so knowledgeable, and so enthusiastic that before the dishes are done he has won us over and we have become charmed by his evident love of life.
We do manage to catch the ferry, but we really don't have a clear idea of where it is headed. We know it will dock at Black's Harbor, but that is just a name. Someone has told us that there is a sardine canning factory nearby but evidently little more than that to interrupt the fir- and rock-bound coast of New Brunswick's Fundy shore. Carla knows that a grand old hotel called the Algonquin is located in St. Andrews, which may be somewhere nearby so we decide we will hitchhike there when we arrive. With that settled, we sleep on the ferry as it moves us quickly along in the fog and overcast.
The ferry terminal is in a very picturesque bay where islands and inlets abound, but the terminal itself is surrounded by nothing but wilderness. We exit the ferry and walk along the road that curls up the hill and away from the ferry terminal, out of sight. Under very gray skies and the constant threat of rain, we begin hitchhiking to the elusive Algonquian. Rain starts, a fine mist with a promise of more to come. We get rides--quite a number of them, actually--but nobody in this neck of the woods is Algonquian-bound so after a couple hours when the rain has gotten heavier, we opt to reverse course and get back to the ferry.
We may not have reached our intended destination but we certainly met our collection of unusual characters: two Newfie lads with ball caps on backwards and a boom box under the back seat, a fireman named Sparky whose vehicle was as spotless as a hired limousine, a lead-footed yuppie who flew down the highway at 140 kilometers per hour in the rain with a malfunctioning windshield wiper on the driver's side, a stay-at-home mother who had never picked up a hitchiker before but couldn't bear to see us standing in the rain, a . . . well, you get the point: we became acquainted with a surprising variety of people on the sort of day when fog and mist and sheets of thin rain were doing their best to keep us wet and bedraggled and too unkempt for social interaction.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
All night long Kobuk slept restlessly. Tied to Gemmanny in North Head Harbor, she tossed and turned as the wind growled around her and little wavelets nipped at her heels. Yesterday had been a procession of rainstorms and the parade continued all through the night. Kobuk's damp interior made Carla and me feel as if we were holed up in a moist cavern. Every once in a while a drop of water would form and release from the aluminum framework of the Bimini top overhead and then occasionally a little moisture would work its way in around the through-cabin fitting for the bilge pump. The cabin windows were thick with beaded moisture and of course the windward canvas curtain oozed rivulets down to the carling, occasionally overtopping it and dripping onto the floor. There appears to be a certain saturation point, before which Kobuks armour against the weather is highly effective but after which no resilience or absorptive power remains and the elements have their way. It was not as bad as I make it sound, but it was bad enough and neither of us slept as well as we would have liked.
But this morning shows some promise. The curtains of fog have lifted and the sky sports the brilliant clarity of a scene washed clean by recent rains. There is a problem, though: the wind blows hard from the southwest and the flags stand up to salute. With this kind of breeze, the crossing between Grand Manan and Campobello would be cruel and unusual punishment for Kobuk, particularly so considering her innocence. On the way up to the ferry terminal for a visit to its washrooms, Carla and I decide to put off departure for another day.
Up near the ferry terminal we discover a restaurant that is open from early morning until late evening (quite remarkable, really, in a place as small as North Head), and when we walk in to take a look around we see David Outhouse sitting there alone eating his breakfast. Yesterday he stood around watching us eat breakfast but now the tables are turned as we do the same to him. When he finds out that we are going to stay around for the day and that we hope to find the high school where the public library is located, he offers to drive us there. On the way, he points out everything of interest and even stops by his own home to show us the waterfront property he bought thirty five years ago for three hundred dollars. David deals in rather larger sums of money nowadays, and nothing shows that so well as the two perfectly restored antique autos he has in his garage. Actually, only one is perfectly restored; the other is a fire engine red roadster from the thirties that is converted into a hot rod with a Chevy Corvette engine and little power windows.
