January 2010 Archives


Weather Myths of Downeast Maine

People flock to the coast of Maine and especially the Acadia region in summer to escape the oppressive heat. In winter, they reason, it must be as cold as Fort Kent, Maine, where the lower 48’s  coldest temperatures are often recorded. This is reinforced by news from the top of New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington where high winds bring the wind chill down to antarctic levels. In reality, our winters are no worse than just about anywhere else in the northern third of the country. In fact, here at SeaCat’sRest we might get rain while our mailbox (1/4 mile from the water) gets snow! The reason is our proximity to the ocean; cool in the summer, warm in the winter. The tides stir up the water so much that it almost never freezes, and so the air temperature stays about the same.  Once in two or three years we do see the ocean freeze but it rarely happens until the end of January and often breaks up with the next tide. When the ice forms for real, as in deer crossing from the island, all bets are off. The air temperature plummets and suddenly we’re in Minnesota.

About ten years ago we had such a freeze. The salt water had frozen maybe two feet thick and then one March day it just broke up. Unfortunately, the preceding Fall  I had the bright idea of running a line in from my mooring and tying it to my stairway on the shore.  I did this so I could remove the float and still find the mooring in the spring. On this break up day suddenly my daughter’s friend burst in and said, “Your stairs are going out to sea!”. Imagine hearing these words. She saw the stairs being pulled away from the shore by a mysterious force so quickly that they left a wake behind.  I had trouble processing this information and there was a rather bizarre exchange of words which finally resulted in my going to see for myself. Sure enough, the lowest ten foot section of my stairs were rapidly moving toward Lamoine State Park, being towed by the ice pack. The line to the mooring had been frozen in the ice and the ice won the tug of war. I hopped in my kayak and gave chase, dodging chunks of ice and rescued the stairs. There I was, towing a section of stairway with my kayak across Frenchman Bay in March. Just another day on the Maine coast.

Normally, winter here is no big deal. Sure we get snow but Boston gets hit harder than Bar Harbor.  There’s a certain line of conflict (technical meteorological term) which always seems south of here. We get settled winter weather, gentle snow and often sunshine. Some winters we see complete thaws several times and little snow in between. So far this winter we’ve had an incredible warm sunny November and a normal December. The rainy New Years in NYC has brought us a wet snowstorm so we may have to wait a bit longer for the sunny winter I like.

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Whitewater Rafting in Maine

Our oceanside vacation apartment is a great home base for an affordable Maine whitewater adventure. Only 2-1/2 hours away, Maine’s wild rivers offer a change of pace from the typical coastal fun.  This is the sort of experience that makes Maine  the “Wild West of the East”. There are at least ten companies which offer this adventure and it pays to reserve early.  The trips are all in western and northern parts of Maine on the Kennebec, Penobscot, and Dead Rivers  All Maine river rafting trips are regulated by dam releases, so there’s guaranteed whitewater! Timed release also means that there are times on these rivers when the flow is much gentler, so if you are less adventurous or have small children, schedule one of these trips.  Of course, there is still seasonal variability; May promises more excitement (and colder water!) than August. The season is from April to October, though some open in May. Wetsuits are available for extra charge.

Trip operators will offer a package including the river trip and usually a cookout at the end. Other activities are sometimes featured for the non rafting members of your group (that’s where I’d be). Prices range from $60 and up per person, with discounts for kids.  Some trips require a minimum age of 10, others 16 depending on the river and the type of release.  There is usually no upper age limit. Wildlife viewing during the trip is an added benefit (if you have time!).  Photos of your trip are offered at the end. Dam releases  are scheduled 6 months in advance so it is easy to plan for the trip you want, though don’t expect your group to wait for you and don’t expect a refund if you’re late!

Ask the tour operator what river rating to expect. The rating starts at the calmest at class 1 to the death defying 6. You will not be taken on any class 6 whitewater! Class 2 requires basic paddling skill. Real whitewater starts at class 3 but will involve no real danger. Class 4 presents white water, drops, rocks and waves. This will be the highest class rating you will encounter in Maine trips. While class 4 is considered for “experienced paddlers” trip operators generally emphasize no experience is required.

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Bar Harbor Home Rental Guide

Renting waterfront property in the Bar Harbor area is not that much different than buying. Buyers pay the most for the same things renters value with a few exceptions like school districts and taxes.  Look in any coastal real estate book and you will see the words “XXX feet of deep water ocean frontage” before the most desirable properties.  It’s easy to understand why the frontage is important, but what about “deep water”? Why should it matter how deep it is unless you want to moor a sailboat?

