August 29, 2018
For fifteen years, Exit spent her winters hauled out at the Lyman-Morse boatyard in Maine.
Having been told numerous times, by many different people, that Maine was the perfect place to be sailing in autumn, it was high on our list of potential destinations during the fall of 2017. But, alas, the timing simply didn’t work out.
By the time we were ready to leave the Chesapeake last year, it was already November. Shifting winds and plummeting temperatures dictated that south was the only direction we would be sailing.
Now, ten months later, we had sailed right past New York City with the steadfast determination that we were going to get to Maine this year. We could always stop in the Big Apple when we returned south. If we didn’t press on, we might not make it again.
Having spent more than half her life in Maine, Exit was as much at home here as anywhere.
We were stricken with how much the coast of Maine reminded us of the San Juan Islands, back in our own stomping grounds, the Pacific Northwest, where we had both spent most of our lives.
It was easy to see why so many people had recommended we come here. It was also easy to see why our broker Pete had ultimately recommended starting in the Chesapeake Bay instead of Seattle.
In some ways, Maine represented the best preparation the East Coast could offer for much of what would be expected if we ever sailed up the coast of Washington State.
Rather than sandy beaches, jagged shorelines and rocky crags comprise most of the endless bays, inlets and shores of thousands of islands. An amazing variety of both evergreen and deciduous trees, now just beginning to show the first colorful signs of fall’s approach, interweave and merge together into dense forests running all the way down to the water’s edge. Long, rubbery tendrils of deep red seaweed, swaying in the current, can be seen just below the surface of the dark, cold water.
This was very different from the Chesapeake, with it’s softer slopes and endless places to drop the anchor (or run aground) in chocolate colored water.
Also, it was much different from the white sandy bottom of the Bahamas which could be easily seen below infinite shades of blue, crystal clear water that looked and felt more like a bathtub than an ocean.
Both the Chesapeake Bay’s very forgiving, mucky, muddy bottom as well as the sandy bottomed Bahamian Banks rarely reached deeper than twenty five feet, even miles from shore, offering solid and consistent holding to confidently anchor in.
Here, in Maine, safe and/or feasible places to anchor are much farther and fewer between. As much as ten foot tidal exchanges resulting in monstrous shifting currents, and rocky bottoms scoured by millennia of water movement, can create treacherous conditions for even the best ground tackle and anchoring techniques.
It is not uncommon for depths immediately off the shoreline to be thirty to fifty feet which can, at times, put you uncomfortably close to unforgiving rocky shores.
Even if you find a spot with good holding and enough room to swing at anchor, that’s getting to be two to three hundred feet of anchor rode required for adequate scope during even normal conditions
Conversely, fifteen foot depths at high tide may not be adequate to keep your boat off the bottom at low tide if the direction of a building wind opposes the currents and waves start kicking up.
A two mile wide channel between islands may run three hundred or more feet deep at its’ center.
All of these factors combine to make New England anchoring an adventure, both educating and humbling at the same time.
But, before you even have the opportunity to attempt setting anchor, you must first successfully navigate your way through never ending minefields of lobster pot buoys which seem to blanket Maine’s waterways, whose lines lurking just below the surface patiently await the chance to snag the prop of any inattentive captain’s vessel.
In spite of its’ formidable and sometimes apparently inhospitable challenges, Maine is a truly gorgeous and breathtaking wonder to behold, especially from aboard a sailboat, proving the whole experience to be well worth the effort it demanded.