Danger on Penobscot Bay

Yesterday, while sailing home from Rockland to Camden in our 24 ft. vessel Inn Absentia, I remarked to Ed that I was glad our home waters were part of Penobscot Bay, rather than the open ocean.

Vicki Doudera here, a little sunburned from the sail but happy to be back on dry land on this Monday morning.

According to A Cruising Guide to the Maine Coast, by Hank and Jan Taft, Penobscot Bay spreads 40 miles long and 15 miles wide, and is graced by more than 200 islands. The Tafts write:

Between them lie great stretches of open water and small, winding thoroughfares. Along their shores are bustling fishing communities, quaint villages, isolated outports, and uninhabited beauty. This is the heart of cruising in Maine, and some of the best cruising in the world.

Camden – as well as many of the towns on the left hand side of the fuzzy map above – is part of West Penobscot Bay, to be precise, and this knowledge has always given me a little comfort. Not the “west” part, but the “bay” part. “Bay” seems softer and friendlier than the starker term “ocean.” Bay rhymes with “play” and “gay” and “hooray, it’s a sunny day…”

Yes, I’m clutching the proverbial life buoy here. You see, although I’ve been sailing these waters for 25 years, I’m still in awe of the power of the ocean, and the way an immense body of water (even a bay!) can turn on you, like a moody, semi-psychotic friend, in what turns out to be a very short time. 

I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen a tranquil, happy day change so quickly in temperament that we have nearly been caught unawares. I’ve gone to sleep on our boat counting the stars, and awakened to fog so thick it was impossible to glimpse a lobster buoy five feet ahead. I’ve spoken to old-timers,  people who know danger lurks on the Bay. Especially on the Bay.

It’s a theme that runs through my mystery series, no doubt because it runs through me. My protagonist, Darby Farr, lost her parents at fifteen after they went out for an innocent sail and never came back. She doesn’t know what befell them, and truthfully, neither do I at this point, although I have several ideas.

Back when I hosted a radio show, I interviewed a man who served as an expert witness on the Exxon Valdez crash, among others, and he told me of the many unexplained disappearances of vessels and crew on Penobscot Bay. I remember him saying that not many people knew just how many huge tankers, cargo ships and container vessels used the Bay as a shipping lane, and that unsuspecting pleasure craft were often at risk.

A tanker appeared on the horizon during our last sail. Long and low to the water, it cut soundlessly through the waves on a straight course toward a larger port, probably Portland or Boston. The speed with which these vessels travel is hard to describe, but it’s fast. They remind me of torpedoes moving single-mindedly toward their targets. God help the ketch caught in their path.

And then there are the rocks.

Here’s what Ed and I witnessed while sailing last Wednesday.

You’re looking at an 80 foot chartered yacht that ran afoul of Goose Rocks, between LaSalle and Mark Islands. My friend Leonard took this photo as he was out sailing, too These rocks are on the charts, of course, but somehow the captain missed them, and the result was a “marine casualty” – a total loss of the vessel, but fortunately, no human lives. We saw the Coast Guard arrive, saw their plane fly overhead, and listened to the chatter on the radio regarding the accident. A beautiful day on the water turned tragic for the eight people aboard – and for those of us who saw the aftermath of the crash.

Here’s my photo,showing how the boat was “demasted”…

It’s sobering stuff, this sailing. Even the prettiest day can have perils – and not just in fiction.

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7 Responses to Danger on Penobscot Bay

  1. Suzanne McGuffey says:

    Wow! Yesterday we spent the day driving along and around the Bay, starting from the Penobscot Narrows Observatory. We saw so many pleasure boats out and about the water often looked covered in white hulls and sails. I’m a Casco Bay denizen and that’s not so terribly safe either. Could that be part of why we love them so?

  2. Okay, Vicki, I’m going to have to pretend I haven’t read this post. LOL I”m hard pressed to go out in a boat, and my husband loves for us to. Frequently I’ve worn a life jacket. Sometimes the only one on the boat to do so. The first time we went to Bar Harbor, I just couldn’t go out on that gorgeous schooner. Our next visit took us to Camden. It was our 40th anniversary and I made myself get on the Schooner Surprise. The captain and his wife were so kind. I loved the trip, despite being the only one wearing a vest. Pictures show me a little white knuckle. 🙂 I’ve been on the Khatadin (sp?) out on Moosehead Lake. That was delightful, and on a second trip to Bar Harbor we did go out on the large schooner. I forget it’s name. The views are fantastic. We’re going to Boorth Bay Harbor this fall,and I was looking forward to another sailing trip. Now, not so much.
    Nope, I never read this post. LOL

    • Ha ha, Marsha! I’m guessing from your description that the boat you went out on in Camden was the Surprise, with the wonderful Jack and Barb Moore at the helm?

      • Yes, absolutely right. Delightful folks. They shared a piece of their original boat with us in honor of our anniversary. I framed it, and it hangs on the wall as a nice remembrance of the trip.

  3. Siobhan Kelly says:

    Hi Vicky,
    I am on DL (mostly lurking) and I follow Lea’s link to this blog every week. I especially enjoy your posts because my partner and I are moving to Camden! We are in the process of buying an inn–I can’t say which yet as it’s not totally finalized–but if all goes well we will close the last week of September. I love MCW blog and wonder if I can join MCW? I’m an indie mystery writer with one book out, THROUGH A SHOT GLASS DARKLY, and another in the works. Not sure if Indies can join.


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