50 Places to Sail

Penobscott Bay Recommended By John Worth

For more than thirty years, John Worth has seen Penobscot Bay from the decks of tugboats, tall ships, and one‑of‑a‑kind Arctic schooners. He hasn't tired of the view yet.  "I've been sailing Penobscot Bay since 1973," John said, "and I have to say that I love this place. I'm out here all the time, I commute to work by boat, work on a boat, and sail for pleasure. Penobscot Bay gives you tremendous sailing variety. Thanks to its glacial formation, the bay is very long and wide. There can be a significant ocean swell on the seaward side, but it's like a lake near the mainland around Castine and Searsport. If you're inclined, you can also experience the river phenomenon by going up the Penobscot River.  The water is so deep you can bring a boat‑even a large boat like a windjammer‑very close to shore. "

Penobscot Bay is in the geographic center of the Maine coast, and in some ways likewise captures the gestalt of the Pine Tree State. Forty miles long and fifteen miles wide, dotted by over two hundred islands, the Bay is a melange of hard‑working fishing villages, tourist towns, summer retreats, and secluded harbors‑in short, a cruiser's dream come true. "I captained vessels and ran a windjammer business from 1973 to 1984," John continued, "and I could always find new places to explore.

While the villages on the mainland along Penobscot Bay‑from charming Rockport and Camden in the southwest to the working harbors of Belfast and Castine to the north­certainly add to the region's appeal, it is the many islands that dot the bay that perhaps provide its greatest allure. Some of the islands are served by frequent ferry runs, and hence are a bit more connected to mainland life, others, like Isle au Haut, can only be reached by a mailboat out of Stonington, or by private craft. The Fox Islands, North Haven and Vinalhaven, seem to capture two of the distinct faces of the region. North Haven, is an affluent summer community populated for the most part by seasonal out‑of‑staters. Across the Fox Island Thoroughfare is Vinalhaven, which was once a significant producer of granite, shipped as far south as New Orleans. Today it remains a working island; picturesque Carvers Harbor is home to one of Maine's most prolific lobster industries.

The proximity of everything in Penobscot Bay is one of its most attractive features. When many think of the Maine Coast, the image of tall ships billows before their eyes  Considering Maine's long seafaring history, it's not surprising that the state's coast is home to a first‑rate nautical institution‑the Maine Maritime Academy. Established in 1941, the Academy operates out of Castine, and annually graduates upward of two hundred students a year with degrees ranging from marine engineering to small‑craft design. Sailing is offered as part of the curriculum though the Academy's best­known ambassador to sailing has been the Bowdoin, a schooner built in 1921 at East Boothbay's Hodgdon Brothers Shipyard to ply Arctic waters. Since that time, she's made twenty‑eight trips north of the Arctic Circle. The Bowdoin has been honored as a floating national historic landmark and as the official sailing craft of the great state of Maine. Each summer, she's used in a variety of educational settings. In the summer, John Worth is at her helm.

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