Island Hopping, Maine-Style

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Dinghy-exploring from our anchorage

Before bringing Robin Hood to our new summer home in Maine, most of our New England sailing involved longer hauls: Boston to Nantucket or Boston to Martha’s Vineyard; Boston to Maine; Nantucket to Connecticut or NYC. Long desperate stretches of keeping babies, toddlers and young children happy. Sailing, yes, but if we were being honest, still mostly “living for nap time”. Nantucket is beautiful but there isn’t much great sailing around the island since it is so surrounded by shoals. We usually pull in, get sucked in to Nantucket life and stagger out 10 or so (who’s counting?) days later–fatter, tipsy, and much, much, poorer.

During the winter season of 2014-2015 we kept Robin Hood at Bitter End Yacht Club in the British Virgin Islands and that location offered us some amazing sails, island-hopping the beautiful Caribbean islands. Two to four hours and we could be in some beautiful and one-of-a-kind spots. At that time though, we had a 2 month old, a 2 year old, 8 and 10 year olds. The younger two were just not a lot of fun awake during any length of sail. I even started to get seasick for the first time in my life, presumably from staring down at them so much, instead of looking out at the beautiful horizon. This summer in Maine our youngest two are 21 months and 3.5 and what a world of difference that makes! Suddenly the half-day sails are not only doable–they’re actually fun! With the older two on board we’ve even tackled a few full day sails with nary a tear (and only one minor head injury! Yay us!)

Our new Maine property is on 17 wild and untamed acres of Vinalhaven, an island 15 miles off of mid-coast Maine, accessible by ferry from Rockland. Located on the Northeast side of Vinalhaven, our house sits right on Polly Cove, which opens up to the larger Carver Cove, right at one end of the Fox Islands Thorofare. We look out at the Sparkplug Lighthouse and Widow’s Island, and in foggy weather, our cove is a known safe anchorage. Most nights Robin Hood has at least a few anchor lights keeping her company. Vinalhaven is, luckily, also the perfect launch pad location-wise to visit many other islands. Within a several hour radius, there are countless thousands of coves, bays and harbors to explore. 

This past weekend we took a little hour and 45 minute trip from Polly Cove to Deer Isle, past the storied town of Stonington, and through the Deer Isle Thorofare to a gorgeous little cove nestled between Devil Island, Camp Island, and Bold Island. About 8 other boats joined us for the night, including the giant schooner J.E. Riggin. The kids were obviously delighted to have a pirate ship neighbor for the evening. I’m sure we did not look suspicious at all as we circled them countless times in the dinghy and spied on them from our bow through binoculars. (Apparently, these particular pirates are into cooking, they run amazing 4 day culinary cruises…we knew we smelled something delicious!)

After setting the anchor, we stocked the yeti with drinks for everyone and set out for some dingy exploring. Summer the dog got to run around and not pee on our teak decks, the kids brought their nets and searched for fish and crabs. We found several Osprey nests and could hear the baby osprey crying out while mom and dad circled the intruders to their paradise. Much to both my pride and chagrin, River and Van’s newest favorite activity is picking up trash. We have been reading lots of books and telling lots of stories on beach-combing and finding beach treasures. I was hoping to divert their attention from trash to cool shells, but instead, naturally, the trash is now treated as just another treasured find. River is very happy every single time he saves a sea creature from whatever a 3 year old thinks of as a terrible demise. I’m not overly psyched about transporting extra trash bags around, but I’m also not one to discourage a couple of toddlers who already care about our oceans. So for now, we usually return home with a bit of trash in tow. 

After all that exploring (trash pick-up-ing) it’s back to the boat for tub time. We have a little fold up tub for the boat that the kids love–though they’re getting a little big for squeezing in it together. Still, there’s nothing like tubby-time up on deck surrounded by 360 degrees of natural Maine beauty. The real magic of life aboard Robin Hood comes at bedtime when, in their wooden-walled, shade-darkened cabin the little dudes sleep 12 solid hours of awesomeness–during which we whipped up some BVI style painkillers with nutmeg brought back from Virgin Gorda. If we added an extra layer and squinted we could almost see North Sound in the distance. 

In the morning it is typically strawberry pancake time–one of our favorite sailboat breakfasts because the leftovers are fantastic snacks for later on while under sail. The kids can just grab them and eat them whole. With such an easy sail home, we had time for more dinghy exploring. The little islands surrounding our cove all had these sandy crushed shell beaches that we had yet to find in our earlier Maine island explorations. We made lunch on board then set sail back to Polly Cove, timing it for the littlest guy’s nap time. At 21 months he is old enough to have self-awareness on board, but is also old enough to run the length of the decks laughing maniacally and pretending (or so I tell myself) to try to climb out through the lifelines.

We can’t wait to go back, yet we know we have years of exploring ahead of us before we will even begin to uncover all the beautiful gems that surround Polly Cove. Or maybe we will just follow J.E. Riggin’s around. Good food and beautiful places, I think they are on to something. All we need now is Willy T’s!

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Pussers Painkillers!

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The working quarry across from Stonington. Cool, but also a good reason to keep going to the other end of the Thorofare

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Stonington, ME–quaintest little town to sail by

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my sailboat monkey

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hand line fishing–a sailing toddler parent’s best friend

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excited for exploring

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The 3 dinghy explorers pulling up to a new sandy beach (quite a find in this part of Maine!)

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Rock jumping. Better than TV

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Exploring a new rocky island via dinghy from our anchorage

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Our talented neighbor pirates, JE Riggin

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The sandy beach where River and Van found most of their trashy treasure

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Mark Island Lighthouse, at the entrance to Deer Isle Thorofare

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Robin Hood at anchor
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Our anchorage for the night, at the Eastern end of the Deer Isle Thorofare