Winter Harbor to Criehaven

Criehaven, Ragged Arse, Maine

Yesterday we had a wonderful sail from Bar Harbor through the islands of Frenchman’s Bay to Winter Harbor. The wind was perfect, and the day was sunny and warm. The only dicey bit was when we were passing between two islands and the wind (light) and the currents (to our nose) conspired to leave us dead in the water, slowly floating towards the rocking lee shore a hundred feet off. We quickly started the engine and steamed off of the lee shore before making another pass at the channel. On the second try we started higher up-current, and passed through without incident.

In Winter Harbor, we docked at the Winter Harbor Yacht Club, a beautiful structure overlooking the bay. We were welcomed to the dock by a down-east old-timer, who caught our line and helped us tie up. “Ay-yuh, you can take your showers here”, he said, “just pay the ladies in the galley.” And so for $2 apiece we each got a hot shower, and for another $20, a mooring for the night.

While at the yacht club, we ate a wonderful lunch of lobster stew and caesar salad. The stew was incredible, with large chunks of lobster floating in a broth consisting largely of cream and butter. We ate on the veranda, overlooking the water. The club’s racing fleet of 1902 wooden gaff-rigged sloops floated at anchor offshore, each hull a different color. The sky was clear, the sun was hot, and life was good.

I took my shower last, and I returned to the dock to find the ship a mile away, at a mooring. “We had to chase you off” said the port captain. “Couldn’t have you sitting here all day!” But he gave me a ride out to the Phoenix in his dinghy.

Today we motored west by southwest 50 miles to the small island village of Criehaven. Criehaven is on the island of Ragged Arse. (The native american name for the island was Racketash, and the settlers quickly came up with their own version of the name.) You won’t find Ragged Arse on charts, however. In a reflection of governmental prudery, the U.S. changed the name on charts to ‘Ragged Island’. You’ll find Ragged Arse a mile south of Matinicus Island, and Criehaven is on the northwest corner of the island.

We motored into Criehaven at low tide. There were a dozen lobster boats in a harbor a quarter of the size of a football field. One boat was lifting a line from the bottom which runs across the entire width of the harbor, and to which moorings are attached, so that they could put in a new line. The lobstermen quickly told us to pick up the yellow mooring and welcomed us to town. We dodged the raised rope and easily picked up the mooring. Ten feet off of our stern, rocks were awash, covered and uncovered by the waves.

The tides here are considerable, and the docks rise 15 feet above the water at low tide. Folks pulling up to a wharf in a skiff need to climb a wet and slimy ladder a long way before reaching the deck. Cranes pull crates of lobster and other provisions up from boats below.

A boy motored by in a dinghy. “Welcome to Criehaven!” he yelled. “Thanks,” I said, “where can we get some lobster?” “From me!” he replied. “I’ll be back in an hour.” And he returned an hour later, with four pound-and-a-half lobsters, which he sold to us for $30. Criehaven is the furthest offshore inhabited island in the United States, and the lobsters are said to be the best in the world. We ate ours steamed over Ragged Arse harbor water and served with french butter. (They live well, these men and women who sail the seas.) As we ate, we threw the shells overboard, where numerous small fish pulled them down towards the bottom, picking them clean.

A walk through town revealed a quaint village without no power grid or roads. Paths led from one home to another around the harbor and across the island. Water comes from a well with a bucket, and sanitation is provided by outhouses. People get up early, to see off the lobstermen, and retire equally early. And everyone we met was friendly.

Tonight the skipper, Cookie, and Shorty are playing Pinocle around the salon table while swatting the mosquitos who have swarmed the cabin. The game is punctuated with curses, accusations of cheating, and smacks (of both mosquitos and other players). It reminds me of a game of King’s Cross I once observed.

I’m sitting at the navigation station typing this journal entry while smacking my share of bugs. The mosquitos are legion, and insatiable. I kill scores, but the task of eliminating them is clearly too mighty. They come in through the air holes on the companionway door, or through a hatch we missed somewhere. Every time I look up, a dozen are buzzing around my head. When I go into my cabin, it sounds like an angry hive of bees, and I spent 10 minutes swatting. The Phoenix is being christened with blood.

Before bed I go above-decks. The tide has come in, increasing the size of the harbor five-fold. A generator on shore is turned off, and the lone bright light fades out, leaving the harbor in darkness. I can see the outlines of the lobster boats floating around us by the light of a waning moon. On shore a few house windows glow dimly, probably by candlelight. The only sound is the sea surging over the rocks at the entrance of the harbor.

Tomorrow we sail south to Provincetown. The skipper has insisted that we’re sailing, whether we have wind or not, so it may take us two days or two weeks to get there.



The passage between the deck of a ship and the belowdecks area, such as the staterooms or the salon.
lee shore
A shore towards which the wind blows. A windward shore is no threat, since the ship will be blown away from it if incapacitated, but a lee shore is a dangerous thing.
The ‘living room’ of a ship. For some reason, pronounced ‘saloon’. The salon includes the dining table where the crew takes their meals.

One thought on “Winter Harbor to Criehaven

  1. What a great narrative! I discovered Ragged Island via Elisabeth Ogilvie’s Bennett’s Island trilogy, which I reread every 4-5 years, so I really enjoyed this visit – vicariously.

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