There is really only one highway on Grand Manan, a two-lane wanderer that roughly shadows the east coast of the island from one end to the other. It passes through at least three different small towns, but the island is so small that the sorts of establishments viewed as necessities by most small places are apportioned equitably between the three: one has the post office, one the high school, and the third one the grocery store. Getting around without a car is not so easy so, after David has left us off and we have completed our business at the high school, we hitchhike back to the North Head Harbor, stopping en route for a little treat at the bakery outside town. Hitchhiking is more fun and less work when the sun is out.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
The sun is up and the wind is down so Carla and I make haste and prepare to depart for the mainland. The wind is much lighter than yesterday but it does continue to blow from the southwest so the crossing of the Grand Manan Channel will not be a smooth ride. It is a short crossing, though--only six or seven miles of exposure.
As we motor out of North Head Bay and run along the north shore of the island, the fir-trimmed, dark-stoned bluffs drop down to the sea, protecting us from the wind and leaving the sea placidly wrinkled. Out here away from the small villages, the island is a broad and bulky mass of near wilderness with only the occasional house peeking out through the miles of rolling forest resting on the bluffs. The sea is busier than the land with the odd fishing boat and a herring weir or two to near shore, in the shadow of the rock walls. As we cruise along the lonely coast, the ferry to Black's Harbor comes up from behind and passes us offshore. The silver sea and the brooding island and the distant sight of Campobello are an uninterrupted vista of natural splendor. The signs of human activity are so isolated and so infrequent that their overall effect is to reassure us that we are not alone in this grand wilderness of water and islands.
Everything changes quickly when we pass the northernmost point of Grand Manan and start across the channel. The robust breeze is striking us on the port bow and the confused waves are harrassed by the conflicting forces that shape them--a strong tidal current opposed to a vigorous wind. Off the north point, the waters have that fascinating look of unaccountable turbulence. Nothing above water could account for such a mixture of waves and whitecaps, standing waves and slick, curling currents. There is no alternative but to think that something terrible is going on just beneath the surface--some unknown progenitor of all this anguish. It could be reefs; it could be a creature from the deeps; but of course it is nothing more than the daily tussle between wind and conflicting currents.
Kobuk strikes out across the open water at a dismally slow pace. The Yamaha cannot manage to move us much faster than three miles per hour so we call on the power of the main engine to push us through the onslaught of waves and chop. But even with this assistance the conditions are too rough for Kobuk to make headway any faster than a very slow run. We have an hour of holding on and ramming through the mess until finally, a couple miles from the Quoddy Light, the conditions gradually ameliorate. And then we are in the channel running up to Lubec, a hazard zone of countless lobster trap buoys and occasional patches of floating seaweed. With the main engine, the buoys may look like the greater risk, but in fact the jet drive would allow us to pass over them with no serious damage and no possibility of fouled impellers. It is the matted patches of floating seaweed that challenge us most: an encounter will almost certainly foul the intake for the jet drive. It happened as we approached Brier Island and now it happens once again. This time, it does not completely stall us, but the loss of power is perceptible and there will be no choice but to do another swim in these chilly northern waters when we are tied off for the day.
We pass beneath the bridge that runs between Lubec and Campobello Island, and enter the protected waters of Passamaquoddy Bay. Eastport appears a few miles away and by early afternoon we are tied at a floating dock in the Eastport Harbor, looking for the customs and immigration office that must be located here: this is, after all, a designated port of entry into the United States.
To all of you who would like to make an unnoticed entry into the United States, I would suggest that you arrive by boat. In many places--and Eastport is one of them--immigration officials do not wait dockside for your arrival. They tend to stay holed up in their obscure offices waiting for you to seek them out. Here we are in a place where Campobello Island--a well settled piece of New Brunswick real estate--lies just two miles across the water. Countless small boats must run back and forth across this smiling bay, and surely all the Canadian ones come here to pick up gas at the cheaper American prices. Obviously, the immigration official does not intercept them all and put them through the usual routine. Anybody could pretend to be a local and land stateside no questions asked. If I were a terrorist trying to get to the golden shore, that's what I would do. But I'm not, of course, so this is nothing but abstract speculation.
Eastport is the northeastern-most town on the United States' coast, and Maine's great size (by Eastern standards) means that the distance from Boston to here is many hundreds of miles. Even so, the price of real estate is "unreal" compared to the maritime provinces in Canada. Someday soon this will change, but at least for now Americans generally view Eastport as the "end of the world." This makes New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and points north a virgin land by American standards--a land where only the very rich and the very savvy have begun to cash in on the bargains to be had. As a matter of fact, it is well-to-do Europeans who have been buying up land here a lot more aggressively than Americans.
