Trailering Magazine Archives - Destinations
The road to Camden is filled with turns, some long and winding while others are sharp and immediate. Bringing you through "mid-coast Maine," this stretch of the 2,000-mile- long Highway 1 that runs as far south as Key West sneaks along the glacier-made Atlantic shoreline---a mix of farms and mountains, family-run general stores, roadside fruit and vegetable stands (depending on the season), lobster pounds and, of course, the occasional shopping mall. Homes once built for sea captains appear on either side of the road, quietly noting this village's rich nautical heritage. Even if you can't see the water along Highway 1 in Camden, it's part of everything.
Camden has been called the "perfect picture postcard of a Maine coastal village" by travel writer Eugene Fodor. That idea is echoed by Camden harbormaster Steve Pixley, who has lived there since 1992. "It's a place where you feel you've gone back in time. From the water, Camden is just plain beautiful." The village has a winter population of a little more than 4,000 residents.
Boats have always been an important part of Camden. Because of nearby spruce and oak forests, schooners, barks and workboats were built here. By the end of the 19th Century, shipbuilding was the main industry with the H.M. Bean Yard producing the largest four-masted and six-masted schooners ever built. By this time, ships carrying cargoes of fish, lime, lumber, granite and ice were making regular runs from Camden as far south as Florida and back.
Today, the village is home to half a dozen windjammers making overnight trips with passengers to nearby ports and four schooners providing day sails. In keeping the nautical theme, all the high school teams are called "the Windjammers." In the harbor every summer, you'll see yachts anchored or on a mooring offshore, some as long as 130 feet.
Camden Harbor has three marinas and can accommodate 478 boats in the outer harbor and another 74 boats on moorings in the inner harbor. Harbormaster Steve Pixley, who has spent a lot of time working on those moorings has invented a tool that makes pulling up the long underwater mooring chains go faster---and he's got a variation that works for getting an anchor up when a windlass fails (www.harbormastertool.com). Before becoming Camden's Harbor- master, Pixley skippered a few of the local windjammers and prior to that, he worked on the 106-foot sloop Clearwater championed by folk singer Pete Seeger to clean up the water of the Hudson River.
Steamboat Landing Boat Ramp is the only launch facility in Camden proper. Located on Penobscot Bay, and north of the harbor, the ramp has a long dock and is free. "There are two lanes," Pixley says, "and boaters will park their trailers about half a block inland along Cove Road." Discussions are underway in Camden about adding a turnaround at the top of the ramp for easier maneuvering. Although the tidal range is about 10 feet, there's at least five feet of water on the boat ramp at low tide.
"If you launch your boat early," Pixley offers, "and the weather is good, I'd suggest exploring a few of the islands just offshore. But make sure you've got a chart onboard and take the time to study it. Coming out of the harbor, you're going to want to avoid the areas that are called 'the ledges,' which are two shallow rocky places that are marked with buoys and are easily seen on a chart. Once you are past them, Lasell Island is due east. A lot of boaters like to anchor in a cove near its northern tip" (And for anyone with some extra cash, 36-acre Lasell Island is for sale---asking price is $1.9 million.) North Haven Island is a few miles farther east and has a farmers market in the summer, restaurants and a B&B. With a winter population of 350 that grows to more than 1,500 in the summer, North Haven is one of 15 islands in Maine that maintains a year-round population. A car and passenger ferry from Rockland makes three trips a day to the island but a trailer boat can pull in and tie up along the "thoroughfare" that separates North Haven from nearby Vinelhaven Island (also served by a ferry from Rockland).
Within sight of Camden Harbor is Curtis Island, which has become a popular venue for kayakers and smaller trailer boats that can be pulled ashore. The island, named for Cyrus Curtis, a Camden resident who published the Saturday Evening Post, is considered the "entrance" to Camden Harbor. Incoming boats will see the lighthouse that was built in 1896. Today, it's a public park.
