Ah, Maine, in the summertime. It feels good to be back. I’m writing this from my parent’s living room, where I can look out on Damariscotta Harbor and see my little boat moored amongst a number of classic skiffs and sailing dories. On a day like today even the motorboats out there are pleasing to the eye. We arrived two nights ago with the impeccable timing which has carried us on this trip, and is born of pure luck. Sailing thirty-odd hours from Buzzards Bay and then motoring up fifteen nautical miles of Damariscotta river with a rising tide we rounded the last daymarks just as they were becoming indistinguishable. With the ten foot tide we were able to tie up at the dock of some old family friends for a very welcome meal.
|Nothing says Maine like a good lobster pot obstacle course|
Mike, our host, had arranged a mooring for us with Paul Bryant, an old salt whose family has been building wooden boats on the Damariscotta River for generations. Bryant is the long-time harbormaster as well as owner/operator of Riverside Boat Co. and allows transient boaters to stay for free on his marina’s spare moorings. According to the local Lincoln County News he was paid a small sum in 2009 for his service as harbormaster. This was the first time he had been paid and as soon as Bryant figured out what had happened he told the town not to do it again. As for us, Bryant told Mike that we could grab any empty mooring and Mike passed this news on with a chuckle. See, Mike used to own a cruising catamaran, the only catamaran in Damariscotta harbor, and when he got his mooring Bryant told him he couldn’t stand the sight of the thing and assigned him the furthest ball from town!
|At rest in Damariscotta Harbor|
This is what I love about Maine. Second only to Alaska in the length of its coastline, much of that coast is still working waterfronts, small towns where generations have lived, and thrived on the sea. Beautifully crafted wooden boats still abound, and unlike the million-dollar yachts of Cape Code and the Martha’s Vineyard many of these are sailing dories and working boats that swing with the tide on moorings marked by old fenders or roughly hacked out cubes of blue styrofoam. In these towns even when modern fiberglass boats make up the majority they still seem a bit out of place.
During the golden age of sail Maine timber was crafted into some of the world’s finest ships and even Damariscotta Harbor was once a great port. Despite its being fifteen miles from the sea, enormous clipper ships were built here, presumably floated downriver on the highest spring tides. Take the B.F. Metcalf, a hundred and eighty foot long three-master of a thousand tons. It was built here in 1875 and in this picture you can see the Damaricsotta-Newcastle Bridge just behind it.
|Keep in mind the current depth in this harbor is around 15′ at low tide!|
These days Damariscotta is a sleepy town mostly given over to tourism in the summers, but it is still full of lovely old boats. There aren’t any more clipper ships but there remain a couple of small builders, like Bryant, who are building wooden boats in a tradition as old as New England.