Eastport Harbor: 44* 54.283' N / 66* 58.996' W
Distance: 21 miles
Total Distance: 5,817 miles
Friday, September 14, 2007
Eastport used to be the sardine canning capital of the world--at least that's what everybody says. The canning operation closed down and the town must have gone through hard times, but it was fortunate to have been so picturesque because now it quite obviously is making a comeback as a tourist destination. The streets tumble down a steep hill to the bay, and the main street--Water Street--runs irregularly across the bottom of it. There are many classic old brick buildings in the town core, a considerable number of which have been restored while most of the remainder seem slated for something similar. Away from the two or three blocks that make up the downtown, handsome old clapboard homes line the residential streets. They are not grandiose but they do have the inflated size and the eye for decorative detail so common to bourgeois houses of the late 1800's and early 1900's. The waterfront harbor is a visual pleasure and some money has been put into making it accessible to all. The town is in that wonderful transitional stage between the old reality of the Down East fisheries and the new reality of money coming in to create appealing shops and homes. It is a pity that the stage is transitional for the old reality was poverty and hardscrabble lives whereas the quickly arriving new reality will be exclusivity in which only the well-to-do will be able to afford living here. Ah well: I suppose everything in life is transitory when you think about it.
The star in Eastport's firmament is her public library, a handsome and burly brick building constructed in the 1800's. It was built as a library, an evident expression of civic pride, and continues uninterruptedly as such to this day. High ceilings and dark wood floors and lacquered bookshelves constructed to ladder height line the three different rooms. The books of the earlier period--well worn hardbacks with author's names like Hawthorne, Dickens, and Prescott--continue to fill one section of the bookcases in one of those rooms, looking serious and substantial in their faded linen covers. Modern authors and modern works may equal or even surpass these treasures of yesteryear when it comes to literary merit, but there can be no question that the actual fabrication of modern volumes lacks the appeal of crafted permanence that emanates from these older books. Really, it is like houses: most people would prefer a well-restored house from the 1800's to a modern structure with its bland conveniences and uninspiring lines.
Across from the library, a long, low, white clapboard building houses the Happy Crab restaurant. It draws us in with a breakfast special advertised street side and we take a seat in one of its booths next to a window. The dining area is not large. The wooden wainscoting and nautical motifs and curtains at the windows have the charm of a bygone era. As we sit there, locals filter in to take their breakfast and socialize with their fellow townspeople. At one point a crowd of over a dozen older women and one older man arrives to use up most of the fourtop tables that they rearrange banquet fashion. The only waitress is a young woman named Sarah who has a certified Maine accent. Her constant good cheer and outstanding work habits endear her to everybody, even the local man who she completely fools by locking the entry door so that he cannot enter even though a crowd of customers is obviously enjoying itself on the inside. Her practical joke leaves him completely bewildered.
By the time Kobuk motors away from the Eastport dock, our ambitions for the day have been enlarged. The original plan was to get about twenty five miles down the coast to the small village of Cutler, but now with the weather conditions looking good we hope to make it farther along--as far as Jonesport about fifty miles distant. Once out past Lubec and into the Grand Manan Channel, we can see that we have very little wind, calm seas, and a strong adverse current. The circumstance calls for high speed since a lesser percentage of forward progress will be lost to the current so we power up and run along the coast with the roar of the engine in our ears and the furrow of the jet drive running away behind us. In this twenty-mile channel between Grand Manan and the mainland, where headwinds would be the norm, there are few protective bays where Kobuk might retreat if conditions were to deteriorate. I am relieved, therefore, to put it behind us in only an hour of bounding across the mild swells. Then we are able to slip into the protective channel behind Cross Island and into the relatively sheltered waters of Machias Bay. On this crisp, sunny, autumn day, we do manage to reach the roadstead town of Jonesport, protected to seaward by the wooded masses of Beals and Great Wass Islands. Even as we arrive, the sky is turning cloudy and threatening to rain. We find a stretch of floating dock in the Jonesport Harbor and step ashore to inquire as to where we might tie off for the night. The harbormaster is sitting in his car overlooking the entirety of the harbor and talking with a couple men. When I ask him about a place to tie, he suggests a vacant stretch of floating dock that lies between a fishing boat and a large Penn Yan cruiser, a stretch big enough for Kobuk but not so big as to enter comfortably. With Carla's help, though, maneuvering in turns into a slickly done operation that I simply must mention because it is one of the very, very few times when Kobuk and I have come to dock in a truly nautical fashion.
