We first sailed to Maine one year ago, in August of 2015. We had loosely planned a Maine sail, but true to form we waited until the last minute to actually plan it. We had a big crowd of family joining us so we wanted a house on the water with a deep-water dock or mooring for Robin Hood. Needless to say, our internet searches were coming up blank. So we resorted to social media, posting on Facebook to see if anyone “knew anyone” or could pull some strings. Sure enough, a friend came through with a house on the water in Vinalhaven, an island off of midcoast Maine. We booked the house then had to google “Vinalhaven” since we knew nothing about it.
Vinalhaven, an island 15 miles off the mid-coast of Maine, is accessible by 1 hour, 15 minute ferry from Rockland. Vinalhaven comprises Maine’s largest island community, and boasts the largest fleet of lobster boat in the entire world. In the early 17th century, an English captain came upon the islands of Vinalhaven and North Haven and, seeing silver foxes on the shoreline, dubbed them the “Fox Islands”. Officially settled in the late 18th century, it quickly became the center of the granite quarrying universe, supplying granite for everything from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Washington Monument.
Fast-forward to our second day on island, and Jonathan and I both called the same realtor, separately, within 10 minutes of each other. We just felt a “certain something” from the moment we sailed up. In the end, we looked at one property–listed at over 3 x our budget–and bought it. We had a few moments of panic over the winter, but this summer our instincts were proven correct. This place is magical. I can recommend a Maine summer to just about any family…highlights in no particular order:
No structure, no TV, no problem
Our days fell into lazy patterns of wandering downstairs around 8:30 (the kids sleep LATE here, whether due to the late sunset or how hard they play all day). While the coffee brews we read their favorite books and wander outside to the deck. We usually talk wind direction and fog potential then decide if our morning will be spent on land or water. I notice a big difference in my kids when TV is not an option.
They do have a few toys here–mostly their limited boat toys that fit into one small cabinet on Robin Hood and that I’ve allowed them to bring inside for part of the summer. They have some cars, lots of little figurines–mostly dinosaurs–and the insanely expensive but amazing space-savers called magna-tiles. Their play this summer has mostly revolved around the make-believe–fairy houses, rock castles on the beach, building crab houses and baking treats to go with their afternoon tea parties. Yep, boys like tea parties too.
If on land…
I am a big believer in bringing kids along, even on activities deemed “too old” or “too difficult”. We did numerous hikes this summer all over Vinalhaven and they rose to the occasion time and again. Sure there was whining, a little bit of carrying, and a lot of breaks, but those little legs hiked miles and miles of beautiful Vinalhaven trails. I was shocked to find so many trails here! I thought of it as a small island, but there are at least 15 different trails that we know of–and probably more. We have one hike cleared on our own land, and I have to admit it is pretty cool to have a 3 year old beg to go hiking. (Granted, our hikes generally involve picnics to eat the above-mentioned treats, so who knows what his true motivation is!!)
Even on days when the wind is strong in our cove or the fog rolls in, it is usually sunny and hot at the two freshwater swimming quarries. These quarries–Booth’s and Lawson’s–were a huge selling point for us. When the ocean is 55 degrees in mid-July, a freshwater swimming hole that is 75 degrees is a big bonus–especially for the native-Floridian in me. With numerous ledges of varying heights to jump off of, kids of every age have a blast here. It also basically counts as one’s daily shower. Because island life.
There are two activities that happen every day, rain or shine. The first is crab-hunting on our beach. With 10-11 foot tides the norm here, at low-tide our beach grows by about 50 yards and crabs of all species and sizes can be found along the water and in the tide pools. We are all endlessly fascinated by the hermit crabs with snails hitching rides, the spider crabs, blue crabs and green crabs fighting and hiding. Oyster crabs with their bright patterns. Endless entertainment. And when we start to take pity on the crabs we collect shells, driftwood, sea glass, DEAD crabs…the list goes on.
The second must-do every day on Vinalhaven is a little ATV exploring. The little guys will tool around the yard on “Mr Snoogledoogle”, the kid-sized John Deere. We usually give them various projects like collecting and hauling kindling for that night’s bonfire. Or sometimes Van just likes to ride in endless circles. That works too. The kids also have two mini-Polaris ATVs for longer range adventures. This past weekend we took a 3 hour berry picking expedition. If there’s one thing I can count on in this life, it’s that anytime an ATV starts up, Van will drop everything and come running.
