Virtual Cruise of the East Coast: Rockport

Continuing our virtual East Coast cruise, we leave Portland and spend ten days exploring Snow Island, Boothbay Harbor, East Boothbay, Seal Cove and Monhegan Island.

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Our next featured stop is Rockport, Maine, and after picking up a mooring we take our dinghy to the marina at the head of the harbor. The smell of freshly cut wood is in the air, and the sounds of power tools are pulling us in the direction of a large red building with a three-masted schooner painted on its outside wall. We’ve arrived at Rockport Marine, and we are about to enter the anachronistic world of wooden boat building – a very busy world thanks in part to Taylor Allen.

Allen’s Rockport Marine maintains a number of moorings in the outer harbor — the inner harbor moorings are reserved for commercial lobster boats. The deep harbor and crowded conditions make anchoring difficult if not impossible, so we pick up a mooring and head to the office to check in. We soon realize we’ve come to a special place. Having owned and restored wooden boats over the years, we feel an immediate, almost spiritual, connection to this boatyard.

Taylor Allen is a busy, no-nonsense guy, and he agrees to give us a quick tour of his facility. It’s like a scene from central casting: Bearded workers in flannel shirts flaked with sawdust and with stubby pencils stuck behind their ears (I’ve never been able to keep a pencil there for more than a few seconds) are measuring, cutting and fitting pieces of timber to form the curvaceous lines of a modern-day schooner. On the other side of the shop another crew is busy building a replica tall ship. Whoever thought wooden-boat building is a lost art should see Rockport Marine. Indeed, this entire boatyard is a work of art.

After earning a degree in psychology at Amherst College and working for yacht designer Joel White, Allen took over the yard from his parents. It was primarily a repair and service yard at the time, and he has transformed it into one of the nation’s premier wooden-boat building and restoration facilities. New boat projects include a 112-foot, three-mast Bermudian schooner, a 36-foot Fontaine-designed Friendship sloop and a 76-foot, W Class racing yacht. Among well-known restored yachts are the 1924 Fife Adventuress and the 1949 Sparkman & Stephens Bolero. Allen carefully watches over each project, offering a balance of encouragement and advice, like a seasoned manager of a Major League Baseball team.

There’s more to Rockport than boatbuilding, however, as we discover during our walk through town. Rockport is located on West Penobscot Bay and is one of our major stops during our virtual cruise of the East Coast. The nearby towns of Camden and Lincolnville add to the appeal of the immediate area, commonly referred to as midcoast Maine. While the small harbor village of Rockport has a population of less than 5,000, it has a high concentration of artists who live, work and teach here, and their presence is felt everywhere.

Indeed, Rockport attracts thousands of aspiring artists and photographers each year to a number of highly regarded workshops and classes. Plein-air landscape painting workshops are particularly popular, because the surrounding mountains and water views provide spectacular subjects. Rockport is also home to Maine Media College, originally founded as the Rockport College in 1996 by explorer and adventure photojournalist David Lyman . The school specializes in photography, film, writing and multimedia workshops, and it offers both novices and professionals a wide variety of programs. My wife, an art teacher and watercolorist, and I both vow to return after we retire to enroll in painting and photography workshops. We can’t think of more inspiring surroundings in which to pursue our creative interests.

One of Maine’s finest art galleries, the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, is in a converted firehouse in the middle of the village. Exhibiting work by 300 to 400 living Maine artists, it reportedly attracts more than 14,000 visitors every year. There are scenic views of the harbor, and the gallery’s facility is available for special events. A wedding reception or business gathering held in this aesthetically stunning setting, surrounded by the beautiful artwork, would be a visually memorable occasion.

In addition to being a center for the visual arts, Rockport is also known for its Bay Chamber concerts, which are held during July and August in the restored Opera House and Strand Theatre. Classical music enthusiasts come from all over the state to attend these highly praised performances.

We learn that the village was once one of the nation’s largest producers of limekilns — in fact, we discover three restored limekilns during our walk along the waterfront. In the 19th century, the kilns were used to convert limestone rock into lime used in mortar and plaster. Nearby in Rockport Marine Park, a marble statue of Andre the Seal, the subject of two books and a 1994 movie, looks out across the water. Andre, abandoned as a pup but befriended and trained by a Rockport citizen, became a local celebrity with his entertaining antics in the harbor. Although he died in 1986, he is still fondly remembered by many locals.

