off island


Donnell Pond

It’s nice to  have a big, mostly empty recreation area equal in distance to SeaCat’s Rest when compared to wildly popular Acadia National Park. I’m talking about Donnell Pond Public Reserve Land. This is an area of over 14,000 acres of isolated ponds, crystal clear lakes and mountains with panoramic views and the trails to get there. This compares with the 49,600 acres of Acadia, but it’s a guarantee that during the summer at least, the density of visitors there will be a tiny fraction of its big national brother. All this and a mere 22-1/2 miles north and east of here, about the same distance as Acadia NP in the other direction.

The big nature reserve came together with the help of The Nature Conservancy, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, the Land for Maine’s Future Program (which helped to fund more than half the acreage acquired), the Frenchman Bay Conservancy, and private landowners deeply committed to conservation. In the early part of the last century Tunk Lake was a source for ice before refrigeration, and a large estate there belonged to famed Antarctic explore Admiral Richard E. Byrd. It was destroyed by fire in 1989. Now it all belongs to the people of Maine.

One thing which stands out when visitors take the obligatory trip to the top of Acadia’s Cadillac Mountain is a high mountain in the distance called Schoodic Mountain, visible over Bar Island, just to the left of Bar Harbor down below. Just to the right of it is a lesser peak called Black Mountain. Both these peaks are in the Donnell Pond Reserve and both have trails to the top, and as you might guess, both offer a view of Acadia. There are several campsites on Donnell Pond with fire spots, privies and picnic tables. These are available on a first-come-first-serve basis, and you can stay up to 14 days. Donnell Pond is also open to fishing and motor boats. Access to the main camping beach is by a 1/2 mile long foot trail, so if you have heavy items, you may want to use the boat launch site, out of the park’s boundaries.

Looking back at Acadia from Black Mt. A ten mile view.

If we zoom in we can see a cruise ship….

I took the The Black Mountain Cliffs Loop (2.9 miles – allow 2 hours) from the Donnell Pond parking area on September 6 and took a few pictures. The trail is easy to follow but not easy. There are lots of twists and turns, wet stream beds, and an abrupt climb at the end, almost like a giant staircase. I was glad I brought water for the 900 foot climb, and comforted that I had my cell phone, since I encountered no one else. The trip back down was to the Donnell Pond’s (Schoodic) beach. Ironically, there was a busload of schoolkids making a constant racket there, which was a sound beacon guiding me back. I also had my car’s GPS with me which answered some direction questions when it seemed the trail markings were ambiguous. A compass would have worked just as well.

How to get there: Take US Rt. 1 east out of Ellsworth–follow the signs to Campobello Island. Drive about 10 miles to the bridge before Sullivan, then drive another 4-1/2 miles and take a left onto ME 183N. Drive for 4.3 miles and take a left on Schoodic Beach Road, bear left for another 2 miles and you will come to the parking lot.

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Acadia’s Top Ten Things to Do

Bar Harbor from the Cadillac summit

Vacation season is almost here! The sunny weather and warm late winter temperatures remind us that Acadia adventure awaits. This is one of those posts I’ve been meaning to write for a long time since it is an attempt to answer the question I hear most often from our guests here at SeaCat’s Rest.  I will try to list the Top Ten in reverse priority (#10 first) and give alternatives when possible. Some choices are weather-related and so should be shuffled in the priority as necessary.

10.  A visit off island. It’s important to see the “real” Maine, away from the remarkable beauty of Mt. Desert Island. Two of my recommended off-island trips are to Stonington on Deer Isle (1-1/2 hours, 58 miles), a real fishing village and former granite quarry. Stonington is Maine’s most valuable lobster fishing port. The 2010 lobster landings figure released by the DMR for Stonington is 13,785,437 pounds of lobster valued at $44,259,982.  Also, see Kathleen’s post about the Settlement Quarry and the Crockett Cove Woods. The second choice is Castine (1-1/2 hours, 53 miles). Castine is great for history buffs. You can see remains of old Fort George built by the Brits. Castine is interesting because it was claimed at various time by the  French, British, Dutch and finally the Americans. There is also a lighthouse and the Mane Maritime Academy.

9.   Shopping, Brewery, Museums. I would love to claim we have perfect weather in the summer, but if you find the outdoors soggy, you should have some indoor options. Go here to see museums associated with College of the Atlantic. Try the Abbe Museum, 26 Mt. Desert, open 10 AM to 4 PM, Thursday to Saturday from late May through early November for Maine’s Native American story.  Southwest Harbor’s Oceanarium is a hit with kids.  A brewery tour is on tap at Atlantic Brewing at Town Hill while shopping is always an option in downtown Bar Harbor.

8.   Beach Time. Finding a place to stretch out in the sand or swim is not that easy on the rocky shore. There are two great options. The first is Sand Beach, the first  stop on the Park Loop Road after the pay gate  ($20 per week per vehicle). This is on the ocean so taking a dip may involve pain. For a warmer option try Echo Lake Beach on Rt. 102 just north of Southwest Harbor. This is a great place for kids. For a walk on a stony ocean shore, try Seawall, on Rt 102A just south of Southwest Harbor.

7.   Explore Anenome Cave. This is a little known place and you need me to tell  you where it is.  It is also a little dangerous; the rocks are slippery and it is possible to get trapped in the cave if the tide is on the move or the waves are high. Visit at low tide in calm seas. Drive to the Schooner Head parking lot, the last stop before the pay gate on the Park Loop Road.  The trail will lead to the shore and the cave is ten minutes or so away along the shore (follow the shore south, to the right). Inside are tide pools with pink anenomes and other interesting sea creatures and plants, some which seem to be adapted to low light conditions. Please be gentle with this fragile and rare environment. There’s a reason it is not a popular spot.

6. Dinner at a Lobster Pound. Our two favorites are at Beal’s Pier at the end of Clark Point Rd in Southwest Harbor and Abel’s Lobster Pound on Abel’s Lane off Rt. 198 on the way to Northeast Harbor at the top of Somes Sound.   Any place can boil a lobster. What you want is the real Maine experience that goes with it. Don’t expect elegance. An occasional whiff of bait may be in the air, but the views are awesome.

5.  Hike, hike, hike. You need to work off the lobster, right? What better place than Acadia National Park. There are so many to choose from and the right one can be found for all fitness levels. Try to pick one with a mountain top like Bubble Rock so you can be rewarded with a stunning view. South Bubble is pretty easy (400 feet). Read about hiking preparations here.

4.  Get out on the water! This can range a bit in expense. At the low end you can borrow our kayaks when you stay at SeaCat’s Rest. Our water is fairly protected, at the sheltered end of Frenchman Bay. There are also guided kayak trips leaving from Bar Harbor. If I were