To a first time Maine vacationer, among the most amazing things they see are the tides. Our tides have a ten foot range and some bodies of water can look like mud fields at low tide. For these property owners, the shore recedes many hundreds of feet or disappears completely. These areas are simply known as “tidal”, a euphemism realtors use to mean “mud field at low tide”.  The picture above is of the Skillings River in Lamoine. Raccoon Cove is another place where the water empties out and was featured in a Dirty Jobs episode about bloodworm digging. Both of these places have their pluses, lodgings are cheaper,  and they are abundant with wildlife.  But realtors like to show these properties at high tide and  if you are looking at photos of a rental property in one of these areas, you will probably see plenty of water.

SeaCat’s Rest is not “tidal”. Our ocean frontage is not the classic crashing waves on rock walls like you get some places, but neither is it shallow. At low tide we gain another hundred feet or so of rocks and seaweed but it is still easy to launch a kayak as the picture at the left shows. Our protected Frenchman Bay makes an ideal place for small boating without the problem of having to cross half a mile of mud if your timing is off. And the view from the bluff or the windows is always of water, not mud.

Deep water frontage? It means more than being able to have your deep keeled sailboat nearby. Acadia area waterfront property owners and buyers know this, now you do too!

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Lodging at Bar Harbor or Acadia National Park

Jordan Pond

Are you visiting Bar Harbor for the first time?  Are you a seasoned traveler to Acadia? Well, first off, you need  a place to stay.  Just do a search on Google for  lodging or motel selections and the list goes on forever.  Have you considered staying a little further out of the hustle and bustle of Bar Harbor proper? It’s a quaint little spot that the tourists haven’t found yet (shhhh…) .  It’s located on Frenchman Bay and looks directly at Cadillac Mountain.  We are located in Lamoine just 20 minutes from Mount Desert and 30 minutes from Bar Harbor.  Even better if you don’t want the hassle of parking or driving you can take the free Mount Desert Island Explorer in Trenton which is about 15 minutes away.  This shuttle takes you throughout Acadia National Park and links to neighboring village centers.  Some of the stops include Jordan Pond House, Sand Beach, Southwest Harbor and, of course, Bar Harbor.

So why stay at SeaCat’s Rest?  The views are spectacular (it’s just drop-dead beautiful).  There is no traffic.  It’s quiet and if you decide not to journey over the the island there is kayaking right out the front door, Lamoine State Park is nearby and if you’re into seafood, you can dig for clams or pick up mussels at low tide.  Supplement this with some lobster from Ellsworth and this homemade seafood meal will rival any you’ll find at the restaurants in Bar Harbor.  We have all the cooking utensils available and if you ask we can give you a hand.

There’s nothing fake or phony here, no gross exaggerations, just a nice, quiet, elegant  alternative to the hotel experience for usually less money. Remember, we have two bedrooms, a kitchen, living room and laundry which adds up to three times the average hotel room, with private ocean frontage.  Go ahead and price out a hotel or another rental property, but before you do, save a copy of our .pdf brochure on your desktop and compare.

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Cadillac Mountain, Car or Man?

Once you’ve settled into your exquisite Lamoine lodgings, vacation plans for Acadia National Park almost always include a a trip up to the top of Cadillac Mountain to view the stunning panorama. On a clear day mere language fails to describe the breathtaking view of the town of Bar Harbor, Eagle Lake, Somes Sound and the many islands in all directions. The mostly bare rock prevents trees from taking root and obscuring the view, and the paved road makes access a breeze. Question: Is the mountain named after the car, the car after the mountain or both after someone who happened to spend time in Maine and Motown?

The answer is number three.  In fact, Antoine Laumet del La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac even helped found Detroit, Michigan, once known as Fort Ponchartrain.  Born in France in 1658 he departed for Canada (Port Royal, Nova Scotia) at the age of 25.  Throughout his life there is a suggestion of creative morality; he spent time running from the law, invented a title for himself,  and enriched himself by trading alcohol to Native Americans.  People who knew him said he was a nasty man, a liar and an opportunist.  Born Antoine Laumet, the name Cadillac was from a town near his birthplace, and the invention of sieur de Cadillac or sire of Cadillac was either a deliberate attempt to puff himself up in the New World or escape his identity in France.  Despite these moral lapses history shows that he managed to achieve high rank in both the French military and government, punctuated by frequent imprisonments and charges of corruption. He died at the age of 70 near his birthplace in Castelsarrasin, France.

