Southwest Harbor Surprises!

Perry Creek to SW Harbor

Thursday (7/15) – Southwest Harbor, (Mount Desert Island – MDI), Maine

We left Perry Creek right at 8:00, and could easily see the fog on Seal Cove.  We knew we would have it for some of today’s journey to Southwest Harbor, but we had hoped it would clear by the time we reached the Western Way Inlet so we could see the beautiful mountains on Mount Desert Island. 

Morning fog in creek

We left Seal Cove and turned east into the Fox Islands Thoroughfare and continuing through the eastern part of Penobscot Bay; all of it in thick fog with little visibility.  We entered the Deer Isle Thoroughfare and passed the town of Stonington to our left (barely visible) and Crotch Island (where there is still an active quarry) to our right. Stonington is a lobsterman’s town and there are not a lot of places for cruisers to stay. Additionally, there are stories of lobster boats intentionally causing uncomfortable wakes and scary close range passes near boats in order to discourage anchoring in the nearby coves. For this reason we have never stopped here to explore the town.

We continued our path east in fog, dodging the numerous lobster posts all over the place.  We left the Deer Isle Thoroughfare and crossed Jericho Bay, again in thick fog. Thankfully, there was also little wind and the bay was fairly flat.  On a clear day we would be able to see the northern shore of Swan’s Island (and parts of Acadia National Forrest on the island), but not today.

Finally, we passed Bass Harbor at the southern end of Mount Desert Island and rounded the corner into Western Way Inlet.  The fog had lessened a bit, but we could only see part of the beautiful mountains that make up this great place.  Several houses along the coastline (in the town of Seawall) were now visible, and fortunately, the fog was mostly gone by the time we approached the village of Southwest (SW) Harbor.  Here we had a reservation at Dysart’s Great Harbor Marina and contacted them for our slip assignment, to get fuel, and for a pump-out.

As we approached the fuel dock we were surprised to see a Fleming 55 that we knew from our 2017 and 2019 trips, but in Solomons, MD. We waved as we passed, and as we were fueling up, Mark (“Ravello”) came by with his visiting grandson to see us and to say hello.  We agreed to connect up later in the day, or definitely over the weekend as they are staying here all season.

After our fuel up, pump out and getting our boat settled into the slip, we went to check in with the dockmaster.  Mark had been in touch with the dinghy repair people and wanted to schedule the use of the marina courtesy pickup truck for early tomorrow morning. We needed to be in Ellsworth when they opened at 8:00 am, in order to give them the maximum amount of time to repair the dinghy, without causing delays in our trip.  The drive was about 45 minutes, and we would have taken it today, but the only major highway into town was closed as they were moving a house and it wouldn’t reopen in time for us to get there.  This is what life is like here in Maine.

Wanting to stretch her legs and knowing we needed milk, Denise opted to go into the village (half-mile away) to get some.  Unfortunately, she discovered the town market (Sawyer’s) was closed.  It has been sold and the new owners have not yet reopened; Covid being a contributing factor. She walked around town a bit doing reconnaissance shopping and seeing what changed since 2019, then returned to the boat empty-handed. 

Meanwhile, Mark had been on conference calls and coordinating the logistics of the dinghy repair. He was able to gain the assistance of the dockmaster and his assistant to help him get the dinghy engine off the dinghy, as well as taking the dinghy itself off the boat and hauling it up the ramp.  They then hoisted it in the pickup truck and set it up for us to take to Ellsworth in the morning.  The marina also agreed to store the engine for us while the dinghy is in repair, meaning we will have to come back to SW Harbor to get it once we get the dinghy back from the repair.

It had been a busy day and the fog came in during the late afternoon.  We were not in the mood to go out and decided to eat dinner on the boat and stay in for the rest of the night.

