Thursday, September 24, 2015

A Month on the Coast of Maine

In 2013 we biked in Europe and the next year in Maine.  This year's theme is "the best of the last two years," and it was now time to head "Down East."  It was logistically challenging, but it all went smoothly.  We had breakfast in Reykjavik and lunch admiring the shrinking glaciers of Greenland from 38,000 feet above.  By mid-afternoon we and our luggage were on a Trailways bus from Logan Airport to the Portland Transit Center.  There's a Clarion Hotel we've used before right next door, a nice Italian restaurant down the street, life was good.

Next morning it was 100 yards back to the Transit Center, where the Amtrak Downeaster picked us up and delivered us 45 minutes later to the center of Brunswick, ME.  We rolled the two 23 kg suitcases containing our tandem, our panniers balanced on top, down Maine (sic) Street to a hair salon for much-needed haircuts, then back up the street to the supermarket.  The manager allowed us to park our bags while we dropped a few hundred dollars on groceries for the next two weeks, we called a cab, and after a 20-minute taxi ride we and our things were on the front doorstop of Sagadahoc Cabin in Georgetown ME, our home for the next two weeks.

Our cabin is one of nine at the Back River Bend Marina.  We stayed here twice last year, one week with friends and one week by ourselves, which you can revisit at and  We'll try to not duplicate the scenes from those accounts, which pretty well explain in word and photo why Back River was one of our favorite stops last year.

Our cabin has a wonderful screened-in porch where we ate all our meals while admiring the salt marsh and Back River in the distance, as well as several nice sunsets.

Back River isn't a true river but rather a tidal estuary connecting tidal Hockomock Bay with a tidal section of the Kennebec River.  Tides are all-important in determining which way you're going to paddle each day, but wind also has to be factored in.   Tides were perfect for going south the first few days of our stay, but rain and wind kept us in the cabin for the most part.  This wasn't altogether a bad thing, as our brains had some time zone adjustments to make, and it gave Jeff time to finish blogging about the European half of our trip.  And we did get out in the canoe twice to explore the salt marshes near the cottages, in between rain fronts.

We had missed the tides for going south and had a day when the tides times were awkward for either direction, so we biked into Brunswick to visit the Bowdoin College Art Museum  and to pick up a few more groceries on the way home.  The museum had a wonderful exhibit of paintings depicting night scenes, and it was exciting to see how artists met the challenge in so many different ways.  Unfortunately, because the paintings were on loan from so many different museums and private collectors, they had a blanket ban on photography.  

By now the tide times favored trips north to Hockomock Bay, and who are we to mess with tide or time?  The winds were also favorable in that they stayed mostly from the north.  By starting early we could paddle against gentle winds, then ride them back after they gained strength during the day.  That was the theory, but some days the wind turned in the afternoon to give us a head wind each direction.  We often paddle at about 3 mph in still air and water, and it's obviously more fun to go 4 mph with a tailwind that 2 mph fighting a headwind, but it's not the end of the world.

Biking in this area is so very different from what we've been doing in Europe -- hills, car traffic, no shoulders on the roads, and forget about separate bike paths.  But it is terribly scenic, and in any event our bike is our only transportation, so we braved the challenges and rode 14 mi. r/t to Five Islands.  This is a lobster shack that looks out, imagine that, over five islands, and the lobsters are as fresh as they can be.  In fact, a lobsterman was bringing strings of floating cages filled with them around to the end of the pier where they were hoisted to our lobster shack and to a truck fitted with saltwater tanks for transport to other nearby restaurants.  Back in the shack we selected two lobsters, and a few minutes later they were fully cooked for us, complete with drawn butter on the side.  Hard work, as these were some very hard shelled lobsters, but oh, so tasty.

After two weeks at Back River Bend, we moved on to our other most favorite cabin from last year, "Moot Point."  It sits on the shore of Linekin Bay in the town of Boothbay Harbor, and gets its name from the fact that it was built for one lawyer, then sold to another.  It's a gorgeous cabin, which you can see photos of in last year's blog post at  

There's a new eating spot in town, Shannon's Unshelled, and it only sells two items: lobster rolls, and little bags of potato chips.  But oh, what good rolls!  Each one has at least as much lobster meat as a complete lobster, but with no wresting match between you and the lobster shell.  We stayed at Moot Point two weeks, and dined at Shannon's twice. Loved every bite.

