A hint of pine in the air, cool temperatures at night, nary another yacht in sight. Maine provides a different experience from most charter trips you will ever take. Lady J’s captain lives in Maine and has mastered the art of sharing its many charms with charter guests.
Story Joyce Black Photos Billy Black
When Lady J’s anchor went down the first night of our cruise in Maine, I realized the true beauty of traveling on a large yacht in these waters. We were in Christmas Cove up the Damariscotta River and there was not another boat in sight. The air was crisp with a hint of the pine forests on shore, and my new friends and I were in a private world of luxury and indulgence. Most of my cruising has been in the Caribbean and the Med where you have to wedge yourself into an anchorage and hope you don’t end up next to a Ted Nugent fan, but here we were entirely alone.
After we joined the boat at DiMillo’s in Portland and enjoyed a night at anchor in Christmas Cove, we set course toward Monhegan Island, 12 miles off the coast. Lady J’s Captain Greg Russell, a native of Zimbabwe, lives in Maine with his family. He is passionate about preserving and enjoying his adopted home’s islands, trails and beaches. He credits the Maine Island Trail Association, essentially a volunteer organization, for maintaining a 375-mile chain of more than 190 coastal islands and encouraging visitors to “leave no trace.”
Monhegan Island, with only about 75 full-time residents, is a perfect example of this. A passenger ferry runs from Port Clyde, but the island has no real roads and no cars, other than a few utility vehicles near the ferry landing. Indeed, one of the great things about a charter in Maine is that it offers plenty of opportunities for hiking and biking as well as cruising. Monhegan has about 17 miles of trails. We explored one that was only 1.4 miles long but rough and steep enough to offer a good stretch.
Aside from natural beauty, the island has a noted artist colony. The Black Duck Emporium, a general store housed in a gray-shingled building near the center of town, carries a fantastic collection of island art, crafts and affordable imported clothing and gifts, as well as lattes. Maine’s local arts and crafts include charming tableaux and fairy houses, carefully constructed, using nothing but stones, sticks and other local plant materials, such as lichens. Enchanting and wooded Monhegan Island is famous for that as well. Our friends had spotted and photographed several of these fairy houses and showed them to us over a delicious lunch.
Lady J’s Chef Julie MacNab’s theme for our week together was to use local ingredients, and since it was the end of August, it meant lots of fantastic produce and seafood at nearly every meal.
After we enjoyed lunch on board, we left Monhegan behind. We cruised 30 miles into Penobscot Bay and dropped anchor in Hurricane Sound off Vinalhaven for another peaceful night at anchor. Vinalhaven and Hurricane Sound in Knox County have almost no sign of habitation. Sitting on the bridge deck under more stars than I’ve seen in years, I was as relaxed as it is possible to get without falling asleep. And then, just as I thought it would be okay if something happened, a big meteor shot across the sky. That and discussing Chef MacNab’s succulent crispy duck breast with my fellow guests was all the entertainment I needed.
Meteor shower notwithstanding, the highlight of a charter in Maine on Lady J is Captain Russell’s lobster boil on the beach, which is what we experienced the next day on private Butter Island. First, we motored through the Fox Islands’ thoroughfare looking at the beautiful houses, classic boats and rustic scenery. The Cabot family, who owns Butter Island, allows access to members and supporters of the Maine Trail Association to two beaches and the Montserrat trail that connects them. While my friends and I hiked the trail eating wild blackberries, rosehips and frightening a deer, the crew landed the copious amount of gear and materials it took to present the lobster boil in style. The yacht’s 32-foot Intrepid was also put to good use to fetch fresh lobster, mussels, oysters and clams.
Captain Russell has mastered the art of the lobster boil. Using the best local seafood, an egg and some seaweed, he produces a batch of perfectly done lobsters, red and blue potatoes, mussels and corn. I thoroughly enjoyed the meal, and a chance to socialize with the crew who joined us on the beach for this feast.
Chef MacNab left her small galley to talk to us about her native Scotland and her philosophy about food while our stewardesses built a fairy house of their own, complete with a comfortable place to sleep, a lovely dining table, and a clean and accommodating place to bathe for the tiny imaginary inhabitants.
After Butter Island, we anchored at Holbrook Island Harbor for the night. To liven things up the next morning, I took part in a fun and butter-burning circuit-training class. Then it was time to cool off with various watersports. Our group paddleboarded and kayaked up the scenic Bagaduce River, a rich 12-mile tidal river famous for its oyster beds, where I enjoyed a very wet Jet Ski ride.
While it was great fun, a charter in Maine is never going to be all about the water like a Caribbean charter is, and I’m okay with that. I don’t mind putting on a fleece at night when the air is fresh and scented with pine and fir. I love the fresh fish and produce available in Maine, and the Yankee efficiency and tidiness of the local towns.
Perhaps the tidiest and most picturesque of them all is Camden, where we finished our cruise. I go to Maine all the time and have often been to Camden, but never on a yacht like Lady J. It was a completely different experience. Captain Russell navigated the narrow channel through a harbor packed with lovely classic boats to reach the dock at Wayfarer Marine. He and his crew slid effortlessly into a slot just big enough to hold the 142-foot Palmer Johnson with no drama and a great deal of skill. That evening, even though Camden has many nice restaurants, Chef MacNab once again treated us to one of her great meals.
It was hard leaving this behind. Maine’s cool and restful evenings, rich riverbeds, secluded harbors and wooded scenery had worked their magic.
For the full itinerary of the charter onboard Lady J, click here.
A 142-foot Palmer Johnson motoryacht built in 1997 and designed by Terence Disdale, Lady J features five cabins (including an ondeck master stateroom) and accommodates a total of 12 guests. All staterooms include individual satellite receivers and climate controls, large portholes allowing natural light, night lights and iPod docking stations. The yacht’s latest refit was in 2012 when Lady J received new paint and new teak decks. Captain Greg Russell heads a crew of eight, including Chef Julie MacNab.
Toys include a 32-foot Intrepid towed tender, two WaveRunners, four kayaks (two inflatable), two paddleboards, water skis, snorkeling gear and a full array of fishing equipment.