Friday (7/16) – Southwest Harbor (MDI), Maine

We were up early and saw how socked in with fog the entire harbor was. But that didn’t stop life on the wharf of this working marina.  There were two flatbed semi-trucks on the wharf delivering many plastic Gaylords of feed for local area fish farms. They unloaded them onto the wharf and queued them to later be loaded onto a work boat that would take them to their destination. Denise talked with one of the truck drivers and learned all about the Canadian company that owned the feed processor, the fish farms, and the distribution of this circular supply chain.

Around 7:15 am we got the Dysart’s truck and headed to Ellsworth.  In keeping with typical small-town Maine, the keys were in the truck, and (thankfully) so was our dinghy. We had an uneventful drive to Ellsworth and literally arrived as they were opening the door.  We dropped off the dinghy and Mark discussed the expected date for it to be done. We then drove to the town dock & marina, where we will be staying next weekend, and where we will retrieve the repaired dinghy. We wanted to check it out and make sure it was as advertised. Even though it was early we met one of the part-time dockmasters and were satisfied the accommodations would work.

Taking advantage of having transportation, and because we were in a big town (comparatively speaking), we went to the grocery store and stocked up on some much needed items, including milk.  The Hannaford’s grocery store here is bigger than the one in Bar Harbor and we were anxious to get a few things for the pantry.

We headed back to SW Harbor and arrived in time for low tide, just before 11:00 am.  This meant the floating docks were much lower in the water from the marina wharf, and the attached ramp was quite steep.  Mark took the dock cart full of groceries and very carefully lowered it down the ramp, all the while Denise was praying the cart didn’t get away from him and all the food ended up in the water.  Fortunately, the fear was unfounded and Captain Mark did a stellar job of getting it all to the boat without incident.

Once all the groceries were stowed, we walked through town and all the way across the harbor to Beal’s Lobster Pound for lunch. We had been craving lobster rolls and didn’t mind the pleasant mile walk. And here we got sticker shock once again.  Our two-beer and two-lobster roll lunch cost us $96 (with tip).  Yup, a full lobster dinner was only $29 but the rolls were $32.  We later were told that due to the closing of the Canadian border, the US is providing all the lobsters to both the US markets (restaurants, etc.) as well as offshore; China is the #1 recipient of these fine crustaceans.  Adding to the spike in demand is a shortage of labor to “pick” the cooked lobster meat out of the shells for the rolls, chowders, etc. and thus driving up the price for this commodity.  Ah the laws of supply and demand!

At Beals Lobster Pound
Expensive but delicious lobster rolls at Beals

We returned to the boat and figured we would finish up our Friday with doing work and other related tasks.  While we were concentrating on this activity another boater approached us and asked if we really were from Winter Park, FL.  He introduced himself as “Gator” (“Side Tracked”) and mentioned he is from Orlando. He had brought his boat in while we were at lunch, and was now side-tied on the dock behind our boat.  A quick conversation ensued and before long we learned that Gator’s younger brother (Tommy) was in Denise’s class at BMHS.  Additionally, he is a Looper and had his Great Loop impacted this year by the closed Canadian Border. What a surprise!  We chatted for a while and agreed to get together; he and his wife (Lisa) wanted to pick our brain as they were going to modify their cruising plans and wanted input on Maine and the Hudson River in NY. One thing led to another and neither of us were available for the rest of the day, so it would have to wait until Saturday.

So now here is a very funny coincidence about our boating life:  Over the last few years we have met 3 older brothers of Denise’s Bishop Moore High School classmates. Mind you, the graduating class was less than 200 people.  In 2017 we met Mark and his wife Jenay (“Ravello”) in Solomon’s, MD; the brother to classmate Jim. In 2019, we met Ken & Celeste (“God’s Grace”) at Shady Harbor Marina in NY; the brother to Captain Barry.  And now we meet Gator, and his wife Lisa; brother to Tommy.  What an incredible small world!

Early in the evening we walked into the village of SW Harbor for dinner. We wanted casual and based on a local’s recommendation we went into “Hearth & Harbor” to taste their wood fired pizza.  It was good and the ingredients were very fresh with an incredibly thin crust.  We liked it our meal and topped it off with an ice cream cone; a first in a long time.  There are some things that just taste better in Maine.

