A September sailboat purchase followed by a brutal winter in New England leads to the dreaming up of a week long cruise from Newburyport, Massachusetts to Bar Harbor in Maine and back, with lots of adventure in between.
July 1 – Real
After an intense month of planning, gear acquisition and rental, boat work, and keeping a hopeful eye on the weather, July 1 rolled around and things were starting to get real. Brian had come in to Newburyport late the night before from New York, with his life in tow in a Uhaul trailer.
We spent the day cramming his stuff into my small storage unit, and then made a final run to the grocery store to load up on food for the trip. After an hour in Market Basket and a couple of grocery carts full, we made a quick stop at the liquor store. I bought gin and Brian bought rum, both with nice pictures of sailing ships on the bottle of course.
Back at base camp, which is what I call my apartment when it looks like this for more than a couple days…
…we went over the planned route again, did the math on fuel consumption one more time, unpacked our rented EPIRB, and sorted our personal gear into our packs. It was a long day and sleep should have come easily, but it wasn’t happening. I heard Brian roaming around upstairs for quite a while, too.
July 2, 2015 – Go
The next morning, Rich showed up with his stuff, and we took the real last trip to the grocery store. We wanted to leave while the tide was favorable, before 1 pm. We cut it close, but the extra time spent double checking food and gear was worth it for the peace of mind.
Dira was mighty full of stuff, but well organized and clean – fueled up, water tanks topped off, sails uncovered and ready to go. This was it.
We also got a great last minute send off from Tiff of the JA Crew, who was going to stay at my apartment for the week and showed up just as we were pulling out of the dock. I love it when she stays at my place because it looks and smells way better when I get back than it did when I left. Thanks Tiff!
It was nice leaving Newburyport and heading out away from the heat and the crowds. The weather was perfect on the water and looked to stay that way for the near future.
Outside the mouth of the Merrimack, we set a course of 53°, and started to relax. This wasn’t easy for me at first, since I was sailing a boat I was relatively unfamiliar with into a place I’d never been, on my first trip longer than a weekend on a boat ever. But we had done the prep, and by the time we were passing just to the south of the Isles of Shoals, I was in vacation adventure mode.
The sun started going down just as we were losing sight of all land, the theme to Jurassic Park (the original) came on, and all was right with the world. If this movie came out when you were a kid and your parents let you watch it, this masterpiece should be as special to you as it is to me and a few of my friends who venture into majestic outdoor places. If not, give it a listen. Throw it on as you drive into the mountains or sail away from land. It’s a good time.
Just before we lost the sun, I grabbed my DSLR and spent about 5 minutes trying to time the rollers just right to get a nice steady shot in the low light while we were down in a trough, and got this beauty from the port light over the stove.
So, I had never sailed at night before, and had never been on a boat at night away from land. As twilight turned to the darkness of night, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
We were making a straight shot from Newburyport on the north shore of Massachusetts to Bar Harbor on Mt. Desert Island in Maine, not far from the Canadian Border. 159 miles. One-hundred and fifty-nine miles. A bit of a leap for me.
From just after sunset to well into the next day, we didn’t see any boats, no lights from shore, not even the glow of cities from shore, which surprised me. We talked a lot about how best to describe what we were doing and feeling, and the best we came up with was that it was like we were in a little spaceship, just out on our own in the universe. It was great.
The stars were unbelievable and the Milky Way looked like we could touch it. Watching satellites travel across the sky drove this description home for all of us. “Satellite” wouldn’t have been a bad name if I didn’t choose “Dira”. We slept in short shifts, as no one really wanted to miss anything.
Of course in the grand scheme of things, we weren’t far from home at all. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be in the middle of the Atlantic or Pacific, but I’ll find out someday. And I’m very sure I’ll love it.
July 3 – Detour
The weather stayed good for the second day, and we had a great sail, spotting Monhegan and Matinicus Islands in the mid afternoon. Nice visual confirmation that we were on course.
As Isle a Haut came into view, the wind picked up and it got choppy. Very choppy.
