Penobscot Bay; Maine coast: islands, charm, lobster - and fog
The fog was thick, a white-on-white vista of shifting ghostly shapes that materialized into lobster boats or bell buoys as we approached.Skip to next paragraph
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We were aboard the Vinalhaven ferry, on a day excursion to Vinalhaven, which is one of the offshore islands in Penobscot Bay, the largest of the island-studded bays that make up the undulating coastline of Maine.
Halfway along on the hour-and-a-half ferry ride, the sun broke through the fog bank, revealing an archipelago of tiny, rocky islands, each neatly capped with a shock of blue-green spruce trees.
We passed the Outward Bound School on Hurricane Island, and studied the summer homes along the shore. Our captain deftly wove our cumbersome craft through a slalom course of red ''nuns'' and black ''cans'' that mark the channel and brought the ferry into the wharf at Carver's Harbor (pronounced ''Cahvah's Hahbah''). It's the only town on the island, and has a population of 1,211 year-round.
Lobstermen were crating their wiggly, green catch, soon to be stuffed and baked for customers in restaurants in Boston, New York, and perhaps San Francisco.
We talked with one 12-year-old who had been lobstering for three years in his own small skiff with 50 traps; he spoke with confidence, seeming to be much older than his years.
Wandering down the one-street village, we passed a fish factory, a boatyard, several restaurants, and a stand-up ice cream and sandwich counter. A half-hour stroll beyond the town took us to an abandoned granite quarry for a picnic lunch and swim. Local boys practiced swan dives from the high cliffs, dropping down into the rain-filled waters like terns diving after fish.
Vinalhaven is a fairly large island (it takes several hours to drive around it in a car), which offers lots to explore, including a beautiful nature preserve and several quarries, no longer in commercial use. The ferry takes cars , but it is not a good idea to bring a car over for a day trip, because you might not be able to get it onto the ferry going back in the afternoon. There is often a long line of people waiting to drive off island. A bicycle is better.
It is possible to stay on Vinalhaven overnight, either in the one small motel , the Tidewater, or in private homes that take guests, but the vast majority of visitors come for the day only, returning to the mainland for the night. We took the 8:40 a.m. ferry over and returned back by 5 p.m.; round trip tickets cost $4 .
An excursion to Vinalhaven, or one of the other off-islands in Penobscot Bay (North Haven - 1 hour 10 minutes; Islesboro - 25 minutes) is but one of many delightful tours to be taken in the Camden and Rockport vicinity.
Camden is my choice for headquarters. This small village (pop. 4,584) is one of the prettiest coastal towns in Maine. Set between the harbor and a ridge of hills, Camden refers to itself as the place ''where the mountains meet the sea.'' A Westerner might scoff at the term ''mountain'' - the highest is 1,385 feet above sea level; nevertheless, the view from the top of Mt. Battie is well worth the half-hour hike from the town. (You can also drive up.)
On a summer's day, you have a panoramic view of the deep blue waters of Penobscot Bay, sprinkled liberally with sparkling crescents of sunlit sails.
Flowers bloom in pots on the lampposts in the village of Camden, where you will find a compact assortment of excellent-quality shops, inns, and restaurants. I wandered into a craft store and purchased a sculpture of a kite flyer by Gordon Brott, one of many craftspeople who work out of Camden.