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I Love Boothbay Harbor, Maine, So Stay Away

(August 2000)

It's Saturday, July 1, and I am driving home to Pennsylvania after a refreshing week in Maine. Driving south along I-95 I think to myself, this is the day to escape Vacationland. After all, it is only a few days before the Fourth of July; it seems that everybody is heading to Maine. Traffic into the state was bumper-to-bumper from York, Maine, all the way to Concord, Massachusetts, a whopping 75 miles! "Wicked" would be the word most Mainers would use to describe it. The Maine tourism slogan says it all. "Maine, the way life should be." It appears that my beloved home state has become a Mecca for city slickers escaping the drudgery of city life to capture a glimpse of nirvana. I can't say I blame them. After all, Maine is "all that."

Maine's natural beauty draws tourists by the thousands. With amazing mountains, freshwater lakes and rivers, a stunning coastline, and forested wilderness, what's not to like? I prefer the seacoast with its wonder of rocky cliffs, mud flats, surging tides, stone covered beaches, and small fishing villages where time seems to stand still. With these natural treasures come recreation enthusiasts who enjoy activities like hiking, fishing, boating, whale watching, and much more. On the other hand, you don't have to do much of anything. Maine lets you wind down. You can eat, wander, relax, and escape the pressure. My favorite place to do all or nothing is Boothbay Harbor, a popular Maine vacation destination.

Located fifty miles northeast of Portland, Boothbay Harbor is a quintessential charming New England coastal village. Like most other Maine harbor towns, it sports an assortment of docks, saltbox homes, B&Bs, and white colonial churches with massive steeples. Strolling the picturesque downtown area of Boothbay Harbor is a feast for the senses. While your eyes view the fine antiques and local crafts, your nose encounters the savory aromas of fresh cooked lobster, steamed clams, and chowders flowing from harbor restaurants.

I have to be honest; I was somewhat tempted not to write this column. Should I extol the virtues of Maine's beauty to thousands of readers? After all, most travelers have a favorite hideaway place they hold so dear that they only tell their dearest friends about it. Ah, but I am a travel writer, and I am expected to write about such places. In case you couldn't tell: I love Boothbay Harbor. Stay away!

Discovered by English fishermen in the 17th century, Boothbay Harbor flourished as a fishing and shipbuilding town, and continues to do so to this day. Boothbay is the largest boating harbor north of Boston. In fact, it is often called the boating capital of New England. The harbor is dotted with thousands of lobster buoys and hundreds of sailboats which far outnumber the fishing vessels in the summer.

A visit to Boothbay is not complete unless you view it from the water. Scenic boat rides leave from the waterfront area and provide unique views of coastal wildlife, like puffins, whales, porpoises, and seals. Spectacular views are everywhere, especially on a quiet sunset cruise on the bay. There are even excursions to outer islands where you can dock and enjoy an authentic, "Down East" clambake.

For me, there is no better way to intimately experience the Maine coastline than on a sailboat or schooner. This past trip, we had the pleasure of taking a 2- hour sail on the magnificent Schooner Eastwind. She is a 65-foot long, gaff-rigged topsail schooner, made from native Maine white oak and built the way traditional wooden schooners have been built for hundreds of years. However, this is no ordinary schooner. She was built by her owners, Herb and Doris Smith. The Smiths built Eastwind in their backyard over a three-year period. This is the sixth schooner the Smith's have built; Eastwind's sister-ship Appledore III, sailed around the world. In fact, the Smiths have sailed around the world twice.

Weather permitting, Eastwind sails from Fisherman's Wharf three times a day during the summer. At a cost of $20 per person, the boat will accommodate 26 passengers, and reservations are strongly suggested. For our voyage, the weather was perfect, a sunny Maine day with blue skies and calm seas. Captain Herb Smith sailed to the outer islands and Seal Rocks where we had great views of lighthouses, birds, and lobsterman pulling up traps. One great advantage of a windjammer is that it is quiet and allows for closer views of wildlife. Our voyage to Seal Rocks was not disappointing. To our delight there were dozens of seals lining the rocks, basking in the sun. Sailing in this fashion has an authentic feel to it -- the ocean spray over the bow, the glow of the varnished deck, the curve of the sails as they fill with wind, and the tug as they pull the boat along. The serenity of it all, the quiet of the ocean, the silence only broken by the wind and the creak of the hull -- it just doesn't get any better.

No visit to Maine can be considered complete without the experience of a "lobstah dinnah." You will see lots of restaurants with signs touting the lobster experience. However, the best places to eat a "real Maine" lobster are wharf shacks or pounds with picnic tables. Lobster is messy, so the less formal the setting, the better. Trust me, eating outdoors at a wooden picnic table with squawking seagulls and great views beats a sissy baked-stuffed lobster at the Four Seasons anyday. The best place to eat lobster in Boothbay is the Boothbay Region Lobsterman's Co-Op. This is a working lobster pound located on the East Side of the harbor, and you can pick your own lobsters. For $16.95 you can pig out on the shore dinner of two 1 pound lobsters with melted butter and cole slaw. They also serve large, tasty buckets of clams and mussels. You can eat there on the wharf while watching fishermen unload their day's catch, or you can take it "to go" for picnics.

If all this lobster eating, sailing, and serenity don't appeal to you, Portland is only an hour away. And further south from that there's Kennebunkport, where that Bush guy lives. If you're into sandy beaches, a few hours south is Cape Cod. Come to think of it, you'd really like Cape Cod. Maybe that's your ideal destination. Forget everything I said about, uh, that other place.

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