Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Second Day: Annisquam, MA to Gosport Harbor, Isles of Shoals

Between Cape Ann, MA and Cape Elizabeth, ME is a long stretch of water called the Bigelow Bight. A "bight" is an indentation in the coast that is so shallow that, with the proper wind direction, it can be entered and exited without having to tack.  In fact, it is barely an indentation at all.  The shoreline is an extraordinarily long stretch of beach, stretching from Wingaersheek (at the mouth of the Annisquam) to Old Orchard (just inside of Cape Elizabeth).  The beaches are pierced by a few rocky outcroppings, but mainly by the mouths of rivers.  The combination of beach and river is a double-edged one for boaters.  Every river mouth is a harbor, but those harbors are often difficult to enter, subject to strong currents, and resistant to accurate charting of things like depth.  Once inside the river mouth, ones options for accommodation may be limited or complex.  Marinas often predominate; moorings may be unavailable; places to anchor may be severely limited.

Some might say that being able to poke up rivers is the whole point of owning a shoal draft boat.  We would not disagree.  But if you aren't sure of your own ability to read tide and currents, or you don't want to deal with drawbridges or marinas, one stop on the passage east to the more spectacular parts of the Maine coast that does not require crossing a bar or navigating a river mouth, is Gosport Harbor, at the Isles of Shoals, which is where we are this afternoon.

Three of the six and a half islands that make up this little archipelago are joined together by two breakwaters. One connects Star Island to Cedar, and the other connects Cedar to the poetically named Smuttynose.  The result is a harbor of extraordinary stillness in a environment that otherwise, looks, sounds, and smells thoroughly offshore.

The trip from Annisquam, on which we averaged five and a half knots over the bottom, is approximately 19 nautical miles.  We covered it in slightly more than three hours, under power, with a headwind, and a very calm sea.  We are travelling with children, something the original writers' of the Guide do not much acknowledge as a possibility.  To a ten year old and a twelve year old boy, an multi-hour offshore passage on beautiful day holds about as much appeal as long stint in a waiting room without any good magazines.  Had we wished to get all the way to midcoast maine today, we could easily have done so.  We would have just had to get up earlier and rest content with arriving in Casco Bay near sundown. The boys would have been intolerant of this plan.  I did it myself at their age, and I remember it as one of the longest (if also most memorable) days of my life.  

I also remember being enthralled by the Isles of Shoals as we passed through them.  Rocky, with scrubby vegetation, they have a bizarre mixture of buildings on them: a lighthouse on White Island, at the southernmost extreme, a large and somewhat ramshackle summer hotel, which is now the property of the Unitarian Universalist Association on Star Island, A large house on the tiny Lunging Island, a weathered obelisk commemorating Johns Smith's visit here, a submarine watchtower on Appledore island, and a famous garden.  And then they were gone.  Staying here, on a weekday afternoon, is not technically a solitary affair.  But it feels high lonesome, and quiet in the best sense.  

Bufflehead, as viewed from above and behind the Star Isl.-Cedar Isl. Breakwater.
The Breakwater itself, on a falling tide.  This mooring is the one furthest inside.  "If you can read this, you are aground."  Actually the water is quite deep here, even at low tide.  The six foot spot on the chart is somewhere off to starboard.

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