We walked back to the boat and spent the rest of the evening watching “Clarkson’s Farm”, a hilarious British series on Prime; our first streaming or watching of any tv in a very long time.

Saturday (7/17) – Southwest Harbor (MDI), Maine

For Denise, the day started with a run around SW Harbor, heading out past the town of Manset. Her route took her on the southern rim of SW Harbor before turning around and heading back towards the village, and then the marina.

Once back on the boat, and after we were done with breakfast, we took to doing routine chores, including doing some laundry (Denise) and washing the boat (Mark).  Later that morning, Denise got together with Gator and Lisa (“Side Tracked”) before they had to leave to take Lisa to the airport as she was flying home. She suggested places this Maine first-timer might want to stop, and educated them on some other benefits of the ALGCA and MTOA memberships we both shared. Then they left and Denise returned to the boat for lunch aboard.

After lunch, we spent some time deciding where we were going to go in the next few days.  Now that we are without a dinghy, we had to choose locations where we could stay at a marina, in a harbor with a launch, or be confined to the boat. For safety reasons this last option was not a real consideration.  We had been wanting to go 50 miles more Downeast to Rogue and Mistake Islands, where we had plans to overnight in 2019 on our way home from Canada, but weather kept us from that stop.  Now, it looked like we would once again miss the opportunity to head that way.  We did decide to go to Winter Harbor on the Schoodic Peninsula (not to be confused with the Winter Harbor on Vinalhaven Island), another place we had hoped to stop in 2019.  The Winter Harbor Yacht Club had a launch, so we put that down as our next destination, some 11 miles to the east.

Over the last few weeks we had been in communication with Looper friend, Herb (“Phantom”) whom we’ve known since 2019, and had drinks on his “back porch” at Croton-on-Hudson in June.  He was in Bar Harbor and wanted us to visit him.  Since the free Island Explorer bus was not running from SW Harbor and had limited routes this year (thanks to Covid), the only way to do that was to take our boat to Bar Harbor and get a slip at the town marina.  So we put that on the agenda as well, opting for additional nights.  With a tentative schedule for the next few days, we now relaxed a bit and watched all the boat activity in the marina.

Over the last two days, we saw a few large yachts come into the marina and we wanted to check them out. In the late afternoon we went for a walk around the docks. First stopping by to talk with Jenay (“Ravello”) as they had returned from their overnight adventure, but Mark was not on the boat.  We chatted with her for a while and made plans to meet up with Mark on Sunday after we returned from mass to share cruising destinations with each other.

We then went down to check out the real big boats, including the “Marie” whom we had seen in Halifax, NS in 2019. We later learned that the owner (Mr. Butts) CEO and President of HEB grocery chain owns another boat as well, a sailing yacht (“Rebecca”) which was docked just outside of SW Harbor. He also owns a Bombardier Challenger 300 private jet. You can read all about him here

Another boat observed was a large black and gray vessel that had initially docked at the end of our pier, but was now one pier over.  This yacht (“Annie S. Pierce”) was originally a fishing boat, then sold to a foreign government for military use, and most recently purchased by a single owner.  The boat has no furnishings on it and will spend the next 5 months in port getting it all outfitted for the new owners.  There currently is a crew of 5 and they are still trying to hire more. 

Both these boats are so very different from the other boats that are in the marina, which are mostly production boats by known or local boat manufactures. It is so fun to come here and see so many different types. 

By now we were hungry and it was time to eat.  Since we had not prepared anything for dinner, we went to the “Upper Deck”, a restaurant located at the top of the hill just outside of the marina.  Since we could not get a seat in the dining room we sat at the bar for dinner and ended up talking with the bar tender.  She barely had time to talk as they were short-handed.  She told us how overwhelmed with the crowds the entire staff has been this year, and can’t get help. It was no longer fun to come to work and they all looked tired on this Saturday night.  We left there and went back to the boat for the night.

