Learning to slow down and enjoy cruising
By Laura Landis
I’ll never make up the 18 years I spent too far from the sea. I left the New Hampshire coast for New Mexico in 1996 and didn’t return until the summer of 2014 when I could no longer bear to be away. Thus began my return to cruising.
Last year was my third year on Artemis, a 1983 Sabre 34 I bought on eBay. The first year was challenging. The second year, I brought Artemis from Oriental, North Carolina, to Yarmouth, Maine. I pushed hard, was mostly alone and never had a real crew.
My goals for the third year were to relax, slow down and enjoy my boat while learning to cruise in some of the most glorious cruising waters on the planet—Penobscot Bay and Mount Dessert Island.
I left Denver on June 20 in a minimalist campervan with my 8-month-old German shepherd, Sophie. Staying at campgrounds and enjoying frequent breaks to play fetch, Sophie and I made it to Wilmington, Delaware, in three days.
I traveled up the coast to visit family in Philly and a sailor pal in Noank, Connecticut, who pushed me through my re-entry neurosis by making me captain her Sabre 34.
My Summer of Cruising Begins
To begin my summer cruise, I departed the Royal River on an outgoing tide in misty overcast conditions and motored Artemis to the Goslings, a lovely anchorage formed by three small islands on the southeast corner of Lower Goose Island in Casco Bay. I spent two nights on a mooring circumnavigating the shoreline.
In addition to my analog and digital charts, I carried the sixth edition of A Cruising Guide to the Maine Coast. Curtis Rindlaub, co-author and publisher of this must-have guide, lives in Portland, Maine. Before leaving on my cruise, I had driven down to Portland from Yarmouth, purchased a signed copy and talked with Curtis about great places to visit.
I left the Goslings for the Basin, a hurricane hole up the New Meadows River. I had a great sail, but the cloud wall appeared and pursued me into the river. I headed up New Meadows River and through a narrow dogleg channel into a “lake” surrounded by trees and large homes. I anchored and found a place for playing fetch. The outboard had been working great, and my boat handling skills had improved.
The next morning, I left the interesting New Meadows River dogleg and headed into increasing fog. I’d been messing with the new chart plotter and new radar unit over the transom and felt ready enough to proceed toward Five Islands, a small lobstering village up Sheepscot Bay. The great teaching on radar I got from Norm Brown, my Boulder Valley Sail & Power Squadron Advanced Navigation instructor, really paid off!
In Georgetown, the fog lifted as the day warmed, and I approached the harbor with good visibility. After a little searching, I found one of the free two-night moorings the yacht club offers right before big fog descended.
After two days, I headed to Boothbay. The fog lifted as we approached the harbor. I felt comfortable with my navigation and radar watch despite a wooden yawl appearing off my port. I heard someone on the VHF tell the yawl to get a radar reflector and wished I’d said it.
In Boothbay, I searched unsuccessfully for boots, and Sophie got us kicked out of the captain’s lounge for barking. The Carousel Marina showers were pretty good, though.
I crossed Muscongus Bay, heading to Port Clyde, where I spent the night on a mooring and enjoyed a “lobstah” roll and ice cream.
I enjoyed our relaxed routine of traveling shorter distances, picking up moorings or anchoring, dinghying to shore, having sundowners and snacks, cooking dinner, and just being on the boat.
After leaving Muscongus Bay, I headed around the corner to lovely, lush and green Tenants Harbor. I walked along a country road past the little village to the manicured ball field to play fetch with Sophie.
The Seven Seas Cruising Association Gam
I arrived in Rockland almost a week before the Seven Seas Cruising Association Gam. Feeling relaxed and happy, I picked up a mooring off the town dock and settled into a routine enjoying sunsets and taking trips to shore, where we’d walk the waterfront promenade and head to a beautiful empty beach to play fetch. Sophie enjoyed running the beach and would drop the ball in the ocean before bringing it back. The days strung together, passing quickly. Friends and new cruising association members started appearing ahead of the get-together. After being alone with Sophie,
I enjoyed having someone to talk back to me.
The Gam started Friday night with 60 happy crews passing platters of yummy snacks from boat to boat. My enchiladas were a big hit. Sunday morning, my Women Who Sail Facebook group had a brunch, and I enjoyed connecting with so many women who loved being on the water.
Unfortunately, I had to leave Artemis on a mooring in the harbor while I drove back to Denver for a visit.
Falling Hard for Rockland
After my brief trip to Denver, I arrived back in Rockland. The city has good dining, a hospitable harbor and a great public landing downtown, complete with a harbor walk. I fell hard for Rockland and appreciated being able to leave my van at the public landing parking lot while I cruised.
I took a cheap mooring off the public landing in Rockland Harbor, dinghied into town to the Atlantic Baking Company for coffee and conversation, and ate too much great pastry. The bakery has an excellent seeded demi-baguette that I sliced up to have with my evening sundowners. Other highlights include the Rock Harbor Brewing Company just out of town and breakfast at the Rockland Cafe.
Sunset over Rockland ranged from generally lovely to sometimes magnificent. I may have seen the green flash. The sunrises were even more impressive.
