The changing leaves are an ever present reminder that it’s getting colder and our time in Maine is (hopefully not too quickly) coming to a close. Since it seems like Mother Nature will be encouraging our voyage south sometime soon, we recently sat down to make a list of the things that we “absolutely have to see” in Maine before we leave. Strange as it may sound, even this minor amount of planning tends to throw off our cruising style, and we’ve noticed that it’s still just more of a guideline – and not really a rule.
In this general area, we’d picked out three towns we wanted to visit: Belfast, Searsport and Bucksport, each with something unique to offer visitors and all within only several hours of each other. However, the changing leaves were accompanied last week by changing winds as well, and very dramatic changes. Like N at 12 knots changing to SW with gusts of 35. Seemingly every 6 hours. Which makes it a little hard to plan…
When we pulled away from the town dock in Castine Tuesday afternoon, the weather forecast and strong gusts encouraged us to plan a short move to a protected cove across the river from town to anchor for the night. But once we got out on the water, the sun was shining and our spirits were high, so we decided to ignore the chilly gusts and head for Belfast instead. A few hours later, we had the hook down and were on our way to a quick exploration of town before dark. The cruising guide didn’t have a whole lot to say about the small town of Belfast, so we weren’t sure what to expect, but we were pleasantly surprised. In addition to being a great town for visiting boaters, with diesel, water, propane, laundromat and grocery all close-by, we got the impression that this small town of just under 7,000 residents is a really vibrant and involved year-round community. Numerous community bulletin boards were filled with flyers announcing events, meetings, classes, forums and various goings-on. Unique handcrafted benches/sculptures dot the streets and parks and unique shops, (including the oldest shoe store in the US!,) artists’ galleries and trendy restaurants line historic Maine Street. In fact, we later found out that Belfast was listed as one of Budget Travel’s’Top 10 Coolest Small Towns in the US and one of USA Today’s Top Ten Culturally Cool Towns in the US. After a brief look around, we decided we were going to enjoy our time in Belfast.
Good thing, because the next day’s look at the weather didn’t give us confidence in our plans to move anytime soon. Scattered rain, constantly shifting and strong winds and general uncertainty filled the forecast for the next few days. Even though Searsport and Bucksport were each only a short distance away, the task of planning moves that either allowed us to sail or kept us from motoring dead into strong, gusty winds and to have a comfortable, protected anchorage once we reached our destination turned out to be an unsolvable puzzle last week. Not that our anchorage in Belfast was perfect. When the wind shifted around to the south, moving in the opposite direction of the current from the river, we would have an extremely bumpy few hours. Eventually things would calm down and the river would return to a calm, glassy surface. And then the wind would build again from another direction… So it went for our stay in Belfast – bundling up in our foulies in an attempt to stay dry on an exciting dinghy ride to town… returning at sunset on a peaceful, idyllic river. Or vice-versa – we never knew! So we decided to get to know more about Belfast.
Like Castine, Belfast has a self-guided historical walking tour, available at the Belfast Historical Society. We picked up a map, noting that the Historical Society would be open on Friday and Saturday (unfortunately it wasn’t), and began our tour of the town. Belfast has a rich history as a manufacturing and ship-building town, and we enjoyed the tour. The map guided us through the site of old shoe factories, shipyards, theatres, circus visits, historical houses and Perry’s Nut House (apparently a must-see Maine tourist attraction in the 1930’s and still open today, however, it does not make our must-see list.) Afterwards, we browsed in some of the shops, finding many unique items, may of which were hand-crafted in Maine or nearby. Conklin’s Maine Merchantile was one of our favorites, featuring authentic Maine goods from companies the owner knew personally. Chase’s Daily was another particularly cool place. It’s a trendy but unpretentious (and unpretentiously priced) farm to table restaurant, open for breakfast and lunch, with a produce shop in the back. We enjoyed browsing the purple and white carrots, fresh turnips and local greens, but it took some willpower to get out of there without buying one of their delicious-looking cookies. We decided to come back later to supplement our grocery shopping.
As late afternoon approached, we went to Front Street Pub, which was having a buy-one get one 1/2 off burger special. And $3 locally brewed pints. And free pool. Great! So we went in and had a big night (okay, early evening) on the town. Neither Brad nor I have played pool in probably 10 years, so the evening’s recreation was ugly, but fun. Confident in his ability (or my lack therof) Brad wagered a bet: if he won, we would get another round of beer, if I won, we would try the Israeli couscous we’d seen in the bulk section of the local co-op grocery. Each sufficiently motivated, it turned out to be a pretty fair contest, but in the end Brad won. I didn’t cry over couscous into my beer, though. We played a few more rounds and had a great time.
Although it didn’t seem possible, the next day (Thursday), the winds were even stronger, keeping us on the boat for most of the day, still trying to solve the puzzle of where to go next and when, reading and getting some things done on the boat. By afternoon, the winds had abated and we decided to head into town. We’d walked past Marshall Wharf Brewery the day before and knew it was open Thursday through Saturday, so we decided to check it out. They have only been in business about 5 years, but have an impressive list of beers. Sara was really friendly and offered us samples of their current brews, all of which were very good. They have a “Pemaquid Oyster Stout” that’s actually brewed with oysters, i.e. they toss two dozen oysters – shells and all – into the boil! It was really good, and didn’t taste oyster-y in case you were wondering. From there, we hiked up the hill to Hannaford Supermarket to do some grocery shopping.
Friday, morning, we visited the weekly Farmers Market, bought some fresh veggies from “Chase’s Daily” and filled propane. Then we headed back to the boat to prepare to head to the dock for diesel and water. The gusty winds were building (up to 30), but we really needed to get into the dock. It was a little tight, but Brad took us in without incident, and the assistant harbormaster grabbed our lines and thanked us for coming in properly. He said some people come in downwind and downcurrent, and he has to help them when they become pinned on the docks and the other boats. After a lengthy visit, we are now filled to the brim with diesel, water and gas for the dinghy.
The winds now behind us, we then took a short but very chilly trip over to Searsport. There were freeze warnings for Friday night, but we stayed warm and toasty, and we enjoyed exploring Searsport over the weekend. Unfortunately we wouldn’t make it to Bucksport, we decided there were other places that we want to see before our time runs out.