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Are private moorings crowding Maine waters?

Jan 1, 2003

To the editor: For the summer of 2001, my wife and I found our way back to Maine after two summers away. We looked forward to revisiting the Maine coast as liveaboards, enjoying the beautiful coastline and isolated anchorages that we remembered from our years as local weekend voyagers. Very quickly, we realized that the popularity of this voyaging destination has produced some disturbing over-development, most notably, a proliferation in the numbers of moorings and a massive increase in transient fees.

Pulpit Harbor and Perry Creek on North Haven and Vinalhaven, respectively, the islands of Merchants Row, Long Cove off Tenants Harbor and Warren Island near Islesboro are now crowded with moorings. In many cases, these moorings are not owned by local landowners. They are "destination moorings." Rather than anchor, a local boat owner has a mooring installed in a favorite anchorage. He sails over on a Saturday, spends the night and heads home Sunday. The anchor never gets wet. In Casco Bay, an anchorage near Harpswell Neck called The Goslings has allowed this practice for years. Coupled with virtually no regulation, this practice has created a chaotic mooring situation and limited room to anchor. The local custom has become to simply pick up any open mooring. If the owner does not show up, you are all set. The town of Harpswell has taken steps in recent years to clean up the anchorage, but it's still a bit of a mess. Moorings are still too close together. Plus, there is no way of knowing the size and condition of the ground tackle. Off Warren Island, in Penobscot Bay, the state has installed half a dozen moorings, free on a first-come, first-serve basis. The pick-up floats are clearly labeled "150-lb Mushroom." Sounds good. However, do most boaters know what the label means? In heavy weather, a 150-lb mushroom is rated for only a 15-foot boat. Now in settled summer weather, even the 40- to 45-foot heavy cruising boats I've seen on these moorings are fine. But this summer, two powerboats rafted together on one of these moorings broke free and fetched up on the rocks across the harbor. Is the state really doing anyone a favor?

I was particularly discouraged by the proliferation of destination moorings in Perry Creek, Vinalhaven. This beautiful spot is one of the prettiest in Penobscot Bay and has near-perfect protection. Three or four homes surround the anchorage, yet it now has more than 20 moorings scattered about. These moorings are placed in the most protected spots, forcing those of us who anchor to retreat into the less protected areas. I watched several boats pick up a mooring, only to be shooed off later when the owner showed up. Their solution, pick up another mooring. The owners of these moorings, in order to avoid anchoring for the few times a year they actually use them, have taken over ownership of the sea bed and made it difficult for the rest of us.

We discovered a better situation in the pretty little village of Somesville, located at the head of Somes Sound, Mt. Desert Island. Three years ago, this well-protected harbor was chock full of moorings, with little room to anchor. Many of the moorings looked abandoned and/or poorly maintained. Now, many of these suspect moorings have been removed, leaving transients plenty of room to anchor. Although Somesville is a bit removed from the yachting centers of Southwest or Northeast Harbors, the free shuttle buses traversing Mt. Desert make getting around a breeze. So everyone is a winner.

The other disturbing trend is a dramatic increase in transient fees. Moorings in Camden, Portland, Boothbay, Southwest Harbor and Bucks Harbor now cost $25 to $30 a night. Camden used to be one of our favorite stops, but at $30 a night, not including launch service, we now give it a pass. Anchoring is possible, but the anchorage area is deep and totally exposed to the prevailing southwest wind.

Similarly, Portland is a wonderful city, but very transient unfriendly. Moorings are $25 to $30 a night, the harbor is very rolly from the constant traffic, anchoring is problematic and the northeast exposure is significant. How about building a protected anchorage behind a breakwater and a town dinghy dock? The return on that investment may be vastly better than the planned $15-million facility for large cruise ships.

Consider Belfast, a voyager's dream. Moorings are reasonable at $15 a night, goods and services are within easy walking distance of the docks and the harbormaster and staff are helpful and very friendly. If you want to anchor, it's a bit of a dinghy ride to the dock, but reasonable. Protection is good, other than from the southeast. While visiting Belfast, the harbormaster asked us to fill out a survey cataloging dollars spent during our stay. In addition to the mooring fee, we hit a chandlery, hardware store, grocery store, canvas shop, etc. and spent more than $250. Multiply that number by the number of voyagers stopping in Belfast and it's pretty clear the economic impact is significant.

Despite these disturbing trends, Maine should thrive as a voyaging destination. But at what price? Ever-increasing mooring fees, generally declining seamanship as anchoring becomes a lost skill and the most popular harbors becoming unavailable to all but the wealthy. Voyagers are a relatively unorganized bunch, but we can have some degree of influence by using our own ground tackle and voting with our pocketbooks.

J Kolb and his wife Marci are heading south again this winter aboard Kotchka, a 38-foot Hinckley built in 1969.


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