In 1689 Cadillac was given jurisdiction over what is now the Downeast coast of Maine and it was around this time that his invented name was was attached to America’s highest coastal mountain. Cadillac, Michigan, a small town at almost exactly the same latitude (9 miles south) also bears his name, but it was named much later, in 1882.

The nice thing about Acadia National Park is that it can be enjoyed by people of all fitness levels and this includes Cadillac Mountain. Drive up or hike up on one of the two trails to the 1532 foot summit. Our Acadia area lodging, SeaCat’s Rest,  would be visible from the top if only a few trees weren’t in the way.  Here’s what the mountain looks like from our shore:

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The Rich and Famous of Bar Harbor

Mount Desert Island, where Bar Harbor, Northeast Harbor and Southwest Harbor are located, had and still has the homes of some of the most notable people in America.  Now, Mainers are pretty respectful of privacy (mostly) and the rich and famous who live among us reciprocate by treating us as equals (mostly).  So I’m not going to break character by telling exactly where their homes are.

Everyone knows about how the Rockefeller family was responsible for twisting the arms of most of the big landowners on the island to donate land to create Acadia National Park, and how the carriage roads and stone bridges were also a Rockefeller gift. There are still family members about; some in cemeteries and some in blue jeans at the convenience store. Vice President Nelson Rockefeller was born in Bar Harbor. Henry Ford liked the area and built several “cottages” for family members. A neighbor here in Lamoine was caretaker for the home of the widow of Edsel Ford.  J. P. Morgan’s descendants own one of the homes on the Shore Path in Bar Harbor. Cornelius Vanderbilt built cottages in various places on the island. His great great great granddaughter, Wendy Burden is about to release a tell-all book about growing up rich called  Dead End Gene Pool,  scheduled for release April 1, 2010.  Will there be Bar Harbor stories in the book? Her family members are still in the area.  Overstuffed president William Howard Taft liked to play golf here and the descendants of the Astors still live here.  Fred Savage, whose parents owned the elegant Asticou Inn in Northeast Harbor and who donated land for Asticou Gardens is visible still by his influence on Bar Harbor architecture. [Commercial message–click here for the best place to stay when you visit Bar Harbor].

Now that we’ve covered the old money and fame what about the new? About four years ago I was asked directions by a woman driving a black SUV.  She seemed like she expected me to know who she was and said something like, “Did I come in the right way?” I thought she looked familiar but I couldn’t help her much and she drove off.  When I turned around the people I was with all had their eyeballs inflated and their hands over their mouths. Then it hit me: it was Martha Stewart! Martha, if you read this I’m sorry I didn’t recognize you, it will never happen again. Martha has a house in Seal Harbor. It is none other than the former home of Edsel Ford, Skylands. Caspar (Cap) Weinberger lived somewhere near Northeast Harbor until his death in 2006.  He was the Secretary of Defense under Ronald Reagan.  Novelist Stephen King lives in Bangor, his sister-in-law lives here in Lamoine. Noel Paul Stookey of  Peter, Paul and Mary lives in the Blue Hill area and Don McLean (American Pie) lives near Camden. Pianist and Jazz musician Paul Sullivan of the Paul Winter Consort lives in nearby Brooklyn.  Zbigniew Brezinski, Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser, is reputed to live in Northeast Harbor. Kirstie Alley and friend John Travolta have places on the island of Ilesboro.  Other wealthy area residents  include the Pierreponts, the Drexels, the Biddles, and the Strawbridges.  I’m sure there are LOTS of rich and famous Bar Harborites I don’t know about, there are just too many private jets landing in the summer for the folks mentioned above.

So what do the rich and famous know that we don’t?  Maybe it’s that Bar Harbor and environs are THE place to be in the summer and fall. Want to rub shoulders with the elite? I don’t either but we can all hang out, complain about the servants and pretend we’re famous while we eat lobster and walk in the footsteps of the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts and Astors.  And lodging at SeaCat’s Rest, with your own ocean frontage and luxury surroundings at affordable prices, will complete the fantasy.

Filed under Bar Harbor, Famous visitors, History, Northeast Harbor by on . 6 Comments.


Ocean Kayaking in Acadia

Maine kayaking, an added adventure for your vacation in Bar Harbor.   Getting out on the water gives you a very special perspective of the ocean.   You are part of it.  You see what those gulls see, you feel the ocean tides and currents, get followed by a curious seal.   It’s not to be missed. The smells, the sounds, the feelings all are unique in a small quiet boat.   No motor, no fumes, no noise.   Just the quiet splash as your paddle enters and exits the water.

