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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

New friends and local celebrities

We've just spent a delightful couple of days on Isle au Haut, a small island with some fifty year round residents and a small set of summer visitors. Now, Isle au Haut has some interesting connections.

Some of you may know that one of my favourite books is 'The Hungry Ocean', a simple but brilliant description of a fairly typical six week commercial sword fishing trip. It is written by Linda Greenlaw, probably the only female captain of a 100ft sword fishing boat, the 'Hannah Boden', which is the sistership to the 'Andrea Gail' lost with all hands in 'The Perfect Storm'.

I've read and re-read that book a dozen times, and it always inspires and awes me - the things that men and women do month in, month out to put fish on the table for the rest of us. It was only a few weeks ago I found out that Linda Greenlaw has written more books, and she lives on Isle au Haut, Maine. So I bought her second book, 'The Lobster Chronicles', which is the story of a season lobster fishing back home on the island after she gave up the swordfishing. It's funny, rich and more personal than the previous book, and just as engaging. Gesa's enjoying it too.

Arriving at Isle au Haut, we read up on the island's history. Back in 1879 a wealthy Bostonian, enchanted with the beauty of the place, got together with some friends and bought up most of the spare land on the island, forming a sort of boys club for summer getaways - no women or children allowed. Splendid idea, I'd say, but probably not going to fly in the twenty-first century. Even by the start of the twentieth, the one-time bachelors had succumbed to marriage and now it was families spending their summers on the island with a few simple cabins and a large clubhouse for meals and entertainment.

After the war, the descendants of these original good-timers generously gifted the bulk of the land to the state, becoming part of Acadia national park. They retained the clubhouse and 'cottages', which were now substantial homes in a prime part of the island, and so it continues to this day.

We anchor near to Point Lookout, where these cottages stand, largely hidden by the trees and with their own private dock. A few small day sailing boats and little powerboats bob on their moorings nearby. In one, a man is preparing for a sail, just him and his dog. I pop over in the dinghy to say hello. Yes, we're fine where we are. And of course, no-one will mind if we use the dock, and there's water too if we need it. The kids are welcome to play on the swings and slide.

Later we go into town and, outside the only village store, we meet him again, it's a small island, he notes. Back at the boat, I take the kids ashore to the swings. I chat with a women on the dock. Oh, yes, I think you were talking to my husband earlier.... We, and our kids, are similar ages and she's interested in our trip and how we live. Do we need anything? Showers? (when she asks about showers twice, I wonder if I need better deodorant) and eventually I get over my British politeness and say actually, yes there is something, could we do a load of laundry? Of course, and why not come up to the house now with the kids so you know where we are.

The houses are beautiful here, a range of styles and sizes, linked by boardwalks through the woodland. Their family has owned it since 1920, and it's now shared by the brothers and sisters who use it for a few weeks a year each. It's a very special place. At the house, the kids get on like kids do, straight into play without a glance back at Daddy. It's suggested that I go back to the boat and get the laundry, and Gesa, whilst they look after the kids, which is exactly what we do.

The following evening we are invited for dinner and share a lovely evening in adult company whilst the kids do their own thing - only the second time in our trip that we've been to dinner at someone else's (non-floating) home. There aren't a lot of children around so all parties are pleased to have the kids entertaining each other with the minimum of fuss.

During the day, we had been for a walk along the trails in the park, another beautiful forest walk with the added bonus of plentiful blueberries. From having paid silly prices for these in Tescos back home, we now have a pound of fresh, wild ones in the fridge and they are better than anything! As we return, however, it begins to rain lightly and the bugs come out in force. We quit the trail and head back by a quiet, unpaved road, hoping the bugs will be fewer on the road than the trail. MAybe they were, but it didn't feel like it. We round a corner to find a sign - cafe and chocolatier. Normally this would have Gesa delighted and me groaning but this time we were both very happy to step inside and behind the screens. Here, in the middle of a forest on a tiny island in the Atlantic, someone has begun making chocolates and opened a room of their house to serve these and nice fairtrade coffee. It turns out that they do most of their business via stores on the mainland and internet mail order, but there's a surprising number of islanders who pop in for a $2 truffle. And they are very tasty.

