After three nights in Camden we were ready to shove off and explore. The weather was not playing our game. As we returned to the boat from walking the dogs in the morning, still tossing about different destination options, the fog settled in as thick as ever. Our last choice was to stay one more day to wait out the weather, but several phone calls later we knew that was not an option: Camden was booked solid. We had to go. Fog or not.
Thankfully we had Rody and his x-ray goggles, and good electronics. Belfast would make a good destination, one that we enjoy, and one that also offered a relatively easy ride in pea soup. Rick Bates, Maine sailing pal of some 20 years who owns one of the famous line of Appledore schooners, decided to jump on for the ride. Watch out sailing friends: this power boat thing can be contagious.
The fog was Dense.Dense.Dense. It was every bit as bad as the day we arrived, and being driven up the bay by the persistent southeast wind. Rick was helpful getting us out of the harbor, as his local eyes could pick the open channel through the moored boats better than we could. After that, other than a few lobster boats at the entrance around the breakwater, we had a clean ride with few distractions. The electronics seemed to be doing some funky things at first but we were able to get it all sorted out.
Rick told stories most of the way up the bay and kept us properly entertained: a delightful shipfellow. The fog scaled up conveniently a few miles outside the approach to the Passagassawakeag River (say that three times fast) and Belfast so we had nice views of the river and town.
The town of Belfast has done an exceptional job building out and staffing a wonderful waterfront operation. It’s one reason we like visiting. A good dock facility, a wide, friendly, professional and helpful staff, and convenient, excellent parks and walking paths, all right in the heart heart of town.
The harbormaster and his mates gave us a bit of confusing information about our slip, and that, along with the ebb tide and a very wide catamaran that blocked our approach, made the docking maneuvers rather dicey. Bruce threaded the needle perfectly and we came alongside without a scratch.
Rick’s wife Robin met us at the dock. She is already an experienced and admitted power-boater and immediately saw the charms of the pilot house and flybridge. What took the rest of us so long to figure it out?
We had a chilly but pleasant lunch on the town landing at the Nautilus, then Rick and Robin were on their way. I spent the afternoon wandering around the interesting shops, exploring the excellent food co-op to plan for stocking up, and generally enjoying the ambience. For dinner, we enjoyed a terrific meal on board of grilled local scallops we had picked up in Camden, and green beans straight from Otis ‘n Lucy’s (otherwise known as Bob & Julie’s) garden in Rockport.
When we first visited Belfast four or five years ago, it was clearly a town in transition. Half run-down and stressed, and half up-and-coming. The two sides were colliding, as tourists had to step around the homeless begging for change and tidy upscale shops were nestled alongside run-down dilapidated buildings. Front Street Shipyard was under construction, the town landing and Harbormaster’s facilities were in place and running smoothly, and there was a brand new Harborwalk that somehow tied everything together and gave it promise.
We liked it then, and like it better now. The roughest edges have been smoothed over but it retains an eclectic charm and cultural independence that is both inviting and unique. Unlike so many waterfronts, where private property chokes off public access to the water (think Newport, RI), almost all of the Belfast waterfront is not only publicly-accessible, but is improved by the Belfast Common, Steamboat Landing, Heritage Park, City Landing, a large public boat ramp, and it is all tied together by the Harbor Walk. Excellent planning and execution.
Belfast was originally settled in the 1770s and was built around the shipbuilding, timber and agricultural industries. The community has tended well to its history.
New this visit was the 2.2-mile Rail Trail that connects to the Harbor Walk and runs north along the shores of the river. This is a terrific new asset that I enjoyed immensely, a lovely wide shady pathway inviting walkers, runners, bikers and wheelchairs.
Belfast has a good cross-section of dining options covering American breakfasts to organic dining and Laotian and Thai take-out, and everything in-between. We elected to return to Delvino’s, after enjoying excellent meals there in the past. We were disappointed, and wish we had tried one of the other options such as the popular Neapolitan pizza at Meanwhile In Belfast, or even the pub-grub favorite, Rollie’s. Next time.
We spent two nights in Belfast. The first, of course, was damp and gray after our foggy trip from Camden. A front came through that night bringing rain, wind and thunder, and blustery partly sunny skies the next morning. At first we thought two nights were a mistake as it seemed that first day was going to be a good cruising day, but the wind picked up steadily all morning and by noon it was cranking a pretty solid 20 knots. Not an impossible day on the water, but not exactly a relaxing one. A mayday call erupted from a 30-foot sailboat that lost its rig out on the bay. We were happy to be tucked in enjoying Belfast.
Before leaving on Monday morning we had a date with a diver. If you ever need one in the Belfast area, give Bob Winslow a call at Bob Winslow’s Diving Service. He is a terrific guy. We had detected a vibration in the drive train and, this being Maine and all, we wanted to make sure we hadn’t snagged something that was hanging on our prop. We were clean, but Bob did see some minor marks indicative of a possible snag and grab. Once we were under way we found that all vibration was gone. Self-cleaned, perhaps.
It was a lovely cool clear summer day with a building southerly. We made a leisurely pace and wandered over towards Castine and tucked in to run close along the Cape Rosier shore, then turned up into the Egg-a-muffin (or Eggemoggin, more correctly) Reach. We had thought about stopping in Buck’s Harbor for the night, but it was only noon and too nice a day to stop, so we passed in through Buck’s then proceeded on down The Reach, under the Deer Isle bridge, and on to Wooden Boat. We picked up a CCA guest mooring adjacent to wooden boat and took the pups in for a walk to see the classes in session and visit the store.
Wooden Boat is always a great stop. It is the home of Wooden Boat Magazine, the Wooden Boat School, and the Wooden Boat Store. The waterfront has a substantial dock and boat house, off of which lies a mooring field and anchorage full of classic wooden craft that are a pleasure to look at. On a sunny evening these craft set sail and it’s a fun sight as they dash around the bay and Reach.
Up the hill at the Boat House, you can peer into the windows and open bays and watch the classes in session as they build a variety of small craft. There’s always someone to chat with about some interesting project or boat building challenge. We always pop into the store to chat with the staff and other guests, and poke through the merchandise.
Because our Pepper isn’t up to long walks any more, we stayed on campus, but for those interested in a good hike, it’s a nice walk up to Brooklin where there is a classic old Maine general store, and the food at the Brooklin in is apparently quite good.
A little extra walking (or even a short dinghy ride from Wooden Boat) will get you to the famous Brooklin Boat Yard, where classic meets modern in the boat building world. Brooklin is also home of E.B. White, author of the acclaimed classic Charlotte’s Webb. Although we have never been there, E.B. White’s home on the eastern side of Brooklyn is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Back on board we grilled some locally raised pork chops and sautéed some spiralized zucchini (from the gardens of AT friends Larry and Fidelis) with olive oil, onion, garlic, spinach, basil, mint and fresh Bulgarian feta from the Belfast co-op. There is simply nothing like fresh, local food prepared simply at home — or afloat. We went to bed happy.
The next morning, before leaving Wooden Boat, we had a visit from a very special couple, but I will leave that for the next post.