Bar Harbor, Maine

Bar Harbor, Mount Desert Island, Maine

A beautiful day of sailing brought us the 25 miles from Swan’s Island to the port of Bar Harbor in Acadia National Park. We left Burnt Coat Harbor under power, motoring through a narrow passage between the rocks. Gray granite and pine forests slowly passed to either side as the depth readings rose to 12 feet, then fell again. (The Phoenix has a draft of a mere 5 feet, 3 inches.)

Once out in more open water, we set sail and headed northeast towards Mount Desert Island. On a comfortable beam reach, the Phoenix flew. We passed 8 knots comfortably, the ship barely heeling. We navigated through small islands that were more rock than soil. Seals popped their whiskered heads above water to watch us pass. A pod of dolphins leapt by, and I realized that they looked exactly like the waves around them.

As we headed up towards Frenchman’s Bay, the water was filled with lobster buoys. “The water looks like a rainbow!” said the skipper, weaving through the brightly-colored floats. Each float had a line going to ten traps, and the floats were no more than 50 feet apart. Below us was more trap than bottom, and we marveled at the number of ‘bugs’ that must be out there to make all of these traps worthwhile.

As we picked up a mooring in Bar Harbor in heavy wind, motoring up and quickly grabbing the float before we were blown back away. The wind was brisk, and we had to try three times before finally catching the mooring on the fourth pass. Just as we settled back to enjoy the view of the scenic harbor, a hotel on shore burst into flames. We sat on deck and watched the smoke and fire rise from the building as the air filled with the smell of burning wood and tar. The local fire company soon had the fire out, and the wind was clean again.

Cookie and I went into town using the dinghy. The ride was rough in the 20-knot breeze. We squeezed between 30 other skiffs and dinghies at the dinghy dock, elbowing our way in until we made room for ourselves. On shore, Cookie went to the grocery store. The skipper and Shorty were panicked that they were running low on ginger ale for their nightly highball, and our bread supply had gone dry. We’d fed it to the gulls. She also picked up a six-pack of fly swatters, vowing a jihad on the biting flies that have plagued us since P’town.

I headed to the YMCA, where I took a long, long hot shower, shaved, and generally made myself presentable once again. When I met Cookie back at the dock, she was enjoying a chocolate ice cream cone and cursing the smoker sitting next to her. (Cookie is trying to quit smoking on this journey. She goes out on deck at night to suck on a nicotine inhaler & swear creatively to herself. I think she’s becoming more and more of a sailor.)

It was strange to be in a crowded, touristy port after three days of solitude. It was overwhelming, a sensory overload. I loved looking into new faces and the bursting new possibilities of coming into port. There was such variety! The streets of Bar Harbor were crowded with Chinese and Philipinos, Germans and Puerto Ricans. I passed two tall, stately drag queens strolling in sensible shoes as they window-shopped, while a little black girl stared up at them in amazement. A rice-and-potatoes elderly gay couple ate ice cream on a park bench. A shop offered an amazing selection of wines, including a Ridge late-harvest Zinfandel that looked delicious. I bought two bottles for the ship’s cellar.

To a sailor on leave from his ship, Hong Kong could not have offered more. Tonight, I’m liking this sailing thing. Tonight I’m happy.


postscript: After writing the above, the breeze continued to strengthen to over 30 knots. A large tourist schooner could not get into Bar Harbor against the wind and had to drop anchor a hundred yards off of our stern. The tourists were taken off by a lobster boat. Another ship sent a distress signal over the VHF, indicating that their engine was disabled, they were about 300 yards from the rocks, and dragging anchor.


It’s a windy night out there, and the skipper has repeatedly said that he’s very glad that we managed to get a mooring. “I’d be out there sitting on the anchor!” he said, meaning that he would be feeling the anchor chain for ‘skip’ as the anchor slid across the sea bottom.

Despite being at mooring, the ship is rocking hard. But she’s a solid, and the mooring will certainly hold. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll be able to get into town to send off these journal entries. (It was way too rough to take the dinghy in tonight.)


What lobstermen call lobsters.
How much water a ship requires. On a sailboat, this tends to be determined by the heavy lead keel which hangs below the ship and keeps it upright.
A verb describing how a single-hulled sailing ship leans over when under sail. If a ship leans too much, it’s ‘overpowered’, and you need to either adjust the sails or reef them.
The fin below a sailing ship. The keel not only keeps the ship upright due to it’s weight, but it keeps the ship moving forward by opposing horizontal movement. Imagine an airplane wing sticking straight down from the bottom of the ship. Even though the wind blows sideways across the sails, the wing below is going to want to slide forward or back, not sideways against its flat surface. (This description is simplistic, since there are many different shapes of keel, but the concept is the same.)
A semi=permanent anchor with a float attached. Ships can attach to these rather than dropping their own anchor. The process is much more convenient, and significantly more secure. Weighing a thousand pounds, moorings don’t tend to drag.
A verb describing a process for reducing the area of a sail in response to strong wind conditions. On the Phoenix, we reef by simply rolling on the sail like a window shade. On more traditional ships, the main sail is lowered, the bottom several feet is tied to the boom, and the remaining sail is used.

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