Jonesport is an elongated, unappealing town, spread along a single road for a distance of a mile or so. This is one place that tourism has not touched. The crumbling sidewalks and shabby storefronts and fitfully maintained landscaping testify to a place that works for a living. Quite evidently, fishing remains king here. The average fishing boat is noticeably smaller than in other places Kobuk has visited this summer, but the number of them is quite remarkable. I honestly think there are more of them here than in all the other ports, from Canso to Eastport, put together.
Jonesport Harbor: 44* 31.875' N / 67* 35.665' W
Distance: 50 miles
Total Distance: 5,867 miles
Saturday, September 15, 2007
Carla and I feel little desire to spend more time in Jonesport, so we take our breakfast and leave early. Fortified by manly servings of hot oatmeal liberally coated in brown sugar, we set off for Bar Harbor under a steely sky and foreshortened visibility. Moosabec Reach is the name of the open water passage between Jonesport and the islands close offshore. It runs on for at least a few miles and every part of it--as far as I can see--is riddled with lobster trap buoys. Most every lobsterman paints his buoys a bright and distinctive two-tone that one would have to assume is his special brand. On this gray day the multihued brilliance of the buoys makes them look like the favored items in one of those altered photographs in which everything else is left in black and white. The Remote Troll is not designed for steering through an obstacle course, but that is the task for today because the Moosabec Reach has many thousands of randomly scattered buoys. They could easily be pushed aside by Kobuk's hull but down below a buoy a line lies waiting for any passing prop. Perhaps the lobster boats here are so small because everybody does their trapping here in the protected Moosabec Reach, close to home.
Once we reach open water, the wind and waves are on the port beam. Since the day is going to take us on a big, broad, semicircular arc to starboard, I look forward to the prospect of heading downwind, and then hiding in the lee of a protected shore when we curve around to take the wind on the starboard side. This is idle speculation, however, as subsequent events would prove. Since the wind is likely to strengthen as the day progresses, I fire up the big engine and we scamper along, hoping for an early landfall. After only a few miles, though, a sudden increase in the level of rpm's accompanied by an abrupt drop in speed and billows of white smoke roiling up astern indicate that something is amiss. It is all very dramatic, but the explanation is mundane. I have seen this before: seaweed is our banana peel. We will have to hobble the rest of the way and when we get to harbor I will have to take another swim.
As we round the Schoodic Head and start up into Frenchman Bay, the wind abruptly backs to the north and instead of good conditions we find ourselves butting into miserable little waves that are all the more ill-tempered for having to buck the flowing tide. Not just good things come to an end, however, and so eventually we manage to reach the protected waters of Bar Harbor. There we are confronted with a level of hustle and bustle surpassing that of Jonesport, Eastport, Westport, or any other port since leaving Yarmouth. When we go to the harbormaster's office to inquire about a slip for the night, the young girl doing duty there doesn't think there is any space available. When I tell her the length of Kobuk, she says, "Oh, well, maybe you could fit in behind New Frontier. There's maybe twenty feet of dock space there." It seems that New Frontier is a smaller boat that doesn't use the full 120' of dock space available to her whereas thhe two neighboring yachts completely fill their 120' docks. It happens that the owners of New Frontier are standing right behind us and they confirm that, yes, there is a bit of left over space at the end of their dock. Carla and I return to Kobuk and bring her around to the open dock space and once we have her tied off poor Kobuk looks like a hotdog stand in downtown Manhattan.
There's a reason for all this commotion in Bar Harbor: a cruise ship is anchored in the bay and its three tenders (capable of carrying about ninety passengers each) are making non-stop shuttles ship to shore to ship. I think they could transport the entire population of Bar Harbor in about forty minutes flat. They are as industrious and as single minded as a two way column of ants doing whatever it is they do. It seems these cruise ships are almost a daily occurrence for Bar Harbor. No wonder the shops are so glitzy and the prices so high.
