Looking for an authentic fishing village where the old ways of the sea still dominate everyday life? Take a trip down Route 15, over the rolling hills and past the rambling farmhouses of Brooksville and Penobscot. You can’t miss Stonington — it’s quite literally at the end of the road, at the far end of Deer Isle. Laid out in front of you like a dinner table full of tasty treats sit the granite- and spruce-covered islands of Merchants Row, the rigid and rocky outline of Isle au Haut, and the Deer Isle Thorofare.
Take a deep breath and enjoy the fresh ocean air. Listen to the cries of the seagulls and the roar of diesel engines. Let the October sun wash over you as a stiff breeze warns you of the fast approaching winter. You have reached Stonington, one of the last true working harbors on the Maine coast.
Stonington is the kind of place where the sea still dictates the daily pace of life. Every day in this island outpost, men and women pile into their trusty old fishing boats and head out to ply the waters of Merchants Row and East Penobscot Bay. They bring back, on average, one of the state’s largest annual lobster hauls and have forever cemented Stonington’s reputation as a fishing town first, tourist town second.
In the village, you’ll find a tidy Main street with all kind of shops and eateries, ranging from gourmet sandwiches to down-home fish markets. Long, weathered docks and wharves jut out into the harbor with skiffs, punts, and Zodiacs, all ready and willing to take their owners out to their respective fishing vessels.
Toward the end of Main Street, you can find a short causeway which takes you to Moose Island, home of the renowned Billings Diesel and Marine. Here you can find any sort of boat you might imagine, in for repairs, a new paint job, or simply riding out the off-season. Past Moose Island sits the Sunset Beach Preserve, a small but spectacular parcel of land that features a short sand beach and giant slabs of granite and majestic pine trees.
Lobstering is still the name of the game in Stonington, even though there are a few art galleries and cozy restaurants sprinkled along Main street. This town will never resemble a resort, that’s for sure! Yet, on a sparkling October afternoon, I was able to strike up a conversation with a local lobstermen who allowed me to prowl around on his dock and take photographs of his tools and surrounding environs. As I left, I thanked him. He didn’t look up, just nodded his head and said “yep.”
If Hollywood was to film a movie about lobstering on the coast of Maine, they might come to Stonington. There are so many fishing boats in the harbor and surrounding water, it’s truly hard to count them all. Down on a pile of rocks, just left of the harbor, resting in a patch of sea grass, I spied a rundown skiff with a decaying paint job and rusted-out interior. The name of the boat read “Shit Happens.” It reminded me a of a friend who I work with in the winter. He grew up on Deer Isle and referred to anyone who didn’t as a “reach creature,” seeing as they had to cross the Eggemoggin Reach to get to the island.
This is a different town, a town that must be seen to be believed — and what an experience it is.