We continued to explore the surroundings of Penobscot Bay and discovered many picturesque and interesting towns. Of special interest to us were the harbors, and there were many, some small, some large, many actual working harbors. And in the harbors, of course, are the boats.
The boats were slowly “waking up” from their winter sleep, some were still under their covers, while others were getting a fresh coat of paint and otherwise getting fixed up, and yet others were already on the water. The harbor boatyards were busy and many mooring balls still sat empty.
We visited the villages of Searsport (both by kayak and car), Belfast, Camden, Rockland, Rockport and Port Clyde. In addition to boats and harbors, there is a strong arts community throughout this area. Many arts co-ops and galleries are found throughout and there is much pride in the work of local artists. These towns have had, and continue to have, an influx of summer residents, including some famous artists, poets and writers.
Belfast, the closest village to our campground, was originally incorporated as a town in 1793, then burned down by the British. It was rebuilt and became the eighth city incorporated in Maine in 1853. Belfast has a very nice little harbor with lots of boats as well as boatyards.
Camden, the next town over from Belfast, was originally incorporated in 1791 as part of Massachusetts and has a rich shipbuilding history. 64 large wooden sailing vessels were built here, including the first six-masted schooner, the George W. Wells. With the advent of rail transportation and steam ships, the shipbuilders closed down and many of the “Windjammers” went into disrepair.
An artist and sea captain named Frank Swift saw the beauty in these working ships and had the vision of restoring them as passenger vessels. His business started off slowly (three passengers on his first cruise, and no passengers for his second), but eventually took off and is the pre-cursor to today’s Windjammer cruises. Many of these fabulous vessels dot Camden Harbor and the town has many large beautiful boathouses.
The next town over from Camden, Rockport was part of Camden until 1891, when the towns split over a dispute about a bridge. A seal named Andre, adopted by the Goodridge family here, entertained guests in the Rockport Harbor in the 70s and 80s and became famous after a book was written about him and a film adaptation released. Another beautiful little village with a stunning little harbor, Rockport has an Opera House and a very strong music community.
Rockland, the next town south, was chartered as a city in 1854. It has a big ferry dock, and provides ferry services to three islands of Penobscot Bay, making it the primary connection to those islands. Rockland is another lovely little town with a large and scenic harbor. Oddly, Thai food is abundant for some reason.
Rockland also hosts the North Atlantic Music Festival and the Maine Lobster Festival. One unique thing about these festivals is that instead of advertising via paper posters, the “posters” are individually hand painted on store windows around town … by Beth the sign painter (and graphic artist) who makes her rounds on her tricycle. Her beautiful paintings can be admired at http://www.coastalcreativerockland.com.
One day we were cruising around near lunchtime and were between towns. Hector (eagle-eye) spotted a little sign for Waterman’s Beach Lobster and an arrow down a side lane. Quite by accident we had stumbled upon a fantastic little spot on a beautiful bay with great food. This particular lobster shack even won a famous culinary prize, the James Beard Foundation’s Regional Classics Award.
Pet friendly too!
After seeing so many traps I started wondering about sustainability and was happy to find out the Maine lobster was officially certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council earlier this year. Preparation for the certification was a multi-year process.
Some of the actions they’ve taken include limiting the number of traps they can have submerged, establishing minimum and maximum size for lobsters that are “keepers”, a system for protecting egg bearing females, a requirement that each lobster trap have an escape hatch in case it gets lost at sea and others. For those with a love of fishing regulations, more information may be found here.
And, yes, we continue to enjoy the fruits of the sea here in Penobscot Bay. There are little lobster shacks as well as large “lobster pounds” where you can get cheap and very fresh lobsters and clams right on the dock.
We had the best lobster dinner ever in Belfast, looking out over the water, at Young’s Lobster Pound. The seating is simple, but the views and the food are world class.