We set up shop in the town of Rockland, in the heart of Maine’s midcoast region. This is a great staging point for daylong excursions up and down the waterfront, and out among the scattered islands accessible only by ferry. Days are pleasant, nights are cool, and a light ocean breeze refreshes the soul. I’ve grown quickly accustomed to a slower-paced lifestyle.
Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse
You’ve all come to know my fixation with lighthouses. If Maine isn’t the center of the lighthouse universe it’s probably close. That wasn’t the primary purpose of the trip but it’s certainly a nice tangential benefit. Just around the corner from my present location stands the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse, one of those iconic structures even by Maine’s standards, often photographed and reproduced in books and travelogues.
This lighthouse marks the terminus of a long breakwater protecting Rockland Harbor, thus the name, although rather descriptive perhaps not particularly imaginative. The breakwater itself juts across the northern approach to Rockland, a solid granite sentinel visible clearly even in satellite photos.
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The lighthouse is both remote and accessible at the same time; remote because it’s nearly a mile out to sea but accessible because visitors can hike along the top of the breakwater to reach it. Massive rectangular stones cut from nearby quaries form a trapezoidal line, the top of which spans forty feet. However it’s not sidewalk smooth and it’s important to tread carefully to avoid twisting an ankle in a crevasse. Otherwise it’s a level stroll, not too strenuous, not too distant, and it provides a great feeling of accomplishment.
The fog rolled in and thickened as we continued with our lighthouse journey. We donned light jackets to brace against the damp sea breezes even apparent in August. That’s not unusual here. I felt like we’d finally arrived in Maine, or at least its stereotype.
When the breeze blows in a certain direction, cold air chilled by the frigid ocean runs over warmer inland air to form a thin line of coastal fog. Go a mile or two inland and it’s sunny and warm. It’s a strange phenomenon that has to be experienced to appreciated. I rather like it. I’ve never been a sunbathing kind of person anyway.
The Ferry to Vinalhaven Island
But if fog and drizzle isn’t to your liking, simply wait a day. Weather conditions change dramatically along the Maine coastline. That’s exactly what happened with our journey to Vinalhaven less than twenty-four hours later.
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Vinalhaven Island, part of the Fox Islands group, lays offshore from Rockland. It’s located several miles out to sea so it’s accessible by ferry or airplane only. It’s difficult to get an automobile onto the island during summer months but walk-on passengers have no trouble securing a spot on any of the several trips departing throughout the day. It also substitutes as the cheapest harbor cruise available, passing jagged coastlines, channel islands, bird colonies and a couple of lighthouses during its seventy-five minute journey.
It’s a short walk from the ferry terminal to downtown Vinalhaven, although "downtown" may be a bit of a misnomer for it’s actually a single short strip of shops. We found a small working town that doesn’t pander much to tourists, nor should it. Save that for the mainland string of villages along Route 1.
Scores of boats filled the busy harbor. Nearly every one them was a commercial vessel used by lobstermen, dropping off their catch or heading out to sea. There were plenty of summer residents for sure, in fact the population triples during those times, but most of them are there for months rather than days. It has a dramatically different feel than bustling Rockland.
Vinalhaven, the town, is rather small. This is a view down Main Street. Expect pleasant strolls along the waterfront or up the hills behind town. Don’t expect tacky tourists shops. There are a couple of restaurants, some art galleries, a scant number of curio shops and a small hotel. A single gas pump serves the entire island. This is the Real Maine of days gone by, lovingly preserved by geographic isolation.
I took a lot more photographs of Vinalhaven and the ferry, and you can check that out on my permanent site along with much more explanatory text.
Birch Point Beach State Park
We went back into the fog after our day of brilliant sunshine. That didn’t stop us from going to the beach.
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Sandy beaches are not a normal thing along the jagged coast of Maine but they do exist. We found one south of Rockland at Birch Point Beach State Park.
It had an almost otherworldly feeling, a ghostly beach enveloped in a thick, gray blanket. People disappeared merely feet away. I took this photograph at mid-afternoon. While it looks chilly it was actually a warm day. The tide went out and the kids enjoyed splashing through pools in search of sea creatures like snails and crabs. Small spring-fed streams ran from adjoining woodlands, across the beach and into the ocean (see the thin lines running parallel to the ocean in the satellite photo). The kids used their imagination to construct sluices, canals and moats of running water through their sandcastle creations.
Still haven’t had enough?: See the full set of photos on my Panoramio page.