When all else fails, we hit the Vinalhaven Candy Company for ice cream and old fashioned candy. By “old-fashioned” I mean the really really terrible-for-you kind with all the hazardous dyes and artificial everything. They even have a giant gummy pickle and a 5 lb giant gummy bear that stares me down every time I go in. It’s like a parent’s candy nightmare. Yes, I cringe, but sometimes being a parent is all about survival. This place has been helping Vinalhaven parents muddle through since 2008.
If on the water…
There are so many adventures to be had right from our cove. if the wind is right, then paddling into the cove will yield arm loads of mussels, sea urchins (turned into uni for the more adventurous), sand dollars and even starfish. We love to take off on Robin Hood for a day sail, an overnight, or even longer. And yes, sometimes the planned day sail turns into an overnight which then turns into longer! Sometimes, of course, a smaller, simpler boat is more fun. For those days we have our little Optimist sailboat, a tube, kayaks, canoes and paddleboards–all of which can accommodate various combinations of kids and animals. A couple of our biggest hits are cruising by pirate ships in the whaler (there are about 8 old windjammers that frequent our cove), and making “boats” out of mussel shells that the kids put snails in and “send them out for a sail”. They love to decorate the shells first with 100% vegetable-based paint. Easy 2 hours for yours truly 🙂 We typically spend a solid hour each day just skipping (River, Leo, Nina) and throwing (Van) rocks into the water.
Our favorite outings on the water happen on the little 13′ Boston Whaler. Trips to neighboring island North Haven for ice cream or pizza, seal-watching adventures in nearby Seal Cove, or just plain cruising around. We bought the whaler as a tow-behind dinghy for Robin Hood but having a little power boat has really opened up the surrounding islands in amazing ways. In fact any vacation to the Maine coast requires some sort of boat rental–kayaks count.
We came here on a whim, and the magical Maine coast has not disappointed. If you’re cruising Maine’s coast next summer, we’d love to see you on one of our moorings in Polly Cove and we’d love to hear your stories and recommendations for good 1-3 day trips in the area. See below for our Vinalhaven lobster cake recipe, because I’m making them as I write this and also they’re delicious, so why not?!
Side note–If anyone hates me after reading this, stay tuned for part two, which will delve into the FAR less glamorous side of our island summer.
Vinalhaven Lobster Cakes*
Our friend brought these over one night and I found myself literally hoarding the leftovers the following day–they were THAT good. I begged her for the recipe but all I could really get out of her was- “Vinalhaven lobster, lots of butter, lots of eggs, bread crumbs, pepper and onion.” This may sound vague but she was speaking my language. When cooking I improvise- sometimes to great success and other times to…well at least the results are usually edible. Such is life on boats and islands!
*inspired by lobster chef extraordinaire Erin Lyman
Meat from 2-3 VINALHAVEN lobsters. If you feel mean boiling them alive, stand them on their heads first to “put them to sleep”. It may or may not work, but kids like it and it makes me feel slightly less barbarian.
One stick of butter at least!!
Garlic, peppers, whatever you have on hand These are ISLAND lobster cakes, which means any necessary amount of improvisation is encouraged. I used garlic scapes, onion and a red pepper tonight. Just because it’s what we had.
Bread crumbs I used half a baguette, about 1.5 to 2 cups
Eggs most people say 1-2 eggs but I used 3 and it could have even taken 4. The more the merrier. We aren’t vegan.
Oil I used a lemon olive oil, but I guess we all know these days that other oils such as canola and grape seed are healthier when frying. As you will…
Sauté the onion in butter 1-2 minutes, add the garlic, pepper, etc for another 2 minutes. Add the lobster. (Erin recommends slightly undercooking your lobster in the pot when making these). After 4-5 minutes remove from the stove and put in a bowl. Beat the eggs lightly then mix in to the lobster. Add bread crumbs. Form into patties. Put about 1/4 inch of oil in a pan and heat over medium heat. Add your lobster cakes and cook about 3 minutes each side and voilà!
Dipping sauce I mixed about 1/2 cup mascarpone with 1/4 cup mayo and added 2 TBSP each red pepper jelly and hot sauce. Again…only because it’s what I had. My favorite spicy dipping sauce is Greek yogurt mixed with sriracha and parsley whatever herb I have on hand.
Bonus points for rosé and a water view…