Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Isle au Haut, Acadia Outback

Many months, even years, ago, one island, Isle au Haut, one harbor, Duck Harbor, called to us. On many of our Penobscot tours we've been close, but lacked that extra day or two needed to keep heading out. Now down to just the two of us and down to our last precious days this Summer, we are bound (not destine - the difference is subtle) for Isle au Haut.

Tropical storm Hermine is still no direct threat, but giving us grief. Rather than the prevailing southwest winds of Summer, we have a gusty northeast breeze. Our first leg is a modest hop from Belfast to Northwest Harbor on Deer Isle, which has excellent protection from the northeast. In the morning, the wind still blows from the northeast and the swells from Hermine are building. Small craft and high surf advisories are issued by officialdom. We have many options for the next leg, plan A Duck Harbor, plan B the town of Isle au Haut, plan C Seal Bay on Vinalhaven.

We head down Penobscot bay splitting the difference between Isle au Haut and Vinalhaven to keep our options open. The swells are clearly building as the morning wears on. As much as I have dreamed of Duck Harbor, we have heard conflicting reports about how far in a boat of our size can tuck out of the ocean swells and I'm nervous knowing that the anchorage is tight for a 40' boat and the swells likely bouncing back and forth at the entrance and down the harbor some distance. Duck Harbor is out. Rats.

The anchorage off the town of Isle au Haut is tiny with no room to anchor and just a few moorings for transients (boats passing through). Normally, it is also open to the prevailing southwestern winds, but ideal for the northeasterlies we have today and tonight. If there's no room, we still have day light to bail to Vinalhaven (forget sailing at night with the lobster pots).

Perfectly on queue, the weather is becoming cooler and the cold fronts more frequent. I tell Cath not to let me out of the cabin today without my flannel lined pants. Thin blooded, the last few sails have chilled me to the bone while sailing in shorts and a fleece top. We used to jump in the water at each anchorage. We don't do that anymore. Places that haven't shut down are reducing hours. Though still a few weeks off, Fall is effectively here and Winter is coming.

We commit to at least having a look at Isle au Haut. The entire coastline here is basically submerged granite mountains. Underwater lurks unseen peaks that may show themselves only at low tide or perhaps lurk just below where the only clue is how the waves curl as they pass over the tops. We play it safe and don't cut any corners even if the charts seem to indicate we could. From another life as a pilot, a flight instructor told me that if you insist on killing yourself in an airplane, at least do it in a novel fashion rather than scud running or looping a 172. Translated to sailing, if you're going to sink a boat, don't do it by cutting inside a marker.

Luck (and the late season) is with us and there's a mooring available at Isle au Haut. Wahoo! We made it to Isle au Haut! Wahoo again! With some 50 year round residents, there's really only one thing happening here: lobster. The boats around us are lobster boats, some looking sweet, others a bit in the rough.

Rural Maine's devotion to the honor system has a pleasant quaintness to it. On the roads, we see unmanned stacks of firewood, even produce stands, where you take what you like and leave payment in a can or jar. Thus, it is not terribly surprising to find that the transient moorings here have a Coke bottle in which you leave payment for using the mooring for the night.
Isle au Haut is unique in more ways than we could possibly enumerate. One could imagine the interesting politics in a town of 50 or so dominated by the lobster trade. If you're curious, read The Lobster Chronicles, as Cath is doing now.

The author of The Lobster Chronicles, Linda Greenlaw, whom you might recall as the female swordfishing captain from The Perfect Storm, and a large branch of her family tree, hail from Isle au Haut. She keeps a lobster boat, the Mattie Belle, here, a stone's throw from our mooring.
Unfortunately for us, the other well known fixture of the town, The Maine Lobster Lady, has closed down for the season, just a few days ago. Double rats. All these lobster boats and no where for us to get lobster, or any eats at all for that matter.

In addition to a small, essentials (like milk, ice cream, and beer) only grocery, there is what must be the smallest US Mail Post Office, complete with a wood burning stove to keep all those letters toasty during the hard winters here.

A small locally owned ferry runs the six mile between Stonington on Deer Isle (read the mainland, reachable by car) and Isle au Haut. Mail aside, the ferry brings in the morning, and removes in the afternoon, day trippers. Would you really make a day trip to Isle au Haut to just buy bourbon in a can at the grocery?
Ah hah. That's the little secret. Sixty percent of Isle au Haut is part of the Acadia National Park. Probably because of the politics involved in the acquisition of the land, THIS part of Acadia is not allowed to be advertised. If you don't ask about it, you won't know about it! Aside from the limited space on the ferry, the only way to get here is by boat or kayak. The ferry can carry perhaps 60 people, but in our limited sampling we see only six or so arriving each day. We've also seen five kayakers. And then there's us and another boat. Let's see - that makes 15 people in the park today. Not too crowded.

We hit the trailhead this morning and hike the 4 miles through spruce trees and along rocky beaches down to Duck Harbor. A little late, by foot rather than by sail, but we made, at last, Duck Harbor. Then we only had to hike the 4 miles back :)

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