Kayaking Jordon Pond

It took me years to get excited about going out in a kayak.   I remember that my mother had a friend that was always bringing her kayak with her to the lake, and inviting everyone to try it.    Having experienced canoeing at a young age, I remembered the “tippiness”;   I didn’t like it much.   I always felt that the canoe was going to tip over and dunk me in the cold water.   So I didn’t want to try kayaking.

Boy was I wrong.   Kayaks are nothing like canoes.   You are sitting just at the water’s surface, down low and right at the water’s interface with the sky.   While the kayak moves a bit as you shift your weight, it’s not going to flip as easily as a canoe.   Don’t get me wrong, you can flip a kayak, it just isn’t very easy to do.   You need high waves, or reaching way beyond your center of gravity to tip the kayak.   If that scares you, start your experience in a warm pond (Blunt’s Pond is just up the road from us), not a cold body of water. Always wear a life jacket – we offer 4 sizes here at SeaCat’s Rest – and I mean wear it, not just have it in the boat.

Kids Kayaking on Blunt's Pond, Lamoine

Kayaks are also for all ages – at least if kids can follow directions – I would say from 6 years old to 80 years young.   You do need to be flexible – that is, able to get up and out of the boat.   Other than that – it’s a sport for those who need not be very fit.    Of course, you start slow and go slow, but you can paddle without much effort having little arm strength (I know from experience);  I can paddle 3 miles without any issues.

You do need a boat that fits you.   We have two sizes of boats, one for light weight folks (weight limit under 130 pounds) or 65 kgs.  If you are a taller person, you need a long kayak for lake or ocean adventures.    Ocean kayaks are long and lean, they don’t turn fast, but they go straight easily and can accommodate 6 foot 5 inches tall folks.    Of course they are not good at stream and river riding, so stay in open water.    If you have waves in a kayak, you will get wet.   So don’t go out among whitecaps.    Here at Frenchman Bay, we only get wind generated waves on our bay, no big ocean swells.   This makes kayaking possible most days in the spring, summer and fall.

Also there is a big difference between paddling a canoe and a kayak.   With a canoe, you are sitting high and paddle goes low into the water, after a while, you might switch to the other side because your arms and back ache.   With a kayak, you have a different situation.   First of all, you are just paddling your own weight, the kayak is supported by the water and becomes weightless.   Second, you are working both sides of your body at the same time, alternating sides that you paddle.   Third, you can go fast, rest or go slow, your choice.   And fourth, you have your back braced in a triangle with your knees up against the sides of the kayak – making a strong supported base to paddle from.

Kayaking on a large calm bay or lake is the way to start.   No current to manage, no obstacles to avoid.    It’s easy, it’s exercise without the sweat.     Now, if you want it can be an exertion, you can go out in demanding weather, or waves, or in a spring fed stream and rush along with the water in a whitewater situation.   In fact, it can be quite challenging.  Kayaks have built-in floatation for edgy uses.   The point is, the challenge is your choice, and here at Frenchman Bay it’s your choice and your decision.

You have a range of choices when it comes to kayaking.   A guided tour in Bar Harbor, rent kayaks on your own, bring your own or borrow our kayaks for free while you rent from us.

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Bar Harbor Walking Tour #1

Once you’ve settled into your roomy oceanfront Bar Harbor lodging it’s time to get out and see the town.  It doesn’t have to be all about shopping or dining, that can be secondary. Bar Harbor is small enough that you can’t get lost and there are no “bad parts” so an unstructured wander is fine.  But if you want to get the most out of it, it’s nice to know the highlights and even nicer to have a route planned out.

An absolute must is the Shore Path. At about two miles, it shouldn’t take more than an hour.  It starts on the town pier…you might want to look into one of the whale watching tours here…and proceeds past Agamont Park.  Soon you’ll  pass historic Bar Harbor Inn.  Glance toward the water and you might see a cruise ship or the schooner Margaret Todd.  Next comes little Grant’s Park.  Now the gravel path goes past private properties, and what properties they are! Many of these homes are owned or were owned by the East Coast elite, which you can read about here.  Please resist the urge to order cocktails on the veranda.  Towards the water notice the islands: on the extreme left almost out of sight is Bar Island, so named because a sand bar allows access for a few hours around low tide.  Access is from Bridge Street. From left to right  next is  Sheep Porcupine followed by Burnt Porcupine.  Next is Long Porcupine and finally Bald Porcupine with its breakwater.  Consider visiting one of these islands by renting a kayak. Read about kayaking here.  The Shore Path continues to two possible exits. For a shorter walk turn right on Hancock Street or walk another block to Wayman Lane. You will pass the MDI Hospital on Wayman Lane on your way back to Main Street. Turn right on Main St. and prepare for some window shopping as you work your way back to the town pier.  T-shirts, souvenirs, ice cream and chocolate, art and books await.  This is also a good time to read some displayed menus on the many restaurants in town.  If the prices are just too high, there’s a Hannaford grocery store on Cottage Street and a full kitchen at (you guessed it) SeaCat’s Rest!