Society is inconsistent, I think. It is shocked and disgusted when a randy old Casanova manages to seduce a naive virgin by showering her with flowers and flattery and promises of stardom. But where is the shock and outrage when a wily cruise ship company offers a small town like Bar Harbor the chance to play on the big stage? Does anybody really believe that all this "attention" will not kill the town? Oh, yes, Bar Harbor will survive--and will be the richer for it. But the people of Bar Harbor, the folks who grew up there and gave the town its identity--will they survive? Well, of course not. A few will, by adapting to the cancerous new economy and abandoning all the old ways and old values--but most will drift away, unwilling to become waiters and waitresses and store clerks and unable to pay the ever increasing property taxes. We all know what Bar Harbor will look like twenty years from now: irreprochably beautiful and uncommonly civilized, but inaccessible to any but the rich. The truly wealthy discovered long ago that high prices do a lot better job of creating an exclusive community than do gates and walls.
Bar Harbor: 44* 23.515' N / 68* 12.202' W
Distance: 38 miles
Total Distance: 5,905 miles
Sunday, September 16, 2007
September, it seems, is the right time to cruise the Maine coast. When I passed through around this time last year the days were sunny and dry and cool, and now the pattern is repeating itself. Carla and I decide to take a bus ride out to Northeast Harbor to see a couple botanical gardens that she remembers having visited some years ago. When we board one of the free public buses that operate all around Mount Desert Island, the driver gets confused and takes us the wrong way. Instead of heading off for Southwest Harbor via the direct route running down the center of the island, he starts around the island following the coastline. The road is one-way, so he cannot turn back. This means we get to Northeast Harbor by the most scenic route possible. The arrival in Northeast Harbor is rather later than scheduled, but this is of little concern to us or to any of the others on the bus. When you're on vacation and you accidentally get taken to all the good views in a national park, you are not disposed to complain.
Northeast Harbor is one of a handful of coastal villages around the perimeter of Mount Desert Island. Like the others, it occupies a little bay. A fleet of boats sits at anchor in the bay and the houses of the town string themselves out along the bayside shoreline. This is most everybody's stereotypical image of a New England port town, but of course the seasonal residents are in no way average. After all, an ordinary house lot here is going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars--and that only gives you a space on which to put your summer home. If you want to live here year round, you better not need work for reasonably paying jobs are hard to come by in a place like this.
Of the two botanical gardens on the edge of town, the one called Asticou has Japanese motifs and methods of plant management surrounding a small pond whereas the one called Thuya goes to some effort to carve out a patch of order in a rocky, hillside wilderness. We visit them both and lounge about in each as if the day will never end. The Asticou Garden is big on mosses and strategic placement whereas the Thuya is a riot of flowers in an elongated meadow with bordering boulders shaded under tall firs. I like them both--for who cannot like domesticated nature?--but for some mysterious reason I prefer today the one on the hill with its profusion of colorful flowers and its English country feel. Ordinarily, I prefer form and shape and texture over the splash of big colors, but not today. Both gardens were satisfying places to find peace and relaxation, but neither was as special as the high, glacier-scoured rock, embroidered with mosses and lichens and low bushes, upon which we rested to take our lunch. From there the view was out across the water and down onto the inner bay of Northeast Harbor where sailboats and fishing boats lay at anchor and the town peeked through the trees.
In the evening, Carla and I go to Poor Boy's for dinner, a restaurant that--when you look online--garners lots of great reviews and a few really bad ones. That intrigues me; it could be a sign that the place lies somewhere outside the mainstream, and that's what I want. A bottle of wine and a slab of salmon later, we walk back down the main street of Bar Harbor to the waterfront where Kobuk is berthed. Our last evening together is as successful as all the preceding ones. Carla is, for me, a perfectly suited travel companion. She is adaptable and accommodating and she likes quiet as much as I do. Neither of us talks too much, but if anybody has done so this past week it is me. I hope she didn't mind. I hope she returns to Kobuk someday to spend more time. It is not easy to find someone sufficiently compatible for cruising any distance on a small boat.