July 2, 2019
The old “ugly duckling” story comes to mind when sailing inbound past the impressive and much-loved breakwater protecting Rockland Harbor. But instead of turning into a mere swan, this Penobscot Bay city now soars well beyond an improved look and sensibility. Heck, even the rich and famous have discovered it. By Ken Textor; Photography by Tom Richardson
“The most surprising development lately is the number of really big boats that are visiting,” says Rockland’s harbormaster Ed Glaser. And exactly how big are these pleasure boats? “Oh, a 150 feet or more. They usually just anchor because we don’t have a mooring big enough for them.”
A City Transformed
The ten-year veteran of Rockland’s waterfront is a little cagey when asked exactly who these high rollers are. “We like to respect people’s privacy,” he says simply, noting most Rocklanders tend to leave even the biggest celebrities to themselves.
Still, with boats that range from mega motoryachts to diminutive daysailers, visitors to Penobscot Bay’s acknowledged hub of boating make the trip for pretty much the same reasons. One is easy navigation in and out of the harbor, which boasts plenty of room for even the biggest flotilla, plus good protection from storms. Another is the array of shoreside attractions, including festivals, shops, galleries and museums. And then there’s the food.
Wandering gourmands now flock to what was once a down-and-dirty fishing port, complete with the traditional sights and smells that come with processing the bounty of the sea. But that’s all in the rearview mirror. Today, the scents wafting along Main Street range from scrumptious to darn near irresistible.
Harbormaster Glaser is again diplomatic when it comes to recommending one particular restaurant. “There are just too many” to pin down to one, he says.
During our own investigations, my wife and I tried one of the top-rated, high-end eateries, Cafe Miranda, and found its award-winning menu as advertised. Even better, there are coffee bars, diners and all levels of expense and atmosphere throughout the town. And for those who prefer to cook onboard, a short walk from the harbormaster’s office on a Thursday morning puts you in the middle of an extensive Farmer’s Market, where you can pick up local produce, meats and fish for the galley.
If you’re on a diet, Rockland also offers plenty to see and do within reasonable walking distance of the Rockland Public Landing or one of the four marinas huddled around centrally located Crockett Point.
Art About Town
If you’re on a diet, Rockland also offers plenty to see and do within reasonable walking distance of the Rockland Public Landing or one of the four marinas huddled around centrally located Crockett Point. Art aficionados will be drawn to the Farnsworth Museum on Main Street, where works by the Wyeth family (N.C., Andrew and James) seem to dominate the collection, although there are plenty of other sea-oriented masters, from Winslow Homer to Edward Hopper. This concentration of fine artistry has spawned a plethora of galleries, antiques boutiques and related businesses along Main Street or just off it, many featuring contemporary Maine artists who may be on the way up.
Many visiting sailors eventually wind up at the Maine Lighthouse Museum, which is a short walk just north of the public landing. Keep your sunglasses handy when visiting, as there is an abundance of bright, shiny, polished brass among the displays. The guided tours are also pretty informative, and admission is only $5.
For anyone interested in early-American autos, motorcycles and aircraft, the Owls Head Transportation Museum is well out of town, but worth the effort to visit. With one of the best collections of pre-World War II vehicles and “flying machines” in the nation, be prepared to spend a long day gazing at ancient Harleys, a Steffy motorcycle or perhaps a Prescott or Stanley “motor carriage.” If you’re lucky, your visit may coincide with a fly-in, bike-in or some other gathering of hundreds of golden-oldies from all over the country. Ironically, there is no public transportation to the Transportation Museum from downtown Rockland, but the local cabbies know the way and are happy to oblige.
Lobster & Blues
Those fly-ins, bike-ins and whatnot have to compete with a long line of festivals for which Rockland has become justifiably famous. Perhaps the best known is the annual tribute to the Pine Tree State’s most celebrated citizen: Homarus americanus. For nearly 70 years, the Maine Lobster Festival has served these popular crustaceans to throngs of visitors, recently topping more than 20,000 pounds of Mr. Redcoat to satisfy the four-day appetites on hand. Usually held during the first week in August, even the foodies show up to sample unusual lobster concoctions, which reportedly have included lobster ice cream.
Rockland offers another alternative for waistline-watchers when the North Atlantic Blues Festival takes over the town in mid-July. This four-day event attracts thousands of music lovers, who descend on the area for an al fresco event that now includes a popular “pub crawl” well into the night. The local clubs, bars and restaurants sport every imaginable version of blues style, making one pause and marvel at just how far a backwater fishing town has come from its blue-collar roots.
Want more? Well, back on the waterfront there are all manner of schooners sailing out of Rockland these days on day trips, evening cruises or weeklong adventures all over Penobscot Bay. In fact, Rockland now lays claim to the title “Schooner City,” an accolade that miffs a few other Penobscot ports that also advertise the passenger boats in significant numbers.
Thus it’s easy to see how a small brick-and-mortar city has evolved pretty nicely into a destination that welcomes boats big and small. Rockland has always had its eyes on the sea. It’s just that, at least in recent decades, the casual visitor has become the focus of attention.
Rockland Names & Numbers
Rockland Harbor is located in West Penobscot Bay, about 55 miles north of Portland and approximately 40 miles south of Mount Desert Island. Approaching from the south, swing around Owls Head Lighthouse, leaving it to port, and head for the historic lighthouse at the end of the breakwater, (44º 06.2’ N, 69º 04.7’ W), leaving the light to starboard. From the north, coming down West Penobscot Bay, look for the nearly mile-long granite breakwater and Colonial-style lighthouse, which should be to starboard. The opening to the harbor is wide, more than 1,000 feet, and marked on the southern edge by green can “1”. Once inside the breakwater, you should head east for red nun “2” in the center of the harbor, which also marks the beginning of the main channel. At nun “4” and green can “1” the channel splits. Immediately ahead is the Coast Guard station and Journey’s End Marina. Heading south will bring you to the public landing and the Rockland Landing Marina. Heading north will take you toward the ferry terminal and Lermond Cove.
- Rockland Public Landing (207-594-0312): Open May 15 to October 15. Offers diesel and gas, moorings, pump-out, showers and laundry. Dockage is free for up to 2 hours, then $5 an hour. Overnight dockage available. Call the harbormaster (207-594-0312; VHF 9) for more information.
- Journey’s End Marina (207-594-4444, VHF 9 & 18): Full-service, year-round marina with slips and transient moorings.
- Knight Marine Service (207-594-4068; VHF 9): Full-service, year-round facility. Offers moorings and transient slips.
- Yachting Solutions (207-236-8100): Deep-water facility with transient slips.
- Rockland Landings Marina (207-594-4899, VHF 9): Seasonal marina with transient slips and moorings. Gas and diesel.
- Ocean Pursuits (207-596-7357): Full-service boatyard with transient moorings. Specializes in carpentry, rigging, electrical and more.
- Sawyer & Whitten (207-594-7073): Marine electronics service experts.
- Hamilton Marine (207-594-8181): Venerable marine retailer on Park Drive, near the water. Carries a huge array of boating supplies.
A good deep-water (15′ – 40′) anchorage, especially in easterly winds, can be found in the northeast part of the harbor, behind the breakwater. The southwest corner of the harbor also offers a protected place to anchor in winds from the west or south. A third anchorage (15′ – 20′) close to town is located near the public landing. Lastly, a nifty (albeit tight) little anchorage is Deep Cove, just west of Owls Head.
A good hard-surface, two-lane, all-tide ramp with ample parking can be found just south of town off Mechanic Street. Fee required.
(207-594-0312); VHF 9
- Landings Restaurant (207-596-6563): Serves lobster, steak, pasta and poultry near the waterfront.
- Archer’s on the Pier (207) 594-2435: Excellent restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating overlooking the harbor. Dockage available at Yachting Solutions for $20.
- Rockland Café (207-596-7556): Family-style restaurant on Main. Offers breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- Market on Main (207-594-0015): Serves varied international cuisine at reasonable prices.
- Cafe Miranda (207-594-2034)
- In Good Company (207-593-9110)
- Primo Restaurant (207-596-0770)
- Suzuki’s Sushi Bar (207-596-7447)
- Rock City Coffee Roasters (207-594-4123)
- Farnsworth Art Museum and Wyeth Center, 356 Main St., (207-596-6457): Features more than 6,000 works of original American art, mostly devoted to coastal Maine, located in 5 buildings in the heart of downtown Rockland.
- Breakwater Kayak Tours (207) 542-3631: Professionally led kayak tours of Rockland Harbor, Camden and surrounding areas.
- Art galleries: There are nearly a dozen art galleries in Rockland, most of them located on Main Street. A good source of information on the arts is the Maine Gallery & Studio Guide.
- Strand Theatre (207-594-0070): Restored 1923 theater offering first-run movies, live performances, lectures and more.
- Maine Lighthouse Museum (207) 594-3301: Large collection of artifacts relating to Maine lighthouses (including a huge collection of Fresnel lenses), the U.S. Life Saving Service and the Coast Guard. Located in the heart of Rockland.
More than a dozen windjammers make their home in Rockland. For more information about the windjammer fleet visit Windjammer Cruises, or call (888-692-7245) or (207-236-2938).
- Two of the vessels include: A Morning in Maine (207-691-7245): A 55-foot ketch offering half-day trips. Overnight or special charters also available.
- The Stephen Taber (800-999-7352): The oldest documented sailing vessel in continuous service in the United States, the Taber is a 115-foot, 2-masted schooner offering 3-day trips or 6-day trips.
- The Rockland Lobster Festival (800-LOB-CLAW): 4-day event held every August in Harbor Park, includes a parade, tons of steamed lobster, concerts and maritime displays.
- The North Atlantic Folk Festival (207-236-7660): 4-day event held in mid-August at Harbor Park.