Boothbay has a wonderful organization called BRLT, the Boothbay Region Land Trust.  Over the years it has acquired a dozen and a half properties it is conserving, but also keeping open to the public.  We hiked in four of them, enjoying photographing mushrooms, hiking to sea views, and exploring two beaver ponds.  One is long abandoned and has become a meadow, while the other is very much alive:  that's the beaver lodge in the center of the pond in one photo, and some of the stumps where they have been active recently.

The real charm of Moot Point is the canoeing.  The cabin is almost three miles north of Spruce Point, where Linekin Bay opens out to the Atlantic and a canoeist's only realistic options are to follow the shore to the right or the left.  Here's the view two miles from the opening.  When we were here last year, we made repeated attempts to paddle beyond it, all doomed to failure by strong southwest winds and in two instances by ocean swell that lifted us up and down a few feet at a time.

This year was very different, with no big storms at sea so no significant ocean swell.  Better yet, on four different days the wind was light enough for us to break out of Linekin Bay and explore beyond.  Here are a few views of Boothbay Harbor, which we visited twice.  The derelict has been anchored there for 4 years.  The owner keeps saying he's going to repair it and put it out to sea, but hasn't.  The small cruise ship is quite the opposite, it appears once a week and brings all sorts of cash into the local economy as the passengers go off on various excursions.  Not sure how the ship even gets customers, since they charge from $560 to $760 per person per day for a week of cruising the Maine coast, but the boat keeps returning full of passengers for several weeks every Spring and Fall.

Canoeing on tidewater is an interesting sport.  Physically it's not overly hard, so long as you're wired, as cyclists are, for prolonged steady exercise.  You do need to tolerate rocking around from waves and swell and to not freak out when a speedboat's wake comes at you.  And you need good nautical charts, which you can print at home now from the Internet, and know how to use them.  But the rewards in a place like this are great. There's scenery aplenty, both landward and seaward.

Some of the best scenery in Maine is in narrow coves, like this one just left of Linekin Bay.

For a different perspective, we took a tour boat on a three hour run from Boothbay Harbor to Bath, on the Kennebec.  We passed numerous lighthouses, including Cuckolds Light just off the coast, and the next one on the Kennebec.

Partway up the Kennebec we passed an eagle nest.  This year's fledgling was still hanging around.

The two active osprey nests near Moot Point were both empty by the time we got there Labor Day weekend, but we did find an osprey hanging around another one our tour boat passed.  We also went by an osprey nest on a buoy inhabited not by an osprey, but by a gull and a cormorant!

Bath is home to the Maine Maritime Museum and to BIW, Bath Iron Works.  The former is on the site of a shipyard that built some of the largest wooden ships ever launched in the U.S.  The biggest was the Wyoming, and the sculpture shows us how big.  The BIW has been building warships for the Navy for a long time, and is still at it.  Those are 3 destroyers under way.  The odd shape of the two outer ones is because they are being built with no vertical parts, and are therefore very hard to "see" with radar, since radar beams bounce out to space, not back to the enemy's radar device.

After the Kennebec we turned into the Sasanoa River, actually an alternate passage for some of the Kennebec's water to reach the ocean, and through Upper Hell Gate.  It's a narrow passage with strong swirling currents that are known to spin some boats right around, but we did fine.  We ended with a trip past a bridge that swung open for us.

Moot Point was a great home for a week last year and two weeks this, but future visits are unlikely as owners Jim and Sally have it on the market.  However we've become friends with this charming couple and will definitely stop by to visit (their summer home is across the street) next time we're in Boothbay.  We'll close with this nice shot they took of us as we headed off to our next stop.  We have two 1-week stays at freshwater lakes coming up, so check back in about two weeks to see what lake canoeing has been like this Fall in Maine.