Before last August, I'd never locked-up an airport. But on a balmy summer evening I had gone as far as possible in Maine. Thanks to multiple flight delays, sleeping car-rental clerks and one drunk cab driver, I reluctantly admitted defeat in Rockland. After exhausting my cell phone battery, it was clear the only way into town was with the last airport employee who took pity on me, enlisting my help in exchange for a ride.
Although Rockland is less than 100 miles from Bar Harbor-where I needed to meet up with Shane Wells of Protector Boats and two Protector 28s for a cruise up the coast to Jonesport, Maine-it might as well have been 400 miles. Shane and I would be joined by photographer Benjamin Mendlowitz and Yachting's Managing Editor John Wooldridge. Instead of getting stressed out about my predicament in Rockland, I embraced it. After all I had left the noise, stress and crowds behind and was beginning my RIB adventure. Did Sir Edmund Hillary freak because of a little frostbite? Surely not. So I found the last room in Rockland-the town was bustling by Maine standards during the annual Lobster Fest. The room's eye-stinging fluorescent lighting cast the atmosphere of a high school cafeteria-perfect. A swank room would not satisfy my expedition mindset. I settled into what was more cot than bed and decided it would be prudent to sleep on top of the biologically compromised covers and began reading "A Cruising Guide to the Maine Coast," planning the next several days of exploring Maine's "bold coast" between Mount Desert and Jonesport.
The following morning, I decided to scrap unpredictable commercial aviation and chartered a single-engine plane from Maine Atlantic Aviation. Chief pilot Kevin Waters wove around the fog banks and pointed out the attractions as we buzzed low over Vinalhaven, Isle au Haut, and Deer Isle. Maine Atlantic also offers floatplanes to take you directly to your boat. Think about it. Your love waits in some sleepy cove and you fly in after a long day at the office, ready for your next adventure.
The cruising guide describes the area past Mount Desert as "one where fishing and lobstering are all-important, and the affairs of Boston and New York seem far away and insignificant. Yachts are rare, and facilities for yachts are almost nonexistent." Maybe more rare than yachts are two souped-up 28-foot inflatables with cuddy-cabins cruising in tandem. Locals and yachtsmen alike eyed us with suspicion. "What in da hell is goin on here," commented one onlooker as we pulled into the Jonesport town dock.
We weren't looking for weapons of mass destruction in these military-inspired all-waters inflatables. We were looking for a road less traveled, and the Protectors turned out to be a great choice for the trip. The newer of the two was equipped with twin 150 hp Yamahas, and the other had a single Yanmar turning a Bravo Three outdrive. The outboard model has a little more va-va-voom, and if you want range, you'll appreciate the larger fuel capacity afforded by the outboards. The newly-designed hardtop on the outboard model was also cleverly designed to give great protection and a good line of sight. It's also a fine platform for transporting kayaks and essential gear required by the eager explorer.
Personally I would be quite comfortable spending a night or two on a 28, provided a B-and-B was at the end of the tunnel on a periodic basis. But for our cruise, which consisted of day trips combined with an inn, it provided great shelter and room to stow gear and provisions. Stores and chandleries are scarce past Mount Desert, so provisioning for the long haul is key.
After buying a few more items at the West Marine in Southwest Harbor, our 8:00 a.m. departure became 12:30 p.m. Schoodic Point defines the start of the bold coast, which runs eastward 140 miles to Eastport. Checking the chart, it seems as if an informal agreement was hashed out between the city transplants and locals-"The Bostonians and New Yorkers can settle below Schoodic Point, we'll preserve the area East, thank you very much. Now have a nice summer." Names like Mistake Island, Cape Split, and Moose Snare Cove give the hint of the coast's rough nature.
One of many hidden treasures is Mistake Island Harbor, tucked snugly behind Mistake Island and Knight Island, just east of Great Wass Island. The Nature Conservancy owns this island, and it is a hiker's dream. With crashing seas in the distance and only the symphony of nature in the air, this is the type of place you almost wish for a little drizzle and fog (this won't be a problem)-forcing you to hold up for the morning in the Protector's cozy cabin with a thick book and some good tunes.
Farther east is Roque Island, another must-see on a bold coast itinerary. Often cruisers use Roque Island as a turnaround point. A host of salty sailboats and trawlers were sprinkled around Roque Island Harbor-I assure you we were the only 28-foot RIBs. Great Beach lines the edge of the harbor and is a surprising contrast with the rock-strewn coast. The island is privately owned and, except for a brief period, has been in the same family since 1806. Today it is basically self-sufficient and has a working farm that produces everything from beef to rhubarb. There are plenty of local stories about the island, but one of my favorites is about local lobsterman Horace Dunbar who enjoyed a little too much libation ashore with some yachties. When it was time to go, he climbed into his skiff for the row home. "Two hours later, he was found by more sober members of the party, still rowing steadily, with his boat's painter attached to the wharf."
The climax of our day was a stopover in Jonesport. When describing a plant species on Mistake Island to the west, the cruising guide says that the species is noted for its ability to "survive in the cold, moist and salty air." The author could have been describing the residents of Jonesport. This sleepy fishing town is lined with lobster shacks and plants. Lobster boats sit in front yards along the main drag, and the smell of the sea permeates the air. The absence of noise amplified the sounds of small-town living. The chatter of kids playing a game of tag and lobstermen spinning yarns on the porch galloped through the cool night breeze, sprinkled with the smell of a low tide. I loved it.
Contact the harbor master for docking instructions at the town dock. The floating docks are in good shape, and they are very accommodating.
Dining choices are few in Jonesport. We settled on Tall Barney's Restaurant on Main Street. Owner John Lapinski and his wife Linda were tired of life in New Jersey and purchased the eatery several years back. John walked through the restaurant, a well-stained mug of coffee resting naturally in his hand, with the look of complete satisfaction on his face-the world of New Jersey and his insurance sales career long vanished from his mind. Although you're in seafood country, think about giving the beef a try at Tall Barney's. "We also serve up some nice beef. The fishermen get tired of seafood," John says. And it certainly was some nice beef.
Beals Island clings to the shallows across Moosabec Reach. A bridge connects the Island with Jonesport. "Boy, having a few bikes would be great around here," mused John Wooldridge looking over at Beals Island. This led us into a conversation of all the fun toys we would have on our Protector. And that's the point. This boat could be the mode of transportation to far-flung outposts like Jonesport. Hmm, what about the Bahamas? Maybe trucking one to the San Juans and down to Mexico afterwards? We'll have to work on Shane.
The next day, we discovered the other commodity of this part of Maine-fog. As we worked our way to Cape Split, the fog closed in tighter and tighter until we were socked in. We reduced speed and clawed our way back to Southwest Harbor for lunch at the Claremont Hotel. Although our incursion into the bold coast was brief-too brief for me-I had a little culture shock coming back to the plush surroundings of the Claremont and Southwest Harbor. "You know when pasticcini is on the menu you've crossed the civilization line," chuckled Ben Mendlowitz.
Contact: Protector Boats, (877) 664-BOAT; www.protectorboats.com