Port Clyde, ME
February 12, 2015
By Ken Textor | Photography by Tom Richardson
Port Clyde has always been a “crossroads” harbor, originally in the navigational sense only. Once home to a large fleet of commercial fishing draggers targeting cod and other groundfish, the harbor has seen some major changes in recent years, and now caters to a growing number of tourists and transient boaters.
What made Port Clyde so attractive to fishermen—namely its excellent shelter and close proximity to the deep-water fishing grounds—also delights recreational boaters. The distance to beautiful anchorages and forgotten gunkholes in both Muscongus and Penobscot Bays is shorter than in many other Maine ports. Plus, it’s relatively easy to navigate in and out of the harbor in almost any weather. Best of all, Port Clyde offers protection from the worst that Old Neptune can conjure up.
As the commercial groundfishing fleet has dwindled, Port Clyde’s dependence on the sea’s bounty has been supplanted by tourist-oriented enterprises. Yet the wide-angle look of the village remains much the same, with one general store, the ferry to Monhegan Island, a few eateries, an impressive lighthouse museum and some accommodations for tourists, most of them open only during the summer. But even some of that has changed, subtly.
Take, for instance, the Port Clyde General Store. “It used to be creaky floors, canned goods and fishing gear—shackles, boots and all that,” said one longtime visitor. “Now there’s a lot more tee-shirts, mugs, that sort of stuff.”
Indeed, key portions of the waterfront have passed out of local hands and now reflect modern marketing techniques normally seen in areas where merchants are more concerned with volume sales. But elsewhere in this town of about 1,000, Port Clyde remains timeless. The Marshall Point Lighthouse is just one example.
Greeting mariners entering Port Clyde from the southwest since 1858, the lighthouse and its grounds passed into the town’s hands in 1980 and a small museum was added in 1990, all thanks to locals who raised money little by little and volunteered a lot. The result is a fascinating grounds and museum, open to the public. Adding to the light’s cachet was an appearance in the movie Forrest Gump in 1993. Altogether, it is, understandably, a source of intense local pride.
With almost equal verve, local commercial fishermen decided in 2009 that waiting for government regulators to help them out was unproductive. So a few of them got together and started Port Clyde Fresh Catch, a cooperative venture that links consumers directly to the fishermen and their daily catch. Starting with only an online presence and word-of-mouth marketing, Fresh Catch now has a waterfront store (18 Lobster Pound Way) where visitors can buy whatever is available on a given day or put in an order for some specific species when it arrives at the dock. Its popularity has grown exponentially.
Elsewhere, the vagaries of the local lobster fishing business inspired at least one captain to try another approach to making a living from the sea. When wholesale lobster prices hit rock bottom in 2009, lobsterman Doug Anderson and wife, Rhonda, decided that selling lobster rolls might be a more reliable source of income. In 2012 they opened a tiny eatery a walkable distance from the harbor. Today, Doug’s Seafood usually boasts a line of customers waiting for their signature lobster rolls, fried seafood and burgers.
“We do lobster rolls the old-fashioned, Maine way,” explains Rhonda, whose business stays open and busy throughout the boating season. “A little bit of mayo and a lot of lobster,” she says proudly.
Indeed, its seems much of Port Clyde will survive with its proud “Maine-ness” intact. For transient boaters, the superb shelter and location will always be there. And the town’s spirit seems ready to endure, even if the outward appearance and ownership goes through the inevitable changes that even the rockbound coast of Maine cannot avoid.