Demi-Downeast: Bangor to Belfast While Not Being French
I love Maine, but I live in Florida and spent the past 15 years cruising down island.
Before that, thanks to my newspaper’s liberal vacation policy, I spent weeks every year heading down and east from my homeport of Newburyport, Massachusetts. I like to joke that I spent 20 years cruising Maine, and managed to see about 1 percent of the coast.
I’m still in journalism now, but no longer hawking news-news. As a boating magazine editor you sometimes get some great offers such as, “Pete, are you available to take a Cutwater 28 from Hampden to Boston?”
Never mind that (listening over the phone) I thought he said “Camden.” It turns out that Hampden lies on the border of Bangor, Steven King’s hometown, on the Penoboscot River. And that’s where Joanne and I found ourselves on Sunday—Labor Day weekend—at Hamlin’s Marina with the region’s newest Cutwater dealer, Dan Higgins.
The boat had been trailered down from Quebec City and was waiting for us at the Hamblin’s storage yard. A couple stout gents had taken the boat from New York City to Quebec in what has been erroneously referred to as a Downeast Loop. That’s what we call the route up the Hudson, down the St. Lawrence River, around the Atlantic face of Nova Scotia, over to Maine and down the New England coast back to New York.
Our project was really a modified Downeast Loop, or as I call it “demi-Downeast” because we cut out the Nova Scotia leg, thanks to the fact that Cutwaters are trailerable.
So here I am laboring over a keyboard on Labor Day in Belfast, Maine, and happy to be here.
Higgins and his ace factotum Jeremy had helped sort out some teething problems with the boat, which was fresh from the factory, and launched us down the Hamlin’s ramp. The timing was right to have lunch at McLaughlin’s restaurant, which is on site, and turns out to be one of those hidden gems that you read about.
Joanne, from Pennsylvania originally, was skeptical of the concept of “lobster roll,” but McLaughlin’s easy-on-the-mayo approach almost convinced her that lobster can be eaten cold.
I had never been down the mighty Penobscot, and was surprised by how lightly developed were the banks. We left Hamlin’s at 2 and were tied alongside the town docks shortly after 5. Belfast is happening nowadays with several fine restaurants and bars. It’s shipyard has the most amazing travel lift—huge—with the capacity to haul 450 tons.
And we met nice people. Coincidentally, Lou and Nancy Fougere of M/V Fiddlehead live in Bourne, Massachusetts, next to my old hometown of Wareham. Retired and in their 80s, they’ve downsized to a 32-foot BHM lobster yacht and continue to cruise Maine. They were at the slip next to us in Belfast, heading back to Cataumet Harbor after a couple months wandering Downeast.
At the beginning of this story, I expressed my affection for Maine. Maine is a “Great State,” one of just a handful: Massachusetts, New York, California, Texas, maybe Virginia. (Keep hoping, Florida.) You don’t have to like a state to admit its great. Like Maine, Texas has history, personality, music and has produced some presidents, but Maine is infinitely more likeable.
One of the reasons to love Maine is its quirkiness. Maine is a funny place. In fact it’s one of the only states that exports humor. “Can’t get there from here,” maybe a bit tired from repetition today but the late Marshall Dodge’s Bert and I routine is still terrifically funny. Bert and I begat Tim Sample, and he begat Bob Marley, whose father swears he had never heard of the reggae star when his son was named.
So let me close with my own close encounter with Maine humor.
I was driving Downeast a century ago in my 1963 Chevrolet Corvair, which I had purchased for $350. The brakes had begun to fail so I managed to find a town with an automotive junkyard, where I could buy $8 worth of used Corvair brake parts.
Now bear in mind this was the 1970s, and the only “minority” in Maine at the time were French-Canadians, and so they were the butt of many jokes questioning their honesty, intelligence, etc.
So here I was in a store parking lot with one side of my Corvair jacked up, wheel off, turning my wrenches. I reached a point where I couldn’t quite remember how something went back together, so I went to check the rear wheel on the other side.
So there I was with the starboard side of the car jacked up and me lying on the pavement with my head beneath the portside.
I heard a car pull up next to me and stop, I pulled my head out from under the chassis as the driver rolled down his window. He uttered a single, impeccably delivered sentence, then rolled his window back up and drove slowly away.
“You must be French.”