Throughout the summer, the dominant southwesterly winds have been light and fluky. Feeling no urgency to sail on light days, I learned to relax and enjoy time on the boat and wait for good days to head out of the harbor and into West Penobscot Bay to practice heaving-to and reefing before heading back into the mooring field. I read a lot, went for walks and took rides in my van. It was a slower time for me.
Summer Cruising Part II
From Rockland, I journeyed 30 nautical miles up the West Bay, where I spent a few days in the great town of Belfast. I recommend the Pemaquid Oysters and fried fiddleheads at the Front Street Pub. I kept missing happy hour at the Three Tides tapas bar, which has a great reputation, but I made it to the Marshall Wharf Brewing Company and sampled their microbrews, which had nice IPAs and a Hefeweizen that paired perfectly with a Maine red hot dog. I enjoyed roaming the town, went to the library, which has a nice view of the harbor, and shed a tear or two at the Civil War memorials.
My next stop was Searsport. Having learned from Curtis Rindlaub and his cruising guide that the Penobscot Maritime Museum offered a free mooring to paying visitors, I called and was told the mooring was under repair. The museum suggested I call Wayne Hamilton, Searsport harbormaster and owner of Hamilton Marine. He generously lent me his mooring for couple of nights.
I enjoyed an easy, pleasant sailing day on the short sail from Belfast. I tacked across the bay from Searsport and back again just for the joy of it, feeling great comfort and familiarity with Artemis. It was a sublime moment.
Wayne’s mooring ball was the biggest in the small mooring field, which only had a few boats. Having become skilled at picking up a mooring at the bow alone, I secured Artie easily. I kept the outboard stowed in the sail locker and rowed to the small public landing. I’ve learned to maintain my location by looking at a landmark over the transom, 180 degrees from my destination. From the landing, I took a short pleasant walk up a dirt road past well-kept old New England houses with sheds, outbuildings and gardens. I turned around a few times to enjoy the great view of upper Penobscot Bay. It’s a great and grand place, indeed!
Spending Time With Family and Friends
A friend in my Sabre group visited while on a business trip to Portland. She didn’t have time to sail, but she spent the night and measured my cushions for new covers. I’ll be stopping in to see her in Buffalo on my way back east this summer.
My son also visited me in Rockland for a week. After I moved him from cockpit crew to helmsman, he was a wonderful help. It was like having an autopilot with a voice interface.
He tolerated some brisk winds, learned the benefits of reefing and heaving-to, tied some knots, and ate a lot of seafood. We enjoyed Pulpit Harbor and the Fox Island Thoroughfare between North Haven and Vinalhaven. Having him aboard enriched my summer. Sharing sailing with your kids, even grown ones, is wonderful.
After my son left, I got caught in a downpour in my dinghy but still managed to enjoy sundowners with Norm Brown, who was docked at the public landing. Meeting up with friends from home brightened my trip.
Cruising Season Winds Down
My next destination, Matinicus Island, is the farthest (20 nautical miles) offshore inhabited island and had been a big goal on my list. I set out with favorable weather, but as the day progressed, the following winds slacked, and thunderheads chased me toward the harbor before the storm dissipated.
While moored at the remote, rustic island, I watched another boat appear in the mooring field. After a storm knocked out its engine, generator and electronics, the boat had been dashed on the rocks, putting a huge hole in its hull. An attempt to tow it to shore had failed. I dinghied the owner to the dock so he could negotiate with his insurance company about getting a barge to help.
After Matinicus, I set out for Isle au Haut and made my way through the IAH thoroughfare to Stonington. Unprepared for the hustle and bustle of Stonington, I spent the night and awoke tired, bone-weary and worn out. My body had raised the “I’m done” flag. Having felt this last year, I decided to pay attention to it. I still had places to go and things to see, but I lacked the energy to go farther. Knowing that they’ll all be here next year and that I will return, I made my way back to Rockland.
Back in my new homeport, I prepared for sail cleaning and storage, canvas work, and electronics upgrades, including an AIS transponder, a working wind vane and gauges to the new chart plotter. I cleaned and prepped the boat for winter, thanked Artemis, and had her hauled at Knight’s Marina. Pulling Artemis was a sad moment, but we’ve separated before.
Although I didn’t do as much sailing this year, I enjoyed myself more. I didn’t spend a night at a dock or plugged in but still had enough electricity for my needs. I ate well and lost weight.
I still moored more than I anchored, but the ratio continues to improve, and I had no marina or dock fees.
Content staying put in light winds or going slow, I didn’t motor much. I learned to enjoy traveling at less than 3 knots when needed.
I learned I don’t have to do something bold and grand to enjoy my boat—or justify the expense. I felt more at home living aboard than I have in most of the homes I have lived in on land. It was one of the best summers of my life.
Laura Landis grew up with boats on Long Island’s south shore. When she was 12, her parents took a United States Power Squadrons course and enrolled her and her brother. What she learned continues to serve her well. Three years ago, after an 18-year stint in the desert, Laura took refresher classes and bought a Sabre 34. In 2017 she joined Boulder Valley Sail & Power Squadron/30 and writes for the squadron newsletter, Boulder Beacon, where this article originally appeared.