We walk on and another hundred yards brings us to the 'Sea Urchin' gift shop. More of a gift shack, actually, being a small shed next to another little forest house. We browse, and there is a good selection of items as well as quite a few of Linda Greenlaw's books, including a cookbook she has written with her Mum, Martha. There's a photo of them on the cover. I look at it. I look at the woman behind the tiny counter. I look at the photo. Yep, seems like we've walked into Mrs Greenlaws little shop. We chat a little about the books, and how The Hungry Ocean has a prime place on our small bookshelf. She's clearly a very proud mother, despite having despaired when her daughter gave up an English degree to go deep-sea fishing.

We buy another book, signed this time. It's good too, 'All Fishermen are Liars', a woven together set of fisherman's stories and anecdotes from her time at sea.

Isle au Haut has been really good fun, it would be nice to stay longer - it really has the change of pace that island life is meant to represent and rarely does in this interconnected, broadband world.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Great Acadian Chipmunk

Here's Issie on our walk. On the way were frequent piles of rock, each one a carefully balanced set of four rocks in a bridge like shape. "What are these, Daddy?" ask the children.

"Ah, well, those are the territory markers of the Greater Arcadian Chipmunk, they are nocturnal creatures who come out and mark their bit of the mountain with piles of rock"

Obviously, they took some convincing, but Gesa and I built a pretty robust tale of the large creatures who pile up rocks to show their strength and protect their part of the mountain. You can tell the age of the chipmunk by the size of the stones, and sometimes, as you get higher up the mountain, you might find six rock piles, made by the bigger, dominant males to really show off. Although they are nocturnal, they are known to watch their rock piles during the day, so it can be dangerous to mess with the rocks.

Later, we're reading a park newspaper and discover that these are really special piles of rock, known as 'Bates Cairns' after a chap in the 1920's who made many of the trails in Acadia and developed this unique style of cairn as a trail marker. The rocks are carefully selected so they balance properly without needing as many rocks as the usual big pile of rocks cairns.

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Photos from Isle Au Haut

A few recent shots, being:
- Family photo from the forest walk
- Sunset over little Flake Island, just the other side of our anchorage
- Max walking through the marshland (on a log path)
- Issie on the trail

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Hiking the trails

As we know from elsewhere, one of the things the USA does really well is National Parks. Here on Mount Desert Island (or MDI as it's known), a large part of the island is the Acadia national park. With a huge network of well marked and maintained trails, frequent free buses, low entry fees (fairly high if you are in your car, but only $10 for us all for a week), this place is a nature lovers paradise.

We left the boat anchored in Somes Sound, a beautiful fjord in the middle of the island, and caught the bus into Bar Harbor, the main town on the island. It's very full, touristy and somewhat kitsch (having become a destination for cruise ships - thought we'd got away from them) but is still a nice place to stop and grab lunch before heading off to the hills.

Out again in the park, we chose a short but steep little trail from a lake up about five hundred feet and above the treeline, and it was marvellous. The kids love hiking when it's not flat, there's scrambling and exploring to be done and they compete to find the next blue blaze of paint that marks the trail. Higher us there are cairns too, including special ones that you only get here in Acadia, but more on that in another post...

The way down is even more steep, including a great little ravine about three feet wide and twenty deep, with ladders in places to help us descend the trail. At the bottom, the trail breaks out onto the park loop road and within ten minutes, there's the bus back to Bar Harbor, civilisation and a cup of coffee. Despite this being the second most visited park in the USA (after Yellowstone), on our three hour hike we saw about ten other people.

Since the water temperature is somewhere between freezing and bloody cold, we are never in the water, unlike the Caribbean where we were rarely out of it. Instead, this part of the adventure is all about land and there is plenty to explore and discover ashore.

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Issie takes a dip

Sand Beach, Acadia national park, and we go to play on the beach after a short hike along the shoreline.

The water is 13'C. We're not going in - except Issie the mermaid, that is. She wants to go play in the waves so it's into her costume and she's having a great time, until she misses a big wave, that is. But a cuddle from Mummy makes it all better.

Sand Beach, Acadia national park, and we go to play on the beach after a short hike along the shoreline.

The water is 13'C. We're not going in - except Issie the mermaid, that is. She wants to go play in the waves so it's into her costume and she's having a great time, until she misses a big wave, that is. But a cuddle from Mummy makes it all better.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Pulpit Harbor

Another email from Gesa that I have adapted for our latest blog entry - this is the lazy way of blogging!