This is one of two walks I will present in the little town of Bar Harbor. More to come!

Map courtesy of Google Maps.

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The French Chef in Maine

Julia Child summered on Mount Desert Island in Bass Harbor, Maine from 1947 until her shortly before her death in 2004.  She was known to frequent Sawyer’s Market in Southwest Harbor. This was shamefully omitted in my Rich and Famous in Bar Harbor post and I hope to make amends. Truth is, I’ve rented a number of her DVDs featuring her signature recipes presented in black-and-white on her old WGBH TV shows. The impetus for this, in addition to my love of cooking is the recent Meryl Streep film, Julie & Julia.  Late word is that this won a Golden Globe for Streep, well deserved.

From "The French Chef with Julia Child: Disc 1" (available from Netflix)

In my plans for the future I will present a youtube clip entitled “Cooking the Maine Lobster” so that my guests can watch me cook in their own kitchen at our vacation apartment.  Stay tuned. Julia will be with me.  I’ve just completed Bouillabaisse à la Marseillaise, a hearty fish stew involving boiled fish heads and tons of garlic. It was great. And believe it or not, there was not a single bit of butter in it, just lots of olive oil.

When I was a kid I used to hurry home in anticipation of watching Julia’s show. It wasn’t because I was interested in cooking, I wanted to see her drop her chewing gum in the bowl she was mixing and then listen to her try to recover. I would be rolling on the floor. Now 40 years later I still enjoy the comedy but I like the cooking even more.  She really did present some great, timeless recipes and and an even more timeless attitude.  She had a way of cutting to the essentials and wasn’t afraid to make creative substitutions when ingredients were difficult to find. That’s why I was able to make my bouillabaisse without the fish head. Here’s what she had to say about it,

“Unfortunately when you get a famous recipe like this, the gourmets get hold of it and they fancy it up so much and say, ‘Do this, do that or that’s not the real thing’, that us ordinary people feel that it’s impossible to do and terribly expensive.”

I think that’s why she lived to be 91. You may not want to cook on vacation but our website is named affordable Acadia after all, and we give you that opportunity in our fully equipped kitchen. Bon appetit!

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Acadia’s Free Bus Service

We like affordable, but we’re absolutely thrilled with free! Mount Desert Island’s Island Explorer bus service is not only free, it’s a clean, worry free way to see this magnificent island from stem to stern.  Three million passengers have taken the bus since 1999 and in that time 10,250 tons of CO2 and 16 tons of other pollutants have not entered the air, thanks to the propane powered buses. There are 8 loops on the island serviced by Island Explorer and it is easy and hassle free to hop on or off just about anywhere. For techno-geeks, the service employs a GPS location system which allows you to know where any given bus is through an interactive map here. All you need is a computer with internet and Macromedia Flash Player.

Of course, a day without a car might take a little planning and sacrifice. Don’t plan on buying those moose antlers or old lobster traps on this trip.  It is simple however, to go the the website and plan your adventure. No parking or traffic worries, no lost keys, and much cleaner air.  Bikers like to make use of the shuttle too; all are equipped with bicycle racks.  There’s even a “Bicycle Express” which runs between the Village Green and Eagle Lake.  Just pedal ’till you’re tired and hop back on.  How about a one way hike? No problem with the Explorer, just catch it at the trail’s end.  The Explorer’s website even has some suggestions for hikes.  Sure, you may just emerge from the woods as the bus is passing by, but there will be another in about a half hour.

Acadia National Park is second only to Yellowstone in yearly visits and like it’s bigger brother, our park is in danger of being loved to death. The Island Explorer is a big step away from this fate, and we hope you will take advantage of it.  If you choose to stay with us in lovely Lamoine,  your link to the bus system is 15 minutes away, at the Trenton IGA. Here you can hop on a number one bus at 7 AM, 8 AM or each 1/2 hour thereafter and you will return no later than 9:30 PM to your car.  Alternately you could kayak across the one mile strait to Hadley Point,  and catch the #1 bus there. This bus will take you to Bar Harbor’s Village Green, where you can connect with all the other routes. Enjoy the ride!

“Last time we visited the area for a week and didn’t move our vehicle from the time we set up camp until we left for home. Love the bus and the bike trails.”

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