Scratching the surface of Casco Bay
Casco Bay has been on our list since moving to New England, so when grandparents offered to take the children for a weekend we made immediate plans for a visit.
Portland is about 40 nm northeast of us and marks the southwestern end of the bay. 2.5 hours after leaving our dock in Portsmouth, NH we pulled into Peaks Island Marina where we'd reserved a mooring. We'd visited Peaks via Casco Bay Lines a year earlier and the day quickly became one of our favorites of that summer, making Peaks a familiar spot from which to start our visit.
Just 2 nm off Portland, Peaks offers quintessential island charm. A few restaurants, an inn or two, coffee shops, and the requisite ice cream parlor dot a main street, aptly named Island Ave. Golf carts are available for rental at $22/hr; 2 hours was sufficient for us to circle the island and left enough time to take a quick walk on a trail and have a picnic. A surprisingly well stocked grocery store can also be found on Island Ave., which made picking up a few forgotten items easy. There's nothing fancy about Peaks, but that's the point.
One item of note: the mooring field, located near a popular passage, was noticeably rough at night. We were warned that we'd feel it when the lobstermen start their day around 4am... we did. Next time we'll look for a mooring that offers some more seclusion.
After lunch we decided to head northeast. The bay runs in that direction for 16 nm and is full of islands of all shapes and sizes. We spent an afternoon simply cruising around taking in the sights. There are plenty of anchorages in which to spend an afternoon or night.
Jewell Island's anchorage was particularly memorable. A favorite picnic spot, the cove on the northwest side of the island was crowded (by Maine standards... there was plenty of room). Trails crisscross the island where hikers who take their dinghy to shore can see submarine-spotting towers and cannon turrets of yesteryear.
Jewell Island's anchorage, towers, and turrets.
An indisputable highlight was Diamond Cove at Great Diamond Island. A small marina there offers hourly and overnight dockage as well as access to a small portion of the island. Private homes and property occupy the majority of the acreage on Great Diamond, but a small road immediately adjacent to the marina is available for visitors to stroll. On that road you'll find two restaurants and lots of golf carts. We enjoyed a cocktail at Diamond's Edge Restaurant overlooking the cove- it was spectacular.
The following day we turned toward Dolphin Marina at the the northeastern end of the bay. Dolphin Marina has a well-deserved reputation for being a worthwhile stop. The staff was very pleasant- though at times to a fault. As an example their policy is to hand mooring lines to visiting boats, which sounds wonderful, but was not a benefit worth our 15 minute wait while the staff tended to other customers. Next time we'll ask that they simply share the mooring number and we'll grab our own line. Likewise, an overly enthusiastic staff member offered the same 5 minute introduction to the facility to every. single. boater. in line, making the check in process needlessly long and annoying. Once checked in, however, the facility was terrific. Boaters who are staying the night are bumped to the head of the line at the (very busy) restaurant on site, which offers 270 degree views of Casco Bay and decent food. Visiting boats are greeted at 8am by dock staff on the launch boat, which is stocked with hot coffee and warm blueberry muffins- a worthwhile benefit for sure.
Further to the northeast you'll find The Basin just across from Cundy's Harbor in the New Meadows River. A narrow channel conceals a wide open anchorage tucked inside. Eagles and Osprey circle overhead while the folks below take a dip or come in for a spot out of the wind. Depending on the wind, the best anchorage spots can be found in the 10'-13' area on the northern side of the basin. If you're in the area this spot is absolutely worthwhile- I've not experienced an anchorage like this any place else.
Casco Bay is an amazing place to explore- we could visit 3 or 4 more times before starting to repeat our stops (though Diamond Cove will be tough to pass). With the convenience of a city like Portland on the doorstep of all that ruggedness, Casco Bay deserves a spot on your list of destinations.