We have moved on after two fun days in Rockland. After our busy day on the train trip, we had a leisurely breakfast and another
quick run into town to another great bookstore and coffee shop to try and make some Skype calls, before putting up sail and having a wonderful reach to Pulpit Harbour (as the rock as you come into harbour looks like a church pulpit). This very rock has had for about 170 years a massive osprey's nest. Sure enough as we came in, there it was, with Mama bird inside.
It is a lovely harbour and a popular overnight stop for sailors. Not much here except a few cottages on the island (North Haven), and lots of peace and quiet! Plenty of anchoring room too, which is a nice change from many of the buoy filled harbours we have been to.

We took a pootle up one of the side rivers and spotted a house and property that truly inspired us for what we would like in Canada. On return I took a photo of Ty Dewi which simple does not capture the beauty of her surroundings. However, a few hours later I captured this sun set, same scene, and you begin to understand why we love it here so much. Last night I woke up in the middle of the night and saw a splendid blanket of stars. Something I have not experienced so wonderfully since my summer camp days as a child. Maybe there is something about northern skies? We had plenty of stars in the Caribbean, but it wasn't the same.

Next day, after a bit of school and much needed varnishing of the boat, Nick took the kids ashore at low tide to collect mussels. They were delicious for dinner. We then had an enjoyable walk ashore. The kids found a lobster buoy and had great fun playing with it. The wild flowers are just gorgeous. I could not resist just snapping away. Even just smelling the pine forest evoked many happy memories of the summers spent at camp and the cottage. I have not lived in North America for more than 15
years, but somehow it all comes back so naturally and comfortably to me. I still miss Cambridge and the people we left behind tremendously, but I know this is the life meant for us now.

We are just a few days away from Mount Desert and Acadia National Park (the second smallest and second most popular national park in the USA). We are very much looking forward to it and will spend about 4 days exploring the island's trails, beaches etc. We are then going to make a fairly swift trek back south to Portland. This is anyway part of our plan as we would like to meet up with friends in Boston before continuing on to Cape Cod, Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard and New York. However, a close family friend has taken ill, and being relatively close (to Canada), we have decided to put Ty Dewi on a mooring and make the trek north by rental car to make a brief visit. It will also allow us to have a couple of days with my parents in Laval
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Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Train in Maine

I had been going to write about our train excursion, but Gesa wrote a nice summary in an email to friends, so let's tell it in her words. Background - we saw the train going through Thomaston and found out it was a scenic trip from Rockland to Brunswick, so we thought we'd do it as a special treat......

We had a real full on day yesterday. As planned, we woke up early and caught the 745am Maine Eastern to Brunswick. We were all excited and thoroughly enjoyed the start of the trip. Click clacking through the back of people's yards, seeing the abundant flora along the track, which then opened up into marsh, ponds, bits of Atlantic. Even saw an osprey's nest and chicks! It was truly lovely.

But the journey was long, and the attention of a 4 and 6 year old dwindles. There were a couple of volunteers on the train who passed around colouring books and crayons, and one of the conductors came around with conductor hats for the kids. This was great. Issie especially took her job seriously. Checking everyone's tickets, turning off all the lights in the unoccupied seats, distributing magazines, and checking seat numbers. It was all rather cute.

As we came into Wiscasset, I suggested maybe getting off here, as it would give us about an hour before the train turned around. It looked rather picturesque along the river, picnic tables, lots of fishing/lobster boats, and a lobster riverside cafe. However, Nick decided not to and we stayed aboard, still in hope that we could have 20 minutes at the station in Brunswick to get a coffee etc.

Well, we carried on to Bath (a considered sailing stop on the way back south). Rather industrial, with a strong tidal currant running down/up the river. We decided we would save ourselves the trip up river. Although Bath may have a lot to offer, we were not keen to fight the tide.

The train carried on to Brunswick, where we found out from the conductor that there is nothing at the station and no time to even step out as they would be picking up 34 passengers (at least) and making a quick turn around as they were a little behind schedule. Ug, not only could I not get my most needed coffee, their diner cart was off being refurbished, so nothing even available on the train. We had pretty much ate up all the snacks we had brought (almonds, Goldfish, Ritz crackers!!!), wish I had remembered the apple!

