Maine’s Working Harbors, a Precious Commodity

Two schooners coasted into Burnt Coat Harbor last season and gave us a lesson in sailing. We followed in the wake of the schooner American Eagle as it took us deep into the harbor, rounded up into the wind, and dropped its anchor, all under sail. Then later, the schooner Nathaniel Bowditch coasted through the rocky passage on the east side of Harbor Island. Threading its way in, she rounded up off our bow and gently lowered anchor as well. It was a memorable scene under sail.

“Anchor down” usually means it’s time to relax on our boat, but that’s not the case on board Maine schooners. Immediately the crews on board began launching small boats for the guests to sail or row. Some of the crew and guests rowed to shore while others relaxed on deck. No doubt dinner was already underway below. A schooner is a flurry of activity at this time of day and it doesn’t appear to slow down until the last dishes are cleaned and put away as the sun sets. Sleep comes early on the water for most of us.

That’s a good thing because Burnt Coat lobsterboats beat the crack of dawn by an hour. We listened, half asleep, to their engines’ approach from our vee berth. The roar safely passed by, and moved off. That wasn’t the end of it, though. That came a few minutes later. We heard it first as a faint swishing sound. Actually, it was an approaching swishing sound. Then, suddenly, our boat dropped like a rock, a foot or two, unevenly, and rolled violently from beam to beam. Finally, in a series of diminishing gyrations, our pre-dawn peace returned.

I don’t take lobsterboat wakes personally, and instead head for the coffee pot, replacing a few books in fiddled shelves I find on the cabin sole on my way to the galley. I enjoy greeting the sun in our cockpit for this, our first sunrise in Burnt Coat Harbor.

Rowing to the small cluster of wharfs in Burnt Coat, we found a space amongst fishing boats to tie up the dinghy. The aroma of bait was so thick, you could cut it with a knife. Not a bad smell, really, fresh lobster bait (be warned; it can go “off” in the hot sun).

There’s no real provision for visiting sailors in some Maine harbors — it’s as simple as that. That’s just fishing, and I rather like our real harbors like Burnt Coat and enjoy poking around.

Try it. You may be one of only a handful of people to see a real place like Burnt Coat Harbor, from the water, on a beautiful Maine summer day. That’s a rare commodity indeed.