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One of our reasons for visiting Rockport is its close proximity to Camden, one of Maine’s quintessential waterfront towns. But having tried once before without success to get a mooring in the inner harbor during the busy summer months, we now take a different tack. We set out for the two-mile walk from Rockport to downtown Camden late in the day, stopping first for directions at Rockport Marine — and are offered a ride by one of its friendly employees who has just finished work.

Dropped off in the middle of town, we walk along the waterfront where we see that mooring and dockage space is indeed at a premium. Camden is one of the most popular Maine ports for summer cruises, and several tall schooners that are part of Maine’s famous Windjammer fleet are berthed here. Everywhere we look, we see a postcard-perfect picture of what the ideal Maine coastal town should look like. Weathered shingle houses and shops with painted white trim overlook the harbor; shop and restaurant signs are hand-carved in wood with gold leaf lettering; classic wooden sloops and yawls with mirrorlike brightwork are tugging at their moorings; and Down East “lobster yachts” with club burgees are taking their vacationing owners out for sunset harbor cruises. Aesthetically, the scene is almost too good to be true.

There’s only one thing left to do to complete our perfect Maine experience this day, so we stop by Cappy’s Chowder House on Main Street and indulge in a bowl of its famous “white, never red” clam chowder before devouring our two-pound lobsters. The small, casual and busy place attracts locals and transients alike.

We now begin our two-mile walk back to Rockport, hoping the exercise will reduce some of the effects of our cholesterol-rich food choices. Following Route 1 most of the way, we arrive back in Rockport Harbor and take our dinghy out to our moored boat just as the last light from the setting sun disappears. Getting out our charts, we begin planning the next part of our virtual cruise, which will include stops in Stonington and Tenants Harbor, Maine, as well as an exploration of Isle au Haut and the Dix Island anchorage.

Our Down East Cruise Continues

We’ve enjoyed our time in Rockport and Camden and will now continue Down East for another week of exploration before heading back down the coast.

Stonington, Deer Isle 44° 09.15’ N 68° 39.75’ W

The town of Stonington has been called Maine’s “frontier town,” and with good reason. Here, the local lobstermen rule, and pleasure boats are more or less tolerated. As such, finding an empty mooring is not easy, as commercial lobster boats (there are reportedly over 300 working lobster boats in the area) have priority. So, we drop our hook just north of the Deer Island Thorofare between red nuns 16 and 18. Because we’re exposed to prevailing southwest winds, we’d get a slip at Billings Marine on nearby Moose Island if we were planning to spend more than one night. We find a long, floating dinghy dock in town and begin our exploration by foot. Years ago Billings did some major mechanical work for us, and so we stopped by to see what was new. This is a huge yard, and with their marine railways and travel lifts, they can handle boats (ships) up to 425 tons. If you ever need work of any kind, this is the place to get it done. Back in town, we stop by the Opera House Arts office to buy tickets to tonight’s jazz concert. Recently, a new digital cinema was installed in this historic building for showing today’s latest movies. We’ll enjoy a light dinner at the Harbor Café before the concert. The next day we head south to Isle Au Haut.

Isle Au Haut – Moores Harbor 44° 03.13' N 68° 38.70' W

Five miles south of Deer Isle, is Isle Au Haut, or “High Island,” half of which is part of Acadia National Park. Because the east coast has no natural harbors we follow the west coast, first trying to enter Duck Harbor. But the tiny anchorage is already packed, so we head into the much larger Moores Harbor. Although open to the southwest wind, we find good holding ground tucked in just north of a large ledge. Landing our dinghy on the beach in the southeast corner, we pick up a trail that leads to the top of Duck Harbor Mountain. Altogether there are over 30-miles of trails on the island, and because it’s difficult to get here compared to the much more popular Mount Desert Island, we see no one during our four-hour hike. Returning to our anchored boat, we are unfortunately introduced to unfriendly locals, as we are circled and buzzed at high speeds by a lobster boat run by young hooligans. The resulting wake is so severe, we nearly fall overboard trying to get back onboard from our dinghy. Not sure whether these guys are trying to show off or are envious of us and frustrated at their own situation, but the message is clear: We’re not welcome. We take the hint and weigh anchor early the next morning. Surely these local young men are in the minority, but we’re anxious to get back to a more civilized part of Maine.

