I had been eyeing Maine’s offshore islands, Monhegan and Mitinicus, for years however most of my small-craft adventures simply didn’t allow for travel 12-20 miles from a safe harbor.
Working as the manufacturers rep for Eastern/Seaway /Rosborough boats put me in the enviable position of having boating options. The bosses generous offer to use his JC designed 31 Casco Bay, set up for lobstering, didn’t seem like the right fit for this trip. I was imagining a smaller vessel that allowed for “camp cruising” with a shallow draft for gunkholing, robust enough to handle exposed conditions yet trailerable to allow me to launch from Portland ME rather than our Piscatiqua River homeport. I estimated that sailing down-wind on I95 would save me the day and a half slog from NH to Cape Elisabeth.
The 2016 22’ Sisu sitting behind the shop seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. It’s huge v-berth could sleep 2, the lobster-style hardtop afforded ample weather protection and the fact it was sitting on a trailer sealed the deal. I’ve overused the line “there’s no one perfect boat, you really need two” however the Sisu came close to hitting all my needs.
Almost as important as the vessel is the choice of crew. My ambitious plan called for a roll with the punches, roll with the boat kind of guy. I went with a proven player in my uncle Ron Maher. Ron’s more of a Lakes and Mountains man however I knew what to expect with his easy, steady demeaner. We’ve logged untold miles in both pleasant and adverse conditions.
After a July 4th shakedown cruise to the border startling Isle of Shoals (plus several days of outfitting the boat) we set out to our launch site, Bug Light Park in South Portland.
Certainly, there are closer launch ramps for access to Islands offshore from Moscongus and Penobscott Bay however the trip thru Casco Bay then further down-east was part of the attraction. Not being much of a “smell the roses” kind of Capt I planned for many hours at the helm.
Underway at 932 we were greeted by the fresh breeze and confused chop not uncommon in a big commercial harbor. We commented for the first of what would be many times our appreciation for the weather protection offed by the hardtop.
Well within the first hour we ducked in behind Chebeaque Island and grabbed a mooring ball. 2 men in a small boat need to get organized beyond loading gear from truck to trailer. More than just stowing bags and prioritizing equipment that first stop allows for an opportunity to mentally “shift gears” from land to sea. An improvised chart table was established in front of the mate’s seat, ample water made easy at hand, sunscreen slathered on. And extra layers of cloths, layering up would be another step we repeated often.
Rather than hammer offshore right away I wanted to get Ron on Eagle Island, Admiral Perry’s (from the North Pole fame) beloved summer home now preserved as a museum. I know he could appreciate Perry’s eye for his surroundings as is evident in the taxidermy work he had done and the pictures that adorn the walls. Both Ron and I are in awe of the resourcefulness required be the first man to step foot on the North Pole. Inspiration for our far more modest adventure ahead.
Back aboard we take a one-step-at-a-time plan that sees the 74ft monument on Little Mark Island off our stern as we steer the 7.9 nm to Cape Small. This, we agreed, would be a good point to decide weather to draw a rhumb line for Monhegan or stay closer to shore while continuing East. It also starts our rotating 30 min watch at the wheel, a schedule we continued throughout the trip.
The off-time was welcome as I immerse myself deeper into the moment. I was struck by the utilitarian finish of our craft; simple, excellent proportions. Our personal effects stay dry in the cavernous v-berth, two pedestal seats that slid forward for comfortable seating yet move back for the desirable leaning- post position, something we will appreciate more as the conditions continue to get “sporty”. The cockpit is simple and functional. Plenty of room for the stowed deck chairs we’ll enjoy later, free of any clutter that could be doused by the wind driven spray that will, and did, come. I secured our two coolers, lg plastic box holding our dry goods and additional ground tackle to the gunwales. I didn’t want to be chasing gear if things got roolly.
Soon Cape Small is off our Port beam. The forecast called for the high-pressure system to remain overhead. 3’ seas didn’t alarm my Lake minded mate. Time to head 98m for the appox 25 nm to Monhegan Island. Quickly I found the “sweet spot” for our craft in the current sea-state. 12 mph allowed for a comfortable ride in which the bow could rise and fall, wander 10-15 deg side-to-side and still stay on-course with little to no correction (this is something Ron struggled with early on, he wanted to wrestle with the boat. I was pleased to see him relax with it as the days played out). Not surprising to me was that we proved a good team in navigating. Despite redundant GPS systems our “go to” tool was a good old fashion compass and chartwork (the only compass aboard was my pocket-size orienteering compass that sat that the helm). We would dead-reckon using speed, distance and time and then verify our position with the chartplotter. This is the method I used long before $300 could buy you a handheld GPS and it still gives me great pleasure. I find it adds to my sense of adventure and I get satisfaction out of it’s accuracy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to swear off my Garmin touch screen or handheld quite yet. I prefer to use them as a backup on a trip like this rather than the primary source of information.
Several hours later that dot on the horizon has features; lighthouse, houses, tower. We ease into the only somewhat protected harbor with minimal fanfare. Not the most inviting harbor for access, no dock except the tour boat dock that sees the few day trippers loading up. It’s has a big, bold feel that doesn’t invite anchoring up close to shore. And the Harbormaster apparently doesn’t bother with radio contact. After relaxing and taking in our scene I call across to the only other cruising vessel I see in the harbor. A family moored in their 40’ sailboat. They share that they rowed ashore to pay the mooring fee and pointed to where I could find “Sherm” the man in charge.
This brings up one of the challenges we faced, how to get ashore. If this was my boat I would have removed the rocket launchers that were mounted to the aft-end of the roof and replaced them with Thule style racks for the kayaks that Ron and I hand-build. If we had harbor cruise plans towing a 8’ dink would have been an option. I had bought a Dicks Sporting Goods inflatable that Ron later pointed out was better for two children in a pool. Not wanting to dig that out (did in mention un-inviting access?) I had Ron put the bow on the beach so I could scout out the situation.
