Cruising Maine's Penobscot Bay - 05/20/2009

You do not have to have a megayacht to enjoy cruising Maine’s Penobscot Bay, which is one of the truly great cruising grounds in the world. In fact, you can do it with deckboat or center console because the waters are protected in large measure. The perimeter of the bay is dotted with public launching ramps for trailer boaters and there are marinas with open slips and moorings in every town and village at affordable prices. Then there are the thousands of spots to anchor for the night where you will only be bothered by loons and occasional passing lobster boat (many of whom will be glad to sell you a few lobsters). The bay is protected to a great degree from the prevailing southwesterly breeze, which is a God’s send as it keeps the bugs away. In the summer the air temperature is darn near perfect during the day (sweaters at night) and the water is bracing.

Penobscot Bay
Distances are not great in this wonderful bay. For example, it is only about 10 to 12 miles from Belfast to Castine, which you can find in the upper center part of the map.

The coast of Maine is one of the 10 greatest cruising grounds in the world. And happily it can be reached, most of the way, by Interstate highway, for people trailering their boats or by short hops up the east coast by larger vessels. We heartily recommend cruising there because there is simply nothing like in on the East Coast of America. Indeed, many Europeans come each year to cruise there.

The jewel of the Maine coast is Penobscot Bay, which is roughly in the middle of the coast, and offers a variety of sights and cruising all within easy reach.

Planning Your Trip

For people living outside of the area, basically there are three ways to cruise Maine: 1) Trailer your boat there, 2) Power your boat up the East Coast, or, 3) Charter a boat that is already there.

Chartering in Maine

Last summer, two of the staffers chartered in Maine (one in August and one the end of September) and we will fill you in on that at another time. Suffice it to say that chartering a boat already in Maine is probably the most pleasant and easiest way to cruise there, and we recommend it. Unfortunately, there are not many powerboats available there for charter so if you would like to go that route, you’d better call today, as you are already six months late.

We were pleased with both the Grand Banks 36 we chartered and the service provided by Buck’s Harbor Marine & Charters. Buck’s Harbor is centrally located in the Penobscot Bay cruising area along the north coast of Eggemoggin Reach. This charter company has four powerboats and five sailboats for charter the last time we checked. The powerboats are 32’ and 36’ Grand Banks and a lobster boat. All go about 8 knots which is a perfect speed to cruise the bay. 207-326-8839 or e-mail at Tell the folks at Buck’s Harbor that you read about them at and we’re sure they will do their best to accommodate you.

Lobster Boats
Maine lobster boats are the predominate powerboat class along the Maine coast. Most recreational boats are sailboats and for some unknown reason few powerboats cruise there. This picture was taken in the inner harbor at Blue Hill.

Two if By Sea

The second way of getting there for people who have their own boat, is on its own bottom. That is, of course, the slowest way of getting to Maine, and the cruise up will be a large part of the adventure. If you are short of time, then our recommendation is to plan several weekends for moving your boat up to Penobscot Bay, then spend 10 days to two weeks cruising there. Either leave the boat there for the winter (storage is cheaper there than most any place else on the East Coast) and enjoy a second summer cruising other places in Maine, or ferry your boat back the way you came, bearing in mind you will now be driving into the prevailing wind.

Buck's Harbor
View from Buck’s Harbor looking south across Eggemoggin Reach to Deer Island.

On the Road Again

The third and least expensive way is to trailer your boat to Maine. If you have a pocket cruiser you will be able to use one place as a starting and ending point and be on the boat the whole cruise. If you have a boat that is really only a day boat, then we would recommend that you pick three or four towns to make your headquarters spotted around the bay. Take day trips out and have lunch aboard and explore ashore on remote islands where you will be the only ones walking around. There are precious few places on earth one can do that these days.

Be advised that there are not many hotels and motels around Penobscot Bay, and many of the ones that are there are pricy due to their short season. Your best bet may be the numerous B&Bs that dot the coast. Finding appropriate lodging near a launch ramp will be you first objective.

We are going to suggest that you consider four towns as a base of operation as they are each central to a nice cruising area, each have a launch ramp, lodging and restaurants nearby. These towns are: Camden, Belfast, Castine, and Stonington. For detailed information on the marinas around Penobscot Bay, use as your starting point. (Click Here).

Places to See

Satellite view of Eggemoggin Reach. A bridge across the reach to Deer Island will take you to Stonington which is at the south end of the island. Buck’s Harbor is in the upper left hand area, and the glorious Wooden Boat magazine campus and school is just to the right of the “A” balloon.

This is a typical scene in Maine, hills in the background and sailboats on moorings. This picture was taken the end of September and you can see that the trees are just beginning to turn.

Stonington is the epicenter of lobster boats in Maine. We counted over 55 on moorings the last time we were there. The islands in the middle of the picture are called Merchants Row and they contain hundreds of idyllic anchorages.

Green Island
Here is a lovely spot to anchor for lunch on the east side of Green Island in the Merchant Row group.

Stonington is famous for its lobster boat races during a summer festival. Loberstermen (and a few women) work nearly year round in all weather.

During the high season Camden, Maine’s harbor is probably the most popular in Maine with dozens of boats moored and anchored in the outer harbor.

View of Camden’s inner harbor from a lovely resting spot at the head of the harbor.

Few Powerboats Go There

One of the ironic things about cruising Maine is how few cruising powerboats one sees there. Most cruising boats are sailboats, owned by folks who have sailed all the way Downeast from places such Long Island Sound. Given what a slow and uncomfortable mode of travel sailboats are, it is amazing that more powerboaters don’t make the trip.

Upper Penobscot Bay
The upper part of Penobscot Bay can be seen in this satellite view. Belfast is at left (where you see route “3” on a bridge) and the historical town of Castine is at right, just about 10 miles away.

Castine’s waterfront is home to the Maine Maritime Academy. Their training vessels can be seen at the right. Castine was the site of the most severe U.S. Naval disaster of the revolutionary war.

On our numerous summer trips up to Maine we have rarely encountered rough water and even last September as a hurricane churned its way toward Nova Scotia offshore, we got little more than some mild rain and overcast skies. Usually September is sunny and balmy, one of the best-kept secrets of Maine cruising.

Yes, there is sometimes fog in Maine, but these days with chartplotters navigating Maine even in the fog is not difficult if one goes slowly and is careful. In any case, fog usually only lasts a couple of days.

We hope this little cruising guide has captured your interest for going to a new cruising ground. If you would like to tell us about your favorite cruising area, we’d love to hear about it and would be glad to share it with our readers on these pages…and send us your pictures, too! Just send them to: