January 7, 2020
Boating in Boothbay
With a deep, protected harbor that’s easy to access and offers plenty of anchoring and maneuvering room, Boothbay has long been one of the East Coast’s premiere boating destinations. The beautiful natural surroundings and web of adjoining waterways only add to the experience. By Ken Textor; Photography by Tom Richardson
Boater’s Base Camp
A cursory look at NOAA chart 13293 reveals seven nearby ports worth visiting, three long tidal rivers to explore, four major bays to navigate, a dozen offshore islands to investigate and at least eight major anchorages in which you could weather a hurricane. Even better, all the connecting waterways contain abundant wildlife, both above and below the surface—enough to occupy any shutterbug or angler for hours.
Perhaps the most popular side trip from Boothbay Harbor is the “Inside Passage” to the historic shipbuilding city of Bath. When it’s foggy offshore, this eight-mile route gives mariners a chance to spot bald eagles, get close to seals, and watch osprey snag lunch, all in much better visibility than elsewhere, due primarily to the warmer inland water temperatures.
Stripers & Schooners
For sport fishermen, the main target is striped bass. The waters of the extensive Kennebec and Sheepscot estuary systems produce action with schoolies on up to the occasional fish over three feet long. Best of all, the entire route is protected from ocean swells and annoying chop, making it feel as though you’ve glided from Boothbay onto an inland lake!
Back in Boothbay Harbor, though, there are plenty of attractions and activities to keep you occupied. In fact, for half a century the town has kicked off summer festivities with its signature event, Windjammer Days, which features some of the largest sailing vessels on the Maine coast. Watching these ships parade into the harbor, one by one, in the late-June sunshine is an event boaters of every description won’t soon forget.
For the Love of Lobster
At the other end of the season is the annual Claw Down Competition, a September extravaganza when Maine’s best-loved seafood becomes the focus of pretty much the entire town. This recent addition to the festival roster features more than a dozen Maine chefs from the state’s highest-rated restaurants, all competing to come up with new and scrumptious ways to enjoy Homarus americanus. Although the number of guests attending the tony Claw Down are limited, the ripple effect of the event is often felt throughout Boothbay, with specials on everything lobster just about everywhere.
But you don’t need a culinary competition to enjoy seafood in this seafood-centric town. Virtually every restaurant—and there are more than a score of them within easy walking distance of the Town Wharf—features some sort of chowder, broil or stew on its menu, in addition to the ubiquitous boiled lobster dinner. For a town of only 2,100 year-round residents, the eating options are truly impressive, although many restaurants shut down for the winter.
Back on the water, kayaking has become popular in the harbor and surrounding backwaters. With several rental outfits in the area, it’s easy enough to hop in one of these colorful plastic boats, with or without a helpful instructor or guide, and take off on your own adventure. And even if you don’t care for kayaking, any sort of shoal-draft skiff, runabout or dinghy can provide hours of pleasure as you explore hidden gunkholes, coves and passages, especially when the tide is in.
As heavily oriented to the water as the town is, the arts are far from neglected. The classic Boothbay Opera House hosts top performers, from Grammy-winning musicians to Broadway-veteran actors, all in a fine old building with remarkable acoustics and architecture.
For those on a tighter budget, the Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library hosts free band concerts on its front lawn downtown, usually on Thursday nights. Poetry readings, wine tastings and lectures on everything from astrophysics to aquaculture also are sponsored by the library.
And did we mention shopping? Oh yes, there’s plenty of that. Everything from your standard mug-and-tee-shirt outlets to a couple of big-league antiques shops are clustered within a few blocks of the Town Wharf.
Boutiques, art galleries, high-end grocery stores and a very popular Thursday-morning farmer’s market round out the most popular offerings.
In all, for such a small town, Boothbay Harbor offers a lot to keep you busy—both close to home and farther afield.
Boothbay Names & Numbers
Boothbay Harbor is located on Maine’s midcoast, roughly 35 miles northeast of Portland and 40 miles southwest of Camden. Entering the harbor from the east or west is easy, with the approaches to the harbor being deep and well marked. If approaching from the west, keep the Cuckolds Lighthouse (43º 46.8´N, 69º 39.0´W) off Southport Island to port; tiny Newagen Harbor at the end of Southport Island can be trickier than the charts indicate. You can pass either east or west of Squirrel Island and enter Boothbay Harbor past buoy “8” (43º 50.3´N, 69º 38.2´W), just west of Tumbler Island. If approaching from the east, find red-and-white bell “HL” (43º 48.4´N, 69º 34.8´W) at the entrance to the Fisherman Island Passage. When cruising through the passage, heed red nuns “4,” “6” and “8” before heading northwest toward Boothbay Harbor.
- Boothbay Town Dock: Offers 3-hour tie-up on a first-come, first-served basis. Call the harbormaster (207) 633-5281, VHF 16) for more information.
- Carousel Marina, (207) 633-2922; VHF 9: Roughly 400′ of transient dockage for boats up to 80′, plus deep-water moorings, gas and diesel.
