The smell of the ocean, the cry of the gulls, the rhythmic thud of a hull clunking against a pier. Whether it’s a working harbor that’s alive with sputtering lobsterboats or a tranquil port crowded with pleasure boats and wooden ships, a Maine harbor can be a pretty mesmerizing affair. Your eye is drawn to the brightly colored lobstertraps stacked up on the piers, or maybe to the sway of the sails on a tall-masted schooner. Any harbor town worth its salt has a good patio pub from which to watch the comings-and-goings (and the best of these offer moorings for seagoing patrons). For many Maine coastal communities, the harbor is the original downtown, a seaside village’s commercial heart as well as its social center. Aside from the occasional kayak excursion, I’m not a seafaring guy myself, but it’s hard not to be swept up by the romance of a sunny afternoon at the harbor.
The best vantage point of the handsome harbor in the working fishing village of Stonington is from the Isle au Haut mailboat as it returns to the mainland. There’s a mess of color in the lobsterboats bobbing in the harbor, the traps stacked up on the piers, and the tiered rows of houses that make up this small town.
South Bristol consists of two villages — forested Walpole, to the north, and tonier Christmas Cove, to the south. In the middle is a stretch of water called the Gut, a working harbor where you can buy lobster right off the boat at the fishermen’s co-op or admire the brightly colored traps lined up on the docks.
The charming downtown has a historic vibe that carries over to the harbor, where a fleet of tall-masted windjammers docks in the summer, offering scenic spins around the islands of Penobscot Bay. The soaring Camden Hills make a powerful backdrop, and you can gaze at them from the patios of the restaurants clustered harborside.
A long history of lobstering and boatbuilding give Jonesport an air of authenticity that’s missing from many southern Maine towns. Coastal Cruises offers adventurous boat trips to check out the nearby lighthouse at Moose Point and the seals and seabirds occupying nearby islands.
Center Harbor, Brooklin
Sardine and clam factories here once had tiny Brooklin booming, but the area today is quiet and pastoral. Sailboats and pleasure boats bob in the protected waters now, along with the old-school wooden boats for which Brooklin is renowned.