Maine Cruise – Days 13-14 – Merchant Row & Isle Au Haut

Our visit to Wooden Boat ended in a very special way.  We had a morning visit from the crew of the American Tug Ancient Mariners, which had also spent the evening at Wooden Boat.  Always interested in something new and different, they came by in the morning to see our Tug.

Herb & Ruth from Ancient Mariners visit Esmeralde.

Herb and Ruth are a delightful couple and we enjoyed their visit immensely.  What makes them special is their joie de vivre, which I’m certain has quite a lot to do with the fact that they are still out cruising, as a couple on their own boat without crew, at the young ages of 99 and 91, respectively.  They are not shy about sharing their age, and believe me when I say that you would guess them to be significantly younger.

Ancient Mariners heads out into Eggemoggin Reach.

It wasn’t lost on us that when they knocked on our hull just before 8:00 am, their day was well under way while we were still in our PJ’s and having our first cup of coffee.  I think there’s a lesson in there somewhere.  We had fun talking about American Tugs and comparing our boats.  Herb is now thinking he might want to trade his boat (a 34) in for one of ours (a 395).  Go for it!

After their visit we got ourselves in gear, walked the dogs, and decided to wander off to Merchant Row, one of our favorite cruising destinations.  This is a delightful archipelago of islands between Deer Isle and Isle au  Haut, most of which are uninhabited and preserved by such organizations as the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Acadia National Park and various departments of the State of Maine.

Anchored in the cove between Round and McGlathery Islands, with Merchant Row in the distance.

The day was calm, clear and dry.  The trip was less than ten miles so we were picking our anchorage before noon.  Our choice was our favorite little cove between Round Island and McGlathery Island.  When we arrived there was just one boat.  We nosed our way deep into the cove to the little hole that carries eight feet at low and gives plenty of swinging room if you get there first and anchor in the center.  We plunked the anchor away from the handful of lobster pots (more on that later) which clutter most every anchorage in Maine, and settled in.

Anchored between Round and McGlathery.  Low tide.

Arriving early gave us a lazy day of hanging on the hook (without internet), reading, and taking the dogs ashore on the two islands.  It is a lovely spot, with views of Merchant Row and Mt. Desert to the north and east, and Isle au Haut to the south.  The water is cold and clear, constantly flushed by the tide.  Ospreys send their piercing cry in the evening and morning, and the occasional seal will pop its head up to say hello.

Another perfect Flybridge Evening.

Naturally we enjoyed a dee-liteful FlyBridge Evening, and then grilled supper on the barbecue as the sun disappeared behind Round Island.  It was a flat calm night and we slept well.

Until we were awakened at 6:00 am by foul language and a roaring diesel.  The local lobsterman apparently did not like yachties.  We couldn’t understand much of what he said, but we heard enough to know it wasn’t nice.  We really don’t know why he was so unhappy with us.  We were not interfering with any pots, but he was very nasty and did everything he could to make himself clear, including hitting the throttle as hard as possible multiple times at very close range.  Yikes.  We have heard unpleasant stories about Stonington lobstermen.  Now we have one of our own.

It was a lazy trip on the Flybridge as we headed towards Isle au Haut, leaving Merchant Row in our wake.

We were up, so we took the dogs ashore, had some breakfast.  By the time we were cleaned up the fog, which had been very thick during the lobsterman tirade, had lifted nicely.  The views opened up and we were ready to move.  Destination: Isle au Haut, less than 10 miles away and another favorite.  We hauled up the anchor and chugged off at low-cruise speed, picking our way through the very thickly-set pots and enjoying the Merchant Row scenery.

By 9:30 we were approaching Isle au Haut.  It was just after dead-low.  We went in through the dredged northern channel, which is very narrow and very shallow.  Only 5′ deep at dead low.

Headed for Isle au Haut, the fog that had shrouded us in the morning still lurked over the islands to the south.

We’ve never done it before thanks to deep-draft sailboat keels, so it was kind of a fun change.  We could see the rocky shallows close aboard on both sides, but made it through without incident.  As we approached the mooring field, a cruising boat conveniently dropped off one of the rental bouys.  There aren’t many, so we felt lucky.

The island is what you would expect in the way of a coastal Maine lobster community.  There is a year-round population of 75-ish people, which swells in the summer by some additional number of summer residents.  It has been made somewhat famous by Linda Greenlaw‘s best selling book The Lobster Chronicles, and subsequent titles about life on the coast of Maine.

Cutest. Ever.

There is a general store, a gift shop of Maine-made items in a shack set back from the road, and a small take-out shack called “The Lobster Lady” featuring lobster roles, sandwiches, and her Mom’s home made pies.  It also has the cutest little post office in the entire U.S. of A.

Bruce and Mattie head down the town pier towards the dinghy dock with groceries from the General Store.  Esmeralde is moored in the Thoroughfare, with Kimball Island in the background.

