Naps and Knots: Cruising the Trail with Kids

Two summers ago, I set out on a week-long trip with my parents and two children, Elsie (age 6) and Chick (4), aboard my dad’s 36′ Robinhood cutter, Sea Goose. I was hoping to accomplish a few goals: experience a proper cruise on the Maine Coast, explore new territory on the Maine Island Trail, and, foremost, create an unforgettable adventure for Elsie and Chick that would further instill in them a love of boating and Maine’s wild islands. The only “rule” of the trip, per my agreement with my parents, was that I would take the kids ashore a wild island each night to camp. Fine by me!

I hope you enjoy the following photo and video travelogue and invite you to contact me with any questions about my trip at jack@mita.org.

-Jack Phillips, MITA Director of Advancement

I. My Family

My parents are experienced sailors. As a teenager, my dad (“Bubba” to my kids) cruised the Maine coast regularly with his godfather. He bought a sailboat of his own about 15 years ago, which he loved well. He replaced it earlier two years ago with a Robinhood 36′ cutter, acquired from a couple from Chesapeake Bay who had lived aboard year-round. My mother (“Granny”) also sailed as a kid. Her dad frequented the coast of Maine from his home in Woods Hole, MA, and eventually purchased a wild island off Stonington, George Head, which is now listed on the Trail. Elsie and Chick spend a lot of time on the water, but mostly in our 17′ Boston Whaler Montauk, Mac, out on Casco Bay. They stayed overnight once or twice on the original Sea Goose but never ventured too far from Portland. I’ve also spent a few nights here and there aboard the first Sea Goose with my parents over the years (and one sleepless night with my kids in Cocktail Cove at Jewell Island), but never an extended trip. This would be a learning experience for all of us.

II. Time aboard Sea Goose

The steepest learning curve revealed itself quickly: how would we entertain the kids while under sail? For guidance, I consulted A Cruising Guide to the Maine Coast, otherwise known as “The Taft Guide”, a veritable bible for anyone interested in such a trip. A section titled “Sailing with Children” had a few suggestions: find “jobs” for the kids, bring plenty of books and activities, develop routines, allow them to help “plan” where we would go each night. This is all good advice. At the end of each day, we would recount the highlights together and record them in a journal.

Passing through the Townsend Gut swing bridge
Taking in the scenery at the Fox Island Thoroughfare

III. The Islands

At the end of each day, after we had dropped anchor, we would load our rowing dinghy with camping gear and head to shore, set up camp, explore, cook dinner, and hit the hay. We spent six nights on five different islands: Powderhorn, Burnt, Little Hens, Butter and Ram. Each was profoundly beautiful. I had only visited one of the five islands previously, many years ago. We encountered practically no other visitors during our entire trip, despite travelling during the height of the season.

Night 1: Powderhorn (Sheepscot River)

Nights 2 & 3: Burnt (Muscongus Bay), fogged in for 36 hours

Night 4: Little Hens (Seal Bay, Vinalhaven)

Night 5: Butter (Penobscot Bay)

Night 6: Ram (Hurricane Sound, Vinalhaven)

IV. The Moments

Ultimately, the most gratifying aspect of the trip was witnessing Elsie and Chick in meditative moments. I like to think that they were internalizing the profound beauty of the islands and the experience of their adventure. My hope is that these moments are enduring, and that the kids will develop a deep-seated connection to these special places into adulthood and pass these experiences on to their children, just as so many have done for generations.