Sunday (7/18) – Southwest Harbor, (MDI), Maine to Winter Harbor (Schoodic Peninsula), Maine

It had rained during the night and was forecasted to rain all day, so we had made arrangements to use the Dysart’s truck to go to 8:00 am mass. However, the truck was not at the office when we went to get it.  Fortunately, we had planned for this possibility and decided to walk to the church, even though it was a mile away, along the same road Denise had run the day before. Mark grabbed the umbrella just in case it started to rain.  We were no further than the top of the hill of the marina parking lot when Mark (“Ravello”) drove up and offered a ride to church. Since they are at SW Harbor for the whole season, they rented a car and he was kind enough to give us a lift. What a nice surprise!

We attended mass at St. Peter Catholic Church, one of 3 churches in the MDI area that offer a single mass at each site during the summer season, and the same visiting priest rotates between them; the other two are at Northeast (NE) Harbor and Winter Harbor on the Schoodic Peninsula. It’s a small community-oriented church and welcoming to the summer visitors as well.  They were finally serving coffee again in this post-pandemic period and wanted everyone to stop by after mass.  Having already had our breakfast, we passed on the coffee and since it was such it was a short distance, we started to walk back to the marina.  Five minutes later it started to sprinkle and we were thankful for the umbrella, but it was tough going on the small shoulder of the road with no sidewalk.  And then just like that, Mark (“Ravello”) appeared with his car to take us back to the marina.  He surprised us with his kindness and then apologized for his timing; he didn’t expect the mass to be so expedient and hoped to catch us right as we got out.  We were so grateful to him for this gesture and insisted he come by the boat; even though we were initially intending to leave for Winter Harbor right after mass.

Mark came by the boat and we spent about an hour going through charts, making suggestions to him about places in Maine, and he sharing places in Connecticut and Massachusetts. It was fun spending this time while also getting caught up on each other’s lives, including his brother Jim (Denise’s former classmate).  They will be returning to the Chesapeake in the fall and spend the next few years boating there again.  We said good-bye and hope to catch up with him & Jenay one more time before we leave Maine.

Here are some other pictures from SW Harbor and the area around the marina:

Downtown SW Harbor
Little Free Library in SW Harbor

After Mark left we readied the boat and left for what should have been an hour (at most) cruise to Winter Harbor.

Our path took us out of SW Harbor passing the entrance to NE Harbor and Mount Desert Island to our North, and Sutton Island to our South.  The rain held off, but it remained cloudy with a bit of fog as we slowly made our way east across Frenchmen’s Bay.  Fortunately, the waves were nothing more than swells and they were not large at all. Our course took us just south of Egg Rock Lighthouse and through a narrow channel between Spectacle Island and Turtle Island.  On an otherwise clear day this would have been beautiful cruising grounds. But with overcast sky, fog and mist in the air it was tedious, took us longer than planned, and the pictures didn’t turn out so great.

We rounded Grindstone Point and headed towards Sand Cove, where the Winter Harbor Yacht Club (WHYC) is located and here the rain really started to come down.  We made contact with WHYC to secure the location of the mooring ball we had been assigned for our two-night stay. At the same time a sailboat was also arriving and to our amazement, the young gal working at the club came out in the pouring rain and used the launch to show us both to our respective spots. We secured our boat to the mooring and told the launch driver we would check in on Monday morning. Given it was cold and rainy and would be so for the rest of the day, we had no plans to leave the warmth of our Island Office.

We spent the rest of the day reading our books and working to keep the boat dry. With all the rain we had today, a few minor leaks required some attention.  There are a few small spots around the window track on the starboard side which we have band-aided in the past. However, they are getting worse and will eventually need a bigger fix, but not before we get home from this adventure.  The other leak is coming from the mast area on the cabin top and we have fixed this one once before. But like all things on a boat, it requires constant diligence and attention to keep it all in order. In the meantime it is more of a nuisance and requires placement of towels and rags to absorb the water until the rain stops and it finally dries out.

Tomorrow we will go on an adventure into the Village in Winter Harbor, and then on to Schoodic Point.

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