October 1, 2018
Tuck Into Tenants
This cozy harbor at the entrance to Maine’s Penobscot Bay is a quiet spot to rest and relax on a Mid-Coast cruise. By Ken Textor; Photos by Joe Devenney
Some say timing is everything in life. Others insist location is the key. For those who visit Tenants Harbor, both can be true.
“It might well be the best time to visit,” harbormaster Dave Schmanska says of Saint George Days. “Everyone seems to have a pretty good time, and the harbor does fill up.”
With a name like Saint George Days, most visitors who show up on the third weekend in July usually ask what a semi-mythical, sword- wielding English Saint has to do with a small, picturesque harbor that’s ideally located near the entrance to Penobscot Bay—arguably Maine’s most famous cruising grounds.
The short answer is: Not much. In fact, you have to go back some 400 years and about 10 nautical miles south, west then north of Tenants Harbor to even begin to get the Saint George connection.
It all started with the somewhat mysterious English explorer, Captain George Weymouth, who stumbled upon the Maine coast during the foggy months of May and June, 1605. After a long crossing from his homeland, the Englishman was perhaps extra pleased to find any solid turf on his voyage to Virginia (yes, he was a bit off course). Feeling perhaps a bit patriotic, he proceeded to name several local islands after the patron saint of England, Saint George. Eventually, the name stuck to the river nearest, as the crow flies, to Tenants Harbor.
Still, it took another 200 years for enough people to decide to settle the rocky soils of the Saint George River’s eastern peninsula and turn the area into a proper town. Simply enough, the inhabitants took the name of the nearby river, and Tenants Harbor was promptly included in the greater municipality of Saint George in 1803.
Today, Saint George Days has become an annual tradition, starting with the town’s bicentennial celebration in 2003. “It’s a lot of fun for everyone,” says assistant town clerk Tara Elwell, who can usually be found helping the local volunteer fire department serve up some 700 lobster dinners to celebrants, both local and visiting. Included in the festivities are a parade that features a contingent of bagpipers, along with humorous floats and, usually, some sort of dragon. The celebration is punctuated by an impressive fireworks display over the harbor.
For those who miss the party, Tenants Harbor’s location is nonetheless perfect for most mariners headed in or out of Penobscot Bay. For generations, Tenants has been used by the crews of sailboats and trawler- speed powerboats who have the wisdom and patience to wait out a foul tide coming down nearby Muscle Ridge Channel or the larger big-ship channel between Vinalhaven and the islands east of Muscle Ridge.
Staying put in Tenants means making some choices. But they’re not between the marina with the tennis courts or the yacht club with a pool and spa. In fact, the only boating facility in Tenants is Tenants Harbor Boatyard, which, as the name suggests, is concerned primarily with your boat and servicing it. However, the boatyard does offer rental moorings, as well as a fuel dock with gas and diesel. For additional shoreside entertainments and diversions, the options are a bit scant, but decidedly sincere.
Whatever might be going on elsewhere in the 23 square miles of the greater Saint George area (which includes the harbors of Port Clyde to the south and Spruce Head to the north) can be discerned by a trip to the diminutive but well-stocked Jackson Memorial Library. Located within modest walking distance of the boatyard, the open-six-days-a-week facility acts as a clearinghouse for everything from jigsaw-swapping evenings to mahjong meets and QiGong classes. Guided tours of local birding haunts are also funneled through JML, along with book clubs, free WiFi and up-to-date information about upcoming town events.
If you’re feeling a bit hungry, there are several choices, the most popular being the Happy Clam Pub & Eatery. A modest walk from the harbor brings you to this funky- looking roadside restaurant that, obviously, does indeed serve up excellent fried clams and other seafood. But un-obviously, this seasonal establishment has a well-deserved reputation for German food, from schnitzel to sauerbraten. The on-tap beer selection is pretty impressive, too.
If you’d rather cook back on the boat, the Tenants Harbor General Store and Main Street Market are your best options. The latter is miles away in Rockland, but will deliver your order to the boatyard. You can also simplify your eating options aboard by stopping at the Schoolhouse Bakery, a short walk from the library. In addition to the usual baked suspects, the proprietors also serve soups and sandwiches to go.
When you do get back to your boat, some consideration of your overnight location might be in order. Although there are some rental moorings throughout the harbor, they all include early-morning encounters with the departure of the sizable Tenants Harbor fishing fleet, which includes many boats in a bit of a hurry to haul their pots and others that lack an adequate muffler.
If you’re unsure the timing of this 4:30 a.m. exodus will match your crew’s sleep habits, the better overnight location is in nearby Long Cove, just north of the main harbor. It’s also a better anchorage in strong easterly winds, which can rock the main harbor noticeably. In any case, timing and location are indeed the keys to getting the most out of a stop in Tenants Harbor. Whether on a macro scale for catching Saint George Days or for the minor timing of a fair tide into Penobscot Bay, it’s a haven worthy of inclusion on any Maine cruise.
Tenants Harbor at a Glance
DOCKAGE, MOORINGS & SERVICE
Tenants Harbor Boatyard (207) 372-8063
Rents moorings by the day, week or month, and offers service and repair. Also has a fuel dock with gas and diesel.
Long Cove, off the western shore of Northern Islands, offers a deep and well-protected spot in which to anchor, but beware the rocks in the center. The entrance is marked by buoy RN “2”.
A concrete ramp suitable for launching large boats can be found adjacent to the village dock at the end of Commercial Street off Rte. 131. Limited onsite parking, but trailers can often be left at the Odd Fellows Hall parking lot on Watts Ave.
WHERE TO EAT
East Wind Inn (800) 241-8439
Good food served in a charming inn overlooking the harbor. Popular spot for breakfast.
Happy Clam Pub & Eatery (508) 646-3849
Specializes in fresh seafood and authentic German cuisine.
Schoolhouse Bakery (207) 372-9608
Tasty baked goods, soup and sandwiches to go.
Mars Hall Gallery (207) 372-9996
Fine-art paintings, sculptures and more.
Small, independent store selling books and art.