We were near Seal Island, a small, rocky nub that is a seasonal home to hundreds of puffins, slamming around in the chop, as Brian and Rich made their first trip to take down the sails in rough seas.
With the engine running and still on course for Mt. Desert, Brian asked me casually if I knew that the “check oil” light was on. No, I hadn’t been aware. With the weather getting worse and the engine in need of some love, we decided to head into Duck Harbor on Isle a Haut.
Brian and I had seen and read about this during planning, and we wanted to see it, but we thought that would be on the way back. We knew the entrance was tricky and littered with large rocks, and we’d be going in at night with fog. The GPS was fired up and Brian navigated from below as Rich relayed his directions to me at the wheel. It was tense, but as we got closer the island smoothed a lot of the chop, and after what seemed like hours, we were in.
It’s tight quarters in Duck Harbor – and visibility was poor. We threaded our way past the large ferry dock and a few other sailboats and picked our spot to drop anchor.
After we were sure we were holding, we took a minute to breathe. At that point one of our neighbors rowed over in his dinghy, asking if we planned on setting a stern anchor. Yes, we were. He also informed us that during the day he had dropped anchor where we currently were, and had found less water than the chart indicated. Thanks, man! We pulled it up and did it all again, a little closer to the harbor entrance than we had been. At least we only had to row out the stern anchor once.
Beers and some good food off the grill were in order for our first night at anchor (we just wolfed sandwiches that first night while we were under sail). As wind whipped and fog rolled around us, Duck Harbor and Isle a Haut worked together to keep the boat pretty damned still. No one had any trouble sleeping.
July 4 – Mission Accomplished
The next morning we woke to sun and calm conditions. Brian and I paddled over to the ferry dock to scout things out for our stop here on the return. This part of Isle a Haut is actually part of Acadia National Park, so a nice rugged, low impact campground was what we found. Not wanting to spoil any surprises, we went back to Dira to do a more thorough check of the engine, and hopefully, continue on to Bar Harbor.
After a whole lot of checking and rechecking and discussion, the decision was made to keep going for Mt. Desert.
Motoring out of Duck Harbor in the light of day gave us some scary views into what we had weaved through the night before… islands of rock, everywhere. Probably better that we couldn’t see it directly at the time.
We planned on exploring Jericho and Blue Hill Bays on the way home, so we headed south to open water and then turned northeast for the last stretch to Bar Harbor in Frenchman’s Bay.
As we left Isle a Haut, I took the photo below. You can never go wrong with bright red popping out against a dull background.
It was the 4th of July, and we had a slip at the fancy Harborside Hotel waiting for us, along with AMC friends Sally and Megan. The plan was to check out the fireworks tonight, then do some hiking in Acadia the next day.
It was a long day of switching back and forth between sailing and motoring, with views of the mountains of Mt. Desert Island and the extremely nice boats that call Frenchman’s Bay home. It was a nice life moment, sailing to the mountains you’re going to explore.
As we came into sight of the hotel in Bar Harbor, it was pretty crazy sailing right in front of the giant crowd of people who were there to see the fireworks.
I tried to look cool as our contact on the dock waved his arms over the entire stretch of water in front of the slip and told me over the radio “this is all really really shallow”.
I backed her in, literally inches from the 100 foot yacht “Checked Out”. She was tied up, and we were informed that coming in at 8 pm, we were the final boat allowed into the harbor before the fireworks. We had 20 minutes to check in and shower before our guests arrived and the fireworks started.
Can you guess what a small sailboat looks and smells like after 3 “laid back” dudes have called it home for 3 days? Whatever you’re picturing, it was worse. We sacrificed 10 minutes to get her clean, and left all the hatches open to air her out as we ran up to shower. It was strange to move through the crowd in their shorts and t shirts in our cold weather gear in mid-summer.
The showers of course, were amazing, and we were all swaying around like drunks trying to stand still on solid ground after 3 days at sea. I could have stayed in there all night, but we had to get back to the boat.
With no time to spare, we all met up and got onto nice clean Dira just as the show started. I’m surprised they set the fireworks off from as close as they do at Bar Harbor. They were right in our faces, with ash falling all around (Checked Out took the brunt of it – thanks!).
After, we checked out some bars, but ended up calling it a relatively early night.
July 5 – Acadia
The girls had driven up the day before and had a campground site (and a car!), so they picked us up and we drove into Acadia.
Instead of joining the crowds on Cadillac Mountain, we went up a couple of others (Parkman Mountain and some nearby peaks) that didn’t have roads to the top. It was a perfect day to be up there and the hiking isn’t hard, which no one was complaining about after not being able to do a whole lot of walking over the previous 3 days. It felt great to stretch the legs out.
After a day of hiking, the girls drove back to Boston and Rich, Brian and I gave Dira a proper cleaning, hung out in the pool and the hot tub with some beverages, then walked to a restaurant where I feasted on something called the DownEast Lobster Experience. It was a touristy mountain of lobster, cornbread, mussels, and blueberry pie, and it was amazing.
July 6 – Shit Happens
The next morning we prepared to leave Bar Harbor with a big breakfast at 2 Cats and a trip for food and ice.
Rich took on the important mission of searching the island for a solar charger so we could keep our phones and bluetooth speaker running. He eventually found something and was super pumped, but it ended up not working – which we discovered well after we had left.
We got back to the boat in the late morning, and made arrangements to get fuel and pump out the holding tank.
Fuel, no problem. Holding tank (plastic box filled with everything that goes into the toilet)? Potentially big problem. Sometime after Isle a Haut, she had become tough to flush – she was pressurized – her pump handle on the head shot back up after you depressed it, and it stayed up. It was full, really full, and saying “no more”. What it was full of was the material deemed unnecessary or unwelcome by at least 10 human bodies, not counting anyone the previous owners may have had on board after their final pump out.
She was a deposit of stinking molten magma under a thin slice of Earth’s crust – waiting to blow. Sit back and enjoy the story of Ol’ Miserable, the Shit Geyser.
The plan was for me to unscrew the cap as quickly as I could (kill zone), then Rich would jam the hose nozzle into the hole as quickly as he could (red zone). Brian would man the starboard side of the cockpit with towels, ready to block anyone who was getting it really bad (orange zone).
Now let’s add an audience. Just as we committed, an enormous whale watching vessel pulled up behind us – actually blocking us in. The people on board had a bird’s eye view of the action. They probably picked up on the tense body language of the dock workers, or the scrambling going on aboard Dira. Whatever it was, they knew something was up, and they weren’t going to miss it.
Responding to my arms in the air “WTF?!” gesture, the whale watch captain said over the radio that they’d only be a few minutes (just enough to watch the show). Ok.
How about some more? A “lobster tour” boat (they drive people around and show them lobster traps and let them pull some traps – fun!) pulled up directly across from us just as the action started, as well. Add another 100 people to the mix – mostly families with young children. Good. These people were actually filing off the boat and walking within mere feet of us as things went down (or should I say up?).
With the cockpit adorned in rolled up towels and anything else we could think of to minimize the damage, it was time to get this over with.
On a three-count, I unscrewed the cap as fast as I could. Rich acted quickly to get the nozzle in, but the sludge didn’t need much time, it just needed space. In the less than 2 seconds between opening and being plugged, a 3 foot geyser of shit-water erupted, steady and strong.
It all happened in slow motion. It started as a couple of drops on my forehead, then some splashing to the cheeks and chin. Then a steady stream of it – I could feel it on my eyelids. And then it stopped. Brian wiped my face with a towel, a trainer consoling and supporting his fighter after losing the title fight. I opened my eyes to survey the scene as the hose, now in place, did it’s job.
I’d like to think if I was a 10 year old and saw all of this happen, I’d be laughing hysterically. Maybe they were just too close to it, it was just too real. No laughter – just horror. Maybe even some gagging.