- Brown’s Wharf Inn & Marina (207-633-5440; VHF 9: Transient slips and moorings. Also offers showers, laundry and a popular bar and restaurant overlooking the harbor. Call ahead for marina reservations.
- Tugboat Inn & Marina (207) 633-4434; VHF 9: Dockage, ice, showers, pump-out, WiFi.
- Boothbay Harbor Shipyard (207) 633-3171: Haul-out, repair, repowers, systems work, design.
- Boothbay Harbor Marina (207) 633-6003; VHF 9: Transient slips and moorings for large vessels, plus showers, laundry and electric.
- Hodgdon Marina (207) 632-5427: Transient dockage and moorings in East Boothbay, within walking distance of the local shops and restaurants. Full marina amenities. Special rates for groups and clubs.
- Boothbay Harbor Yacht Club (207) 633-5750; VHF 9: Transient moorings open to all boaters. Groups welcome. Water and electricity available at dock. Launch service provided.
- Fuel is available at Carousel Marina and the Boothbay Lobster Wharf (207) 633-4900.
- The 2 main anchorages within Boothbay Harbor are jammed tight with moored boats in July and August, and dropping a hook on the edge of these mooring fields can be a rolly, unsettling experience. But 2 nearby options work quite nicely.
- Up Townsend Gut, just northeast of a green nun “6” is a bottle-tight cove with room to anchor just east of the charted ledge and well out of the current.
- Another good anchorage can be found inside Linekin Bay. In the northwest corner of the bay (marked “Bayville”) are some tiny islands marked “Fish Hawk Island” on the chart. You’ll usually find room in the lee of these islands and, like the Gut’s anchorage, it’s just a short hop to Boothbay Harbor, where you can always tie up at the town dock (space permitting) for up to 3 hours of downtown fun.
- Yet another anchorage is the small area west of McKown Point, in 6′ to 25′ of water, although space is limited.
- A fifth anchorage is just north of Tumbler Island in 20′ to 40′ of water, although winds and swells from the south can make this a rolly spot, especially at high tide.
- (207) 633-5281; VHF 16
- A town ramp is adjacent to the Boothbay Harbor Fish Pier on the east side of the harbor, but parking is not available. No fee.
- A larger public ramp with ample parking is located at Knickercane Island Park, northwest of Boothbay. No fee.
- A third public ramp with parking is located off Murray Hill Ave. in East Boothbay, at the head of Linekin Bay. No fee.
- Tidal Transit Kayaking (207) 633-7140: Kayak and equipment rental on the harbor.
Boothbay Harbor is home to many quaint bed-and-breakfasts, inns and motels, among them:
- Topside Inn (207) 633-5404: Former 19th century sea captain’s home that has been converted to an inn. Located in the center of Boothbay Harbor village, it sits atop McKown Hill and overlooks the town and the harbor.
- Brown’s Wharf & Inn (207) 633-5440: Boothbay Harbor’s premier waterfront hotel; family-owned since 1944. Also features a restaurant, bar and full-service marina.
- Five Gables Inn (800) 451-5048: Beautifully restored Victorian Inn overlooking Linekin Bay.
- For a more complete listing of places to stay, contact Boothbay Harbor Region Chamber of Commerce.
There is no shortage of restaurants serving a variety of foods at a variety of prices. Almost all of the hotels open their restaurants to the public and many feature ocean views.
- Thistle Inn (207) 633-3541: Great food and drink within walking distance of the harbor. Indoor and outdoor seating with harbor views. Open year-round.
- Kaler’s (207) 633-5839: Dock-and-dine restaurant specializing in lobster, crab and other seafood.
- For lobster in the rough and other traditional seafood delights, on the harbor, try Boothbay Lobster Wharf(207) 633-4900.
- China by the Sea (207) 633-4449: Chinese food and cyber cafe.
- Boothbay Harbor Shipyard (207) 633-3171: Traditional shipyard featuring a number of ongoing boatbuilding and restoration projects.
- Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens (207) 633-800: One of the state’s biggest tourist attractions, these magnificent ornamental gardens occupy 128 acres of coastal land. Can be accessed by land or sea, as the Gardens maintains a small dock for dinghies, as well as a deep-water mooring for transients, available on a first-come, first-served basis.
- Maine Department of Marine Resources Aquarium (207) 633-9542: This intimate aquarium at McKown Point is full of marine plants and animals that inhabit the local waters around Boothbay. The interactive tidal pool and dogfish touch tank exhibits are kid favorites. Visitors are allowed to tie up to the public dock directly behind the aquarium facility for short periods of time. There are only small floats there, so a dinghy is best. There are tie-ups for larger vessels close by. Call the harbormaster for more information.
- Boothbay Region Historical Society (207) 633-3462: Rotating exhibits that provide insight into Boothbay Harbor’s seafaring past.
- Boothbay Railway Village (207) 633-4727: Open 7 days a week, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Located on Route 27 and accessible via the trolley, the museum features a small-gauge railway, antique car exhibit and other historical exhibits.
- Boothbay Opera House (207) 633-6855: Hosts a variety of musical performances all season long. Check the website for a full calendar.
- Boothbay Region Chamber of Commerce, (207) 633-2353