Dix Island – High Island Anchorage 44° 00.75' N 69° 04.00' W

At the north end of the Muscle Ridge archipelago, which is south of Rockland, there is a small, protected anchorage between Dix and High Islands. Leaving Little Green Island to port, we head straight for Birch Island and drop our hook in 15-feet of water. High Island is off to our port and Dix Island is to starboard, but soon the fog rolls in and we nearly lose sight of these little landmarks. Both of these islands were significant quarries back in the 19th century, and we take our dinghy to one of the two granite wharves on High Island. Climbing up, we find a path that leads inland to a water-filled quarry with tall ledges of granite. On nearby Dix Island a dock serves the few residents that live here. Following our guidebook, we land on the beach north of the dock and take the path past a couple of small cottages. We learn that at one time 2,000 workers lived here in more than 150 buildings. Sensing these few residents value their privacy, we return to our boat to watch the fog lift and the sun settle below the island’s profile. The next morning a lobster boat comes by to tend to its pots, and the captain, an older gent, waves a friendly hello.

Tenants Harbor 43° 57.85' N 69° 12.24' W

We’ve now begun our way back down the east coast, and our next stop in Maine will be Tenant’s Harbor, where the number of workboats exceeds that of pleasure craft. As we approach the harbor, we see Tenants Harbor Light to our starboard. Sitting atop Southern Island, it is now owned by artist Jamie Wyeth and has appeared in a number of Wyeth paintings. Before dropping our hook, we head for the fuel dock at Cod End, the shingled building with the red trim on the north side of the harbor. After filling our fuel tanks, we walk up the dock to the take-out market and order a couple cups of chowder to go. Although a number of establishments rent moorings, there’s plenty of room to anchor in the harbor with good protection except from the east. We drop our hook outside the mooring field and enjoy our soup while we watch a number of lobster boats returning with their catch. Looking at our charts, we begin to plot our trip home. Our next featured stop during our virtual one-year East Coast cruise will be Newport, RI, which lies 225 miles from Tenants Harbor. Hoping to arrive in time for the Newport International Boat Show, which opens on September 12th, we have two weeks to cover this distance and revisit some of our favorites stops.

EAT

Cappy's Chowder House Small, casual, and friendly. Excellent chowder, of course, and a good selection of draft beers. No reservations. 1 Main St. Camden, ME. 207-236-2254

Marriner's Try this for breakfast or lunch. Fish and Eggs are one of their specialties. 35 Main St. Camden, ME. 207-236-2647

Long Grain For something different while in New England, try their Asian Fusion and Thai food. Consistently getting rave reviews. Reservations recommended. 31 Elm St. Camden, ME 207-236-9001

Shepherd's Pie Creative menu with a twist. Fun ambience. Nominated for James Beard "Best New Restaurant." 18 Central St. Rockport, ME. 207-236-8500.

The Helm It's back to the basics at this family favorite. Good salad bar and fresh seafood. Camden Rd. Rockport, ME. 207-236-4337

SEE

Center for Maine Contemporary Art Exhibitions and educational programs that advance and promote Maine artists. 162 Russell Ave. Rockport, ME. 207-236-2875

Aldermere Farm Owned and managed by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, this working farm and educational center is one of the world's leading breeders of Belted Galloway cattle. Call for schedule of special events. 70 Russell Ave. Rockport, ME. 207-236-2739

Camden Hills State Park For exercise and spectacular views from up high, 30-miles of hiking trails await you at this beautiful state park. 280 Belfast Rd. Camden, ME 207-236-0849

Prism Glass Gallery If you're an art glass collector, be sure to visit this gallery. Check out Patti Kissinger's work on www.prismglassgallery.com. 297 Commercial St. Rockport, ME. 207-230-0061.

DOCK

Rockport Marine Maintains about 30 moorings in the harbor as well as limited dock space for transients. Yacht restoration and wooden boat building at its finest. 1 Maine St. Rockport, ME 207-236-9651

Rockport Boat Club A private club to promote youth sailing programs, it also offers adult sailing programs. Run by volunteers, the club has a small floating dock available to members for loading and unloading. For more information, call 207-236-4900

Rockport Harbormaster 200-feet of dock space with 10-feet of water at MLW is available for transients at a cost of $2/ft. No electricity at docks at press time, but plans are to have it by summer of 2014. Showers, bathroom and laundry facilities. Call on VHF 16 or 207-236-0676.

Anchoring in the outer harbor is possible, but depths are 50-feet or more. You’ll be exposed to south winds, and it’s a long dinghy ride to shore. We recommend getting a mooring from Rockport Marine or asking the harbormaster if there is room at the public dock.