The harbor is actually a thoroughfare between the main island and adjacent Kimball Island, which appears to be private.  Aside from lobstering, the main activity is hiking, thanks to the 60-ish percent of the island that is part of Acadia National Park.  Access to the park property is limited, largely because of it’s remote location and as well as the fact that a boat ride is the only way to get to it.  This keeps the trails very peaceful and, compared to the very busy Mt. Desert part of Acadia, little-used.

I decided that this was a great opportunity to stretch our legs and do some exploring, so I suggested we leave the dogs on the boat and walk the Duck Harbor Trail.  Bruce agreed to come along, a decision he came to regret a couple of hours later.  I loved the rustic trail through the woods and along the western shore of the island.  Bruce, not so much.

The only photograph I have from our hike on the Duck Harbor Trail.

I had appropriate footwear and the bugs left me alone.  Bruce had less-than-perfect footwear and for whatever reason, the bugs *LOVED* him.  I happily led the way.  Bruce brought up the rear and became increasingly, um, unhappy, exclaiming at one point that he hated “this god-forsaken hell-hole and would never come back.”  (Actually he used worse language but this is a family-friendly blog so I edited it out.)

By the time we got back to the boat seven miles and two hours later, Bruce had mellowed a bit and yes, I think we will return to Isle au Haut, but if we go for a hike Bruce will be more focused in his preparation.  Better footwear and bug spray.

The Flybridge gave us an excellent view of the activity at the town dock.  Here the mailboat, a brand-spanking-new Wesmac 46,  arrives on its afternoon run.

Showers and clean clothes.  And another Flybridge Evening.  It was breezy and chilly, but beautiful.  And we had entertainment.

As I mentioned earlier, there are not many moorings available for visitors.  Those that are available are maintained by individual residents and have plastic bottles on them for the rental fee to be deposited in.  It’s an honor system. When we first visited on our Able Whistler 32 twenty years ago, the mooring fee was $10.  Now it is $30, but the moorings are still in high demand.  They are also very difficult to spot, so it often takes some circling around to either find one, or to determine that none are available.

For those of us who arrive early and are secure, the frustrations of late arrivals can be a spectacle.  This evening did not disappoint, although it was not entirely what one wishes to see.  One particular late arrival was a Sabre 36 with a pair of young men aboard.  They cruised around the small harbor for about half an hour, checking different moorings, picking some up then dropping them.  Eventually they left, headed out the narrow passage towards Laundry Cove, where we assumed they would anchor.

They reappeared about a half an hour later and went through the same exercise of checking for an available and appropriate mooring.  We watched them from our perch on the flybridge, cocktails in hand.  They went ’round and ’round.  At some point we tired of watching, until I happened to glance over and said aloud to myself, “they are on the rocks.”  And then I saw their dinghy, the bow deeply submerged under their transom.  Clearly a case of backing down over the dinghy painter and the predictable consequences.

Version 2
The crew of the Sabre, wet from a failed attempt to free the dinghy from the propeller,  breath a sigh of relief.  The ledges lurk behind them.

Out of nowhere appeared a local lobsterman returning from a day’s work.  Alone on his boat, he quickly worked to take a line from the yachties.  The tide was dropping fast.  It took about fifteen minutes, during which there was definitely some bumping and grinding on the ledge, but he did eventually manage to pull them free.

We had put down our cocktails and hovered nearby in our dinghy in case we could help.  We were able to make things easier for the lobsterman by grabbing a nearby mooring float and handing it to the crew of the disabled Sabre, thus ending the worst of the emergency.  The lobsterman was today’s hero.  We thanked him profusely on behalf of all cruising vessels.

Our lobsters enjoy a quiet moment in our dinghy…

The Sabre still needed help extricating their dinghy from the propeller, so we went off in search of and quickly found a diver, who agreed to get his gear and help cut away the dinghy painter from the propeller.

Steamed lobster, fresh from the lobster boat.

At the same time, we found the hero lobsterman and bought ourselves some dinner.  He brought the lobsters over to us, and dropped them in our dinghy where they could hang out until the water in the pot was boiling.  We enjoyed a simple, fresh and perfect steamed lobster dinner aboard Esmeralde.

Thus our day was book-ended by the morning foul-mouthed-lobsterman and the evening hero-lobsterman.  Contrasts.  A happy ending.







5 thoughts on “Maine Cruise – Days 13-14 – Merchant Row & Isle Au Haut”

  1. What a great post and nice pictures ! I can’t believe Herb & Ruth’s age, I’m wondering is it’s due to sailing American Tug :-), so that will leave you a considerable great deal of coming time aboard Esmeralde. The meal of live Maine lobster aboard was definitely a must.


  2. What an inspiration Herb & Ruth are! Dorsey, you write so well – a pleasure to read (and educational for us). Bruce invited Cathy and I aboard at Mystic Seaport June 25. We’ve pretty much settled on the AT 435 as the right boat for us. Thanks again for that visit – pleasure meeting you.


    1. Hi Howard & Cathy, very exciting that you are settling in on a 435. Wonderful boat. Please keep us posted—we would love to know what you end up doing. Best wishes, Dorsey & Bruce


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