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The Down East Loop - Day 9

Moments From a Porpoiseful Life

Belfast had been a new experience for me, but Rockland was a different story.

In my 30s and 40s, my gang and I had sailed here from Newburyport and used the port as a staging area to cruise Penobscot Bay. Then when I was between newspaper jobs, I helped commission, then served as crew aboard the Kathryn B, a 100-foot luxury schooner that used Rockland as a base.

A fine old motoryacht is moored off Isleboro.

We sortied from Belfast Harbor shortly after 11 a.m. and got our first taste of real Maine cruising—fog. It began with a quarter mile of visibility and quickly became half that as we headed south on the Western Penobscot. We stayed outside the chart’s “recommended route.” That is, the shipping channel.

This salty sail-assisted trawler passed by as we enjoyed lunch at Cradle Cove.

AIS and a securite call from the ship revealed the presence of a northbound tanker, en route to Searsport. She blasted her horn as she approached and when she was abeam a couple hundred yards to port, we saw only her superstructure gliding by above the fog.

Trawler closeup

I suggested to Joanne that we skip over to Isleboro and take the inside passage, on the theory that Isleboro and the smaller adjacent islands might throw off enough heat to dissipate some of that fog. We were rewarded with sunshine and just enough mist to make the photos interesting. The shore was lined with old mansions built with old money, and a wooden motoryacht lay at anchor in front of one.

We grabbed a mooring in Cradle Cove and reheated some pizza from our dinner the night before at Delvino’s Grill and Pasta House. Then resumed our journey to what I have always called “The Land of Rocks.”

As we exited from Gilkey Harbor we spied our first porpoise of the trip. We had seen plenty of those puppy dog harbor seals, but here was our first porpoise…and maybe it was the same son of a gun that I’d met years earlier just a mile away.

We were on my old sailboat the Hong Kong Maiden (she was made in Hong Kong), sailing from North Haven to Camden on a rainy July afternoon.  We were passing by the No. 12 buoy near Robinson rock when our meeting happened. The Maiden had a bow pulpit taking (pardon the colloquialism) a leak in front of the headsail, which required holding onto the forestay with my other hand.

Suddenly—and I cannot emphasize this enough—suddenly he rocketed upward from the inky Penobscot, and I was looking into the eyes of a porpoise who was looking into my eyes, and he was only three feet away. Shock, surprise, terror—I leaped backwards onto the foredeck, but my shoes did not!

Rockland is protected by this long jetty which doubles as a walking path.

A pair of Sperrys remained exactly where the were while I was conducting my business. Like a pedestrian hit by a bus, I had jumped out of my shoes! I scrambled (still in a state of exposure) forward to retrieve them before a gust heeled the boat enough to launch them overboard. Grabbed ’em just in time.

Joanne had heard this story before, but being so near the location of the encounter and inspired by a sighting of what was possibly the culprit or at least a relative, I told it to her again and now to you.

A Camden schooner transits Gilkey Harbor at Isleboro as the fog lifts.

The remainder of our transit was routine. We tied up at the Journey’s End Marina in Rockland, which I found had been greatly gentrified in my absence. The old brothel (which was no longer a brothel by the time I first arrived on the scene but served codfish cakes for breakfast in its basement restaurant) had been reinvented once again, this time as condominiums.

still life at the end of a cruising day.

We were met by our Electronics Editor Ben Ellison and his wife Andrea, denizens of Camden, who took us in their motorcar to the Slipway restaurant in nearby Thomaston. Inevitably our wide-ranging conversations turned to work. Ellison is conducting a day-long marine electronics seminar in TrawlerFest-Baltimore later this month with his remarkable Duffy 37 named Gizmo. Remarkable because she bristles with antennas and the helm is filled with various MFD brands and other…well…gizmos.

The next day Joanne and I would pilot Cutwater to Booth Bay Harbor, and then the fun would really begin.

Stand by.

Rock wall

The Down East Loop ▶

Map of the Down East Loop


  • Builder: Cutwater
  • Model: Cutwater 28
  • LOA: 28′4″