August 28, 2011

It's Worth the Trip: Vinalhaven offers quintessential island experience


About an hour and 15 minutes on the ferry out of Rockland lies a treasure, a visit to which will transport you to both another world and another time.

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Carver’s Harbor on Vinalhaven is filled with lobster boats, with the buildings of village in the background.

Staff file photo


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Vinalhaven, with its village of Carver's Harbor, is the quintessential Maine fishing community, overlooked by many visitors and Maine residents alike. And therein lies a big part of its charm.

Relatively quiet, very laid back and waiting to be explored by bike or on foot, Vinalhaven beckons the visitor to reconnect with Maine's fishing and quarrying tradition, past and present.

You can also take your car on the ferry that plies the waters of Penobscot Bay six times a day between 7 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., but be forewarned that it only carries 16 cars, and factoring in a bait truck or two, there's not a lot of capacity. And the vehicle will cost you $49.50 plus the $17.50 charge for each adult passenger; kids are $8.50. It'll only cost $16.50 for your bike, and your chances of getting on the boat are much better than if you take your car. You'll often find during the busy mid-summer months that you might be in line while two or three ferries leave before it's your turn.

But that's not all bad, as a couple of hours roaming the streets of the new Rockland can be great fun. The small city has gone through a recent renaissance, artistically, culinarily, culturally and atmospherically. And by the latter, I mean both figuratively and literally.

The Rockland of my youth, with its processing and manufacturing activities and straight pipes into the harbor, earned a reputation for its olfactory "charms." It was hardly the tourist destination and mecca for yachtsmen and cruise boats that it proudly is today. You'll find as lively an arts scene as anyplace in Maine, well worth a few hours or more of your time.

It's the perfect jumping-off place for the trip to Vinalhaven, across a stretch of open water on Penobscot Bay and past the lighthouse on the mile-long breakwater protecting the harbor and with views of the Owls Head light.

Approaching Vinalhaven after about 45 minutes, crossing the west end of the Fox Island Thoroughfare between Vinalhaven and North Haven, Brown's Head Light will come into view, and then you'll be in for about half-hour of what I've long thought is one of Maine's great scenic experiences: the run through Lairey's (Lawry's on some charts) Narrows, with Hurricane Island off to the east, past Green Island, skirting ledges with basking seals, and rounding the corner into Carver's Harbor and a scene that harkens to the centuries-old fishing tradition of the island.

Jonesport and Novi lobster boats lie on their moorings or are busy unloading their catch and taking on bait at the wharf, and cruising boats at anchor provide a great contrast between old and new, working and leisure -- as does the population of the island itself.

For about 120 years, Vinalhaven has been a summer retreat for seasonal homeowners and successive generations who appreciate what the island has to offer and have integrated themselves well, in most cases, into the unique life of the island.

Home to fewer than 1,500 year-round residents, a full 20 percent of whom are lobstermen or their sternmen, the island feels in many ways to the visitor like a completely different world from the mainland. Don't expect to find a golf course or a movie theater ... or a sushi bar. But the island pleasures are many, wholesome and family-friendly.

What you'll find is a bustling working harbor at Carver's Harbor and some fabulous scenery as you hike or bike around the island. Many of the roads are hilly and unpaved, so keep that in mind as you decide which bike to take on the trip with you.

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