Misery loves company, so I went into the building myself, covered in shit, to pay for the fuel. I stood in line with people buying whale watch tickets and souvenirs from the gift shop. I took my time. I smiled at people, I asked where they were from and if they were excited to see whales.
Back at the boat, Rich and Brian were finishing cleaning up. An empty bottle of bleach rolled around the cockpit floor.
After that ordeal, we couldn’t wait to get out of there, back to clean open water and away from pump out stations.
It was a great day to be moving again. We beat to the weather, tacking south through Frenchman’s Bay with perfect wind and great views of the peaks we had been on the day before.
The boat was clean, the icebox and the cupboards were stocked, we were rested and happy.
Our destination was Mackarel (hey, that’s how it’s spelled on the charts!) Cove at Swans Island. The sail there was beautiful, although the wind eventually died and we motored to keep on time. The water was flat like glass, the type you’d see on a pond in the early morning. Our route took us close to the southern tip of Mt. Desert Island – it was fun to sail and motor so close to the cliffs.
Mackarel Cove was glass, just like the trip through Blue Hill Bay had been. We easily found a prime spot to anchor, with only a handful of boats in the cove with us. Time for some wine and grilling. Steaks tonight, with grilled veggies.
We were tired, but it was too nice of a night to head to bed early. I stayed up and took some photos. My favorite is one of the wheel, the boom and the anchor light shining against the night sky. The camera was on the deck on a small tripod. The minimal streaking of the stars is a good indication of just how calm it was out there. Green glow courtesy of my Luci Aura.
July 7 – Eight Knots
The next morning, Rich made some breakfast on Dira while Brian and I rowed to shore. Brian wanted to take a look at some cliffs nearby and I wanted to bathe. I love seeing Dira at anchor away from her slip in Newburyport.
After the oatmeal Rich had prepared and a bunch of fruit, we were off – through York Narrows and then across Jericho Bay, back to Isle a Haut and Duck Harbor.
After the narrows, we raised the sails and headed southwest in the best wind I’ve experienced so far. I haven’t been sailing for too long, but this was far and away the best day I’ve ever had. Dira was moving along at 8 knots on a beam reach for about 2 hours. We even spun her around a few times before reaching Isle a Haut because we didn’t want it to end.
Nothing is perfect – including this day. Just as we came up on the north end of Isle a Haut, Rich and I both saw something splash into the water. It was about 15 or 20 feet from the starboard side of the boat, so it could have been anything – a fish, something dropped by a bird, or our wind direction indicator, which it was.
Looking up at the top of the mast to see what was up (or not up), we saw the anchor light hanging from a wire, slamming into the mast with the passing of each wave. That’s always nice.
Luckily it was time to take the sails down anyway, and the water and wind were calming in the lee of Isle a Haut. As we did a general check for anything else that might be about to break or fall from the boat, we noticed one of the paddles for Flawless Victory (the dinghy) was missing. It was very stupid of me to keep the paddles in the dinghy.
Instead of going all the way around the island to Duck Harbor on the southwest side, we took the thoroughfare, which was calm and peaceful after such an action packed ride. Rich and Brian used the time to make a dinghy paddle out of a frying pan, duct tape and a boat hook.
Other than the ominous clouds and the fog bank forming to the north, the weather was still good. That was not the case by the time we reached Duck Harbor, but at least this time we were heading in during the day.
A strong wind and thick fog were in the harbor. We dropped anchor, but didn’t put out a stern anchor for now. There was plenty of room – only 1 other boat out near the entrance. I flipped on the anchor light and the guys confirmed that it worked, even if it was a foot or 2 lower than it had been. I didn’t like that it wasn’t visible 360 degrees around, so we did a little finagling from below and at least got it to hang against the mast on the side that would be visible to other boats entering the harbor.
It wasn’t a good time to go up the mast for a repair, so we made some food and settled in for the night.
Poking my head through the companionway hatch that evening into the wind and fog was like popping onto a different planet. We all did it every once in a while to see if things had changed.