Camden Harbor is in the crosshairs when winds are from the south. Depending on conditions, a southerly wind may make Penobscot Bay unsuitable for taking the boat out. One option is Megunticook Lake (named after the local Indian phrase "big sea swells"), less than 15 minutes from the Steamboat Landing launch and formed by an inland dam of the river with the same name. The lake measures about two miles long by a mile wide.
"There are two public boat ramps on Megunticook Lake," says Kenneth Bailey, executive director of the Megunticook Watershed Association and Lake Warden. "One is located off Route 52 at the south end of the lake, which is a paved lot with approximately 10 to 12 vehicle and trailer slots. The other is a gravel ramp off Route 105 with similar capacity. There is no fee charged at either ramp." Both ramps are slated for an upgrade in the fall.
Bailey warns boaters about operating close to shore. While the lake has an average depth of 30 feet (its deepest area is 60 feet), Maine boating laws require operators to travel at headway speed (the minimum speed necessary to maintain steerage) within 200 feet of shore. Note that personal watercraft are not allowed on Megunticook. "There's a public swimming area at the southeast end of the lake and more than 400 acres of access land in the middle of the lake. These islands are named Fernald's Neck and Lands End." In case you're wondering, no, the clothing company isn't named after that island although the original officers of Lands' End were all boaters.
Overlooking Lake Megunticook is Mount Battie. From the top, in Camden Hills State Park, one can easily view-if the weather cooperates-Mount Desert, 45 miles to the north in Acadia National Park. For the hiker, there are 25 miles of trails; for the photographer, there are scenes of Camden, the nearby islands in Penobscot Bay; and for the historian, stories like this: There were once cannons built into a tower atop the mountain during the War of 1812. They kept the British from coming ashore and only later was it discovered that there was nobody in Camden who knew how to fire them had they been needed. From downtown Camden, it isn't uncommon to pack a lunch and hike to the top of Mount Battie-usually about a 45-minute walk.
The writer Edna St. Vincent Millay lived in Camden and included the view from atop Mt. Battie in her poem called "Renascence":
All I could see from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood;
I turned and looked the other way,
And saw three islands in a bay.
So with my eyes I traced the line
Of the horizon, thin and fine,
Straight around till I was come
Back to where I'd started from;
And all I saw from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood.
Camden's downtown is filled with high-end gift shops, a variety of bookstores and a collection of restaurants that cater to the fact lobster, scallops, mussels, haddock and oysters are found just offshore. Cappy's Chowder House (on Main Street) is one of the village mainstays. The Owl & Turtle Bookshop (32 Washington Street-a block up from the waterfront) has more than 10,000 titles including a room devoted to nautical books and charts and a glass floor where you can see the Megunticook River flowing beneath the building. The bookstore is in the Knox Mill area of Camden, so named because a paper mill was powered by the Megunticook River current as it flowed into the harbor. Today, the river flows beneath Main Street, providing a spectacular waterfall that can be viewed from an outdoor table at the Camden Deli (37 Main Street).
Many of the homes that once belonged to sea captains coming into and leaving Camden are now elegant B&Bs. These include the Whitehall Inn, built in 1834 and used in the filming of Peyton Place in the late '50s, as well as Captain Lindsey's B&B. Just north of town is the Norumbega Inn, a stone castle built in 1886 that is considered a prime venue for parties and long weekends.
While many places on the water with harbors and tourists promote the Fourth of July as a must-see venue for fireworks, Camden isn't one of them. Because of nearby eagles' nests, there has been a long-standing decision to curtail the explosive celebration so as not to disturb nesting eaglets. In fact the only "boom" to be heard is when the Camden Yacht Club fires a cannon at sunset to tell boaters it's time to lower ensigns and flags.
Highway 1 has been bringing boaters, and their trailers, to this mid-coast Maine town for decades now. They come for what's on the water as much as they come for what's on land. It's always been that way in Camden.