So, the return journey, although still enjoyable, was a bit harder due to lack of 'treats' and no break (5 hours round trip). It also made me think the whole trip was over priced for what it was. Coming the other way from Brunswick, you get on the train at 1020am, arrive in Rockland at 1230pm, and then have three hours to explore the town, have lunch, visit a museum, etc. before getting back on three hours later. Works better that way. Well, overall still fun, but not sure worth the $100!

We headed into town to find lunch. We ended up at a tavern, where Nick was quite pleased to acquire a pint of something or the other. I indulged in a glass of white wine. Always tricky mid-day not to get too tired!! Food was OK, but still for $50, felt it was a lot of money for something just 'OK'. Nick then headed off to do the big grocery shop while the kids and I wandered down Main Street, spending a lot of time in the book store and toy shop.

This was followed by another stop at Dairy Queen for an ice cream, before our last stop at the pet store to look at the fish and animals. We had agreed to meet back at the dock at 430pm, by now it was closer to 5pm. I hoped Nick was in relaxed mode, so I didn't stress, and just slowly worked our way through our wish list of shops. While in the bookstore, Issie got into a series of fairy books, one totally about fairy houses! So of course, we had to build a fairy home before we left! We were so shattered by the time we got back to the boat.

Thankfully bedtime wasn't too strenuous, and I found myself falling asleep on the couch at 730pm!! Of course a piece of dark chocolate and a second wind, had me then reading in bed until the ripe old hour of 930pm!!! Different world out here.
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Thursday, July 10, 2008

At home in Maine

We are sitting on a mooring just fifty yards from a tiny island, with a single solitary house. Shrouded in fog, the island is only just visible as a shadowy shape in the milky mist. Apart from this pale shape and a couple of the ubiquitous lobster bot buoys, we are alone in this world.

Earlier, Max and I gathered fresh mussels from the island shore and we had them for dinner. We have come down river from Thomaston where we were watching ospreys taking fish from the river, a harbor seal cruising around, and great blue herons standing, stauesque, looking for their dinner.

Maine scenery and wildlife is truely magnificent, and we are really enjoying it here. Yet above all the fabulous surroundings, the thing that we like the most is the people.

On Peakes Island, we met people who offered us a mooring, water, hospitality, whatever we needed. In Christmas Cove, we went ashore for a beer and Issie made friends with the people two tables down, who turned out to be sailors too. Off to collect their yacht from Camden over the next couple of days, they offered us use of their car to go inshore to a bigger grocery store. We had a great trip, and just left the keys in the car afterwards, as they asked.

In Thomaston, we are standing on the waterfront taking a picture of our boat when a voice asks if she is ours. We are soon invited into the home of a wonderful couple who have cruised the Atlantic in their own boat, and he is still regularly cruising and racing - just leaving for Bermuda this week. We are treated to food, gifts and use of their laundry facilities!

Today, we drop anchor but find it set badly so we lift and prepare to reset when a small powerboat zips alongside. Just take that mooring if you like, the owner's away and he won't mind. So we do, and later the guy in the powerboat returns and invites us for a beer. It's nearing the kids' dinner time so we turn it around and he comes aboar Ty Dewi for a beer with us. He lives here but has a lot of sailing in his background, and has just helped bring a seventy foot yacht up from the Caribbean. So many people around here are sailors and we are instantly recognisable as long term crusiers so doors are opened and conversations easily begun. It's a wonderful thing.

As we head more north east, further from Portland and city life, Maine gets a little more wild and empty, people are even more friendly and the cruising is just better and better. We could stay here a while, and just might.
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Saturday, July 05, 2008

Some photos (1)

A few photos from recently -
- Lobster pot floats are everywhere, ashore and on the water
- As are lobsters - we caught this little one in our crab trap
- Issie has learn't to cast with rod and line
- But hasn't caught anything yet

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The Fourth of July

Our apologies - there's not been a lot of blogging recently but we've been so pleasently busy exploring marvelous Maine and meeting so many great people.

Today was July 4th, so America parties for Independence Day, and we find ourselves in the gorgeous St George River at the little town of Tomaston. We are the only visiting boat here, on a river mooring amoung a few local boats and a very high quality boatyard, we are made to feel as welcome as welcome could be.

We went up to town today for the parade, then had some quality playground time, BBQ chicken and finished off with face painting before returning to the boat for a drink with some new friends who live on the waterfront here, then back into town for the fireworks.

All great fun and we are really enjoying being in the USA, and loving it here in Maine. We'll write some more soon.