In the late evening, rollers started to enter the harbor, rocking the boat heavily from side to side. We put out the stern anchor to try to smooth things out, but they changed directions often enough for us to go out and pull it in after a while in the hopes that being able to swing around the bow would set us up for a smoother night. Wind and waves came from different directions, though, so it would be a rough night.
July 8 – Isle a Haut
Nobody got much sleep with all the rocking and the sounds of things crashing around that came with it. The rollers stopped a little after dawn, and I got about an hour of sleep before it was time to go up the mast.
The boat was still rocking, but nothing major, so the trip up the mast wasn’t bad. I was unable to reattach the anchor light, though, as the wind indicator had taken some key hardware with it to the bottom of Jericho Bay. So, out came the duct tape.
From the top of the mast I spotted a very large and very intimidating jellyfish, different from the ones I’d been seeing all summer and on this trip. I still went for a swim later, but I was keeping a sharp lookout for the thing the entire time.
It was only mid-morning at this point, and Brian and I wanted to explore Isle a Haut. Rich was torn, but we convinced him to at least come to the dock to check out the immediate area. He ended up wandering the island with us all day – in sandals on some rough terrain.
We started by hiking up the small but rugged Duck Mountain (somewhere around 600′ tall), then cut across the interior over to the east side and some interesting beaches we had seen on Google Earth.
I could write a lot about the day, but basically, we saw some really great things in some places that aren’t visited too often by land or by boat. We mainly stuck together, but also got a little space here and there. We all needed that after so long on the boat together.
A quick note here that these rocky beaches are all covered in trash from lobster boats and their ruined equipment. Almost all the trash we saw on the Maine coast was related to lobstering. Kind of shitty. We packed some of it out, but couldn’t even make a dent.
We also took a plastic red lobster pot that we figured we could carve into a paddle for Flawless, so we’d have two again. We never did this because the frying pan worked so well.
As we approached the campground where Flawless Victory was tied up in the late afternoon to return to Dira, we kept our fingers crossed for calm water – and that’s what we found. We were all hoping for a good sleep after the night before and for the journey home.
It was a relaxing evening, checking charts, the boat, and generally finalizing and memorizing our plan to get home.
Killing time before bed, we shined headlamps into the water to see what was down there. Lots of little white fish that looked like they belonged at the bottom of the deep ocean. It was interesting to watch them, and every once in a while a larger fish would shoot through the light, causing a ruckus.
We lowered our dirty dishes down into the water on parachute cord for the night, hoping the little guys might save us some scrubbing. They didn’t.
July 9 – To Massachusetts
It was time to head home. We stayed closer to land this time, as our oil light was still on, and we figured we might as well see what else there was to see. That was basically lots of scallop boats lighting up the night like the sun, and some rain.
Dira wasn’t happy anymore at this point – her engine didn’t have the same power it had before. By now there wasn’t much conversation happening on Dira. It wasn’t a bad thing, there just wasn’t much left to be said.
We motored the entire way home, as there was no wind and we had jobs to get back to (well, 2 of us did), so we weren’t going to wait it out in this case.
July 10 – Home
By sunrise we’d all had a shift of sleep, but we were also damp and chilled. Seeing the Isles of Shoals to the south was just what we needed.
We were trying our best to reach the mouth of the Merrimack River while the tides favored us, which was until 1 pm, just like when we set out. That was more important this time, what with Dira’s problems and all.
We made it just in time.
Dira got us up the river, but by the time we were a few hundred yards from her slip at Windward Yacht Yard, she was truly struggling. She just didn’t have any power. When I shut down her engine that afternoon I had no idea it would be almost 2 months before she’d be fully functional again (transmission problems).
We gave her a very thorough cleaning, unloaded our stuff, called it a great trip, and then ran away from each other.
Writing about the trip months later, it seems even better than it did when we were on it. That’s often the case. Dira is all fixed up now (I think), and she’s waiting for another journey. The planning will probably start soon, when the snow starts falling. I wonder where she’ll take us next year.