While my typical summer boating season is usually spent frequenting the waters of the Jersey Shore, Chesapeake Bay, Long Island Sound, and the outer reaches of Block Island Sound, I try my best to get in at least one Maine visit during the season. But as the past summer neared a close, I still had not been able to peel myself away for this annual event. So when Kathleen Allen of IYC's charter management division called to invite me to join her for three days aboard the 125- foot Cheoy Lee Namoh, I jumped at the opportunity.
Our itinerary would be a round-trip venture from Camden to explore the waters of Penobscot Bay. The Bay is some 30 miles long and almost as wide and home to the islands of Vinalhaven, North Haven, Islesboro, Deer Isle, and Isle au Haut. Close to 2,000 other islands and islets are scattered around the bay, many visited only by birds and seals. The natural beauty of this rugged coastline makes for some of the finest cruising anywhere.
I found Namoh waiting at Wayfarer Marine, which is just across the water from the Camden town dock. Ahhh, that feeling of leaving terra firma behind as i stepped aboard...In that instant, as I took a deep breath of crisp, clean, salt-tinged air, the schooner Olad dropped canvas as she left port on the outgoing tide, and I immediately shed all land-based cares. It is that easy to get into a Maine state of mind.
I met deckhand Crawford Railton on the afterdeck dining area and was quickly joined by captain Greg Russell, who made the introductions to the other guests. Besides Allen, two brokers joined us: Heather Krebs of Abiego Yachts International, and Carol Kent of C.K. Yacht Charters. Rounding out our guest list was long time Yachting contributor and photographer Billy Black.
Namoh is a fully equipped and expertly maintained vessel. She offers a sundeck, skylounge, a Jacuzzi, and plenty of toys. Highlights include a pair of Yamaha Waverunners, a 17-foot tender powered by a 115-horsepower Yamaha outboard, water skis, wakeboards, snorkel and fishing gear, kayaks, and a water trampoline. She has WiFi throughout and sleeps 10 in five elegant staterooms including the owner's suite. and best of all, her crew is as attentive and professional as any I've met.
But it is the youthful-looking Russell who sets the great vibe aboard Namoh. Originally from Zimbabwe, he grew up on a tobacco farm, learning and honing management skills he would later bring to the helms of the yachts Ipanema, Osceola, Ocean Mermaid, and Hiya. He's university-educated with degrees in both marine biology and agriculture. This Maine resident, with more than 80,000 nautical miles in his wake, is both a skilled mariner and a great conversationalist.
For lunch, chef Sandy Goldbery prepared prosciutto, red pepper, and fresh buffalo mozzarella on baguettes, accompanied by a wonderful chardonnay, served by chief stewardess Joanne Mill and 2nd stewardess Jenny Snellgove. It was the perfect summer meal to begin our Down East cruise. With the affable and engaging Russell joining us for a few moments before getting underway, the table conversation was lively and interesting; we all looked forward to the time we would have together.
By the time plates were cleared, Russell had nudged the big boat out of the tight confines of the harbor and set a course for Butter Island about two hours away. As we watched Camden slip away behind Namoh's stern, I strolled to the port side for a look at the expanse of Penobscot Bay that lay ahead. We were underway, surrounded by sun, sky, and sea. Namoh is capable of a 20-knot cruise but we were content to motor along at a leisurely ten. After setting the hook in the lee of Butter Island, Railton and first mate Piet Lombaard offered to ready the kayaks. While several of us went off exploring, the rest opted to enjoy the warm late afternoon on the sundeck.
Later, Coltrane played softly on the stereo as we sat on the skylounge deck watching the sky turn slowly from soft hues of blue to a deep, dark cobalt. Going with the flow was never this easy. As the stars of the constellation Sagittarius emerged from the night sky, we were invited to the salon to enjoy some wine before a dinner of baby romaine salad, a deliciously spicy cioppino entree, and a nectarine tart to finish things off. We lingered well into the evening, sharing tales of past adventures and voyages. It was easy to fall asleep that night, thanks to the wonderful food, excellent wine, and luxurious surroundings of our staterooms.
By late morning, when the fog had burnt off, the sky went blue, the sun came out, and it was time to visit the nearby town of Castine. Russell and Lombaard had the tender ready and we meandered slowly among the many small islands, watching seals bask on rocks, and enjoying the natural beauty of the bay as we made our way to the town dock.
Founded in 1613, Castine is one of New England's oldest towns, and we enjoyed wandering the waterfront and elm-lined streets. We strolled past the stately Pentagoet and Manor Inns, which both serve dinner and have pubs for casual dining as well. Castine's post office opened its doors in 1814, making it the oldest continuously operated branch in the country and the Cold Comfort Summer Theater offers musicals and plays during July and august.
It would have been nice to sit on the wharf and while away the Maine afternoon but Goldbery's lunch of crab cakes and raspberry fool-mashed raspberries whipped with sugar, vanilla, and cream-beckoned.
Russell and I were on our second foolish helping when I noticed the crew going back and forth from the galley to the swim platform. "We're going to take advantage of the great weather and have our dinner ashore, over there," he said, pointing to a spit of beach off our port bow. I was going to partake in the famous Namoh lobster bake.
By early evening, we were all on the beach and pitching in with the preparations. Russell readied the steamer while some of us helped the crew shuck corn and wash potatoes. I harvested about five pounds of fresh seaweed as well as a bucket of mussels from the water's edge. Less than an hour later, with wine corks popping, lobster shells cracking, and the sun hanging red above the treetops, we enjoyed a wonderful dinner. Dessert, back on Namoh, would be a made from- scratch, wild Maine blueberry pie, after which a delightful time in the Jacuzzi would prove to be the perfect end to a perfect day.
Our final day aboard was a leisurely cruise that took us by Isle au Haut's Duck Harbor and the Winter and Seal Bays of Vinalhaven. The sun was warm, the sky clear, and the environs were spectacular. While underway, we enjoyed a lunch of baby Maine shrimp roll and homemade pineapple sorbet on the skylounge deck. Later that evening, in a comfortable anchorage, Russell hosted our final dinner of parmesan-laced arugula salad and grilled veal chops as we toasted new friends and shipmates.
I have always found that cruising coastal Maine in summer is special. And this trip was no exception, thanks to Russell, his crew, and Namoh herself. If you are lucky enough to find her available, whether Down East or somewhere else, she is sure to deliver a memorable time for you and your guests.
Namoh charters in the Caribbean during the winter and is offered from $125,000/week, plus expenses. For the summer schedule, contact the management office for complete details. IYC Charter Management, (954) 522-2323; www.iyc.com