As soon as I touched land I felt warmer, when I meet Sherm I felt more comfortable yet again. Sherm, the Harbormaster, was a pleasant man with an easy way about him. He welcomed me to the island, admired my vessel, offered a mooring on a donation basis and even lent me his wooden skiff to come and go. By the time I returned to the boat my impression of the island had changed significantly.
Once settled on our mooring we rowed in search of a good meal. The Grand Inn overlooking the Harbor seemed inviting. At the hostess desk I could tell right away they were used to serving a more “upscale clientele” rather than a couple old seaman. It seemed more of my thought than theirs as we were seated overlooking the harbor with a view across to an abandoned farm on nearby Manana Island. Ron graciously treated me to my birthday meal as indeed I watch another year sail by. After repeating several times what a delicious dinner we had enjoyed we took part in one of the activities that draws me to the Maine Islands; hiking the islands. Monhegan boasts of a fine network of trails to explore highlighted by bold headlands that had been shaped and battered by the sea. A great way to walk off dinner.
Our first overnight went without event. Thursday morning my log states, with underlines and exclamation points, “never underestimate the value of coffee”! My Coleman backpack stove boils the water for what the trendy shops call a pour-over. Truly the way to start the day. And that day has us underway at 730 heading towards Matinicus. It seemed easy enough, right there in the distance. Not much worry that we were a little off-course according to the GPS. It didn’t take long before we realized what we had a visual on was the more northernly Metinic Island rather than Matinius which was still just a dot 18 plus miles on the horizon. Without much conversation or debate we agreed another day of open-water cruising wasn’t the best choice for our trip. We changed course to allow for a closer inspection of Metinic and an afternoon in Rockland Harbor.
Almost immediately the cruise took on a different feel. Rather than being miles offshore we started to pass more interesting features as we made our way up Penobscott Bay. Pleasant, Hewett and Andrews Islands played out to port. Owls Head, once off our bow, soon gave way to bustling Rockland Harbor. Our first order of business was to top of on fuel. I was pleased to only need 18.3g after so many hours underway. With a 60g capacity it was comforting to know the Sisu had “long legs”.
In town I was reminded of how much I liked Rockland. I spent several days here last year supporting the Maine Boats, Homes and Harbor Show so I had recent memories. It’s an Artsy little boating community with a great choice of restaurants, coffee shops and music venues that have added to its remarkable resurgence. It would have been easy to stay longer, maybe thru the weekend with the Blues Festival coming to town, however this was a cruising trip so underway we are.
Our next leg is a new experience yet again. We duck inside of Monroe Isl for a more protected run-down Muscle Ridge Channel. We’re making 17.5 mph, our fastest speeds yet. We’re clearly into a groove with downtime spent cruising from the rooftop or lounging in a deck chair. To further break up the time underway we take a break in the protection of Muscongus Bays Harbor Island. Ron and I are entertained to see the young mate ferrying passengers from a tour boat to the island aboard a North Sea Dory. Quite literally he had to “get your back into it”.
My first thought was to make way to Robinhood Cove and drop anchor for the night. As we approached Boothbay a new plan emerged. Let’s grab a slip for the night, an idea that was met with zero resistance. After a brief recon we were tied up at the Tugboat Marina, in the front row, as we referred to our berth for the night. Any ideas that we would rough it went out the window as we treated ourselves to a hot shower, another fantastic meal and a double dip waffle cone for desert. Life is good on the high seas.
Friday was slated to be a different day underway. After coffee (we talked about coffee already) we started the river leg of our journey. We passed over the top of Southport Isl, across the Sheepscot, traversed the Sasona River then down the mighty Kennebec. Fort Popham signaled our arrival back to the Gulf of Maine. Again, we were struck by the diversity of our surroundings.
We agreed to make this a short day on the boat leaving plenty of time for exploration around Jewell Island, the destination for our third night. Cocktail Cove would guarantee protection from any offshore serge. We played the two-anchor game for quite a while. Take up on the bow, pay out on the stern. We did this for most of the afternoon/evening. Being able to step off the stern to walk ashore negated the need for Dick’s inflatable. Several neighboring Captains were happy to anchor and walk away as their vessel settled into the mud. I wasn’t content to allow my borrowed Sisu go high and dry although she was most certainly built for the task. The extra effort made setting up for a beach BBQ all the easier as we walked in our chairs, grill and food.
As we did on the outer islands, miles on foot helped break up the trip.
Our final morning and we rise to find more mud than water under our keel. I gave into coffee and patience as we waited out the turn on the tide. I choose for more exploration on foot as Ron was content to study the abundance of life that played out just beneath the water. Crabs, snails and starfish all did their best to keep him entertained as we waited to be lifted free.
Once floating I estimated the truck and trailer to be a short 20 minutes away. Neither of us was ready to load just yet. We chose a lazy pace and a roundabout route to savor the last miles of our adventure.
Post trip scrip;
Why so slow? Isn’t the Sisu capable of far greater speeds?
Yes, it is. WOT with a Yamaha 115 can get you mid 30’s. What we were shooting for was a comfortable speed that allowed the hull to “get in sync” with the current sea-state. To rise and fall without pounding into the next wave. Truly letting the hull form perform the task the designers had in mind. Often that means backing off the throttle a bit however you will be rewarded with a soft, predictable ride.
Did you wish you had anything else?
We talked about an easier way to get ashore. There are several options from hailing a harbor launch if one is available, towing a tender, packing an inflatable. Other than that, it was more a question of what I brought that we didn’t need. The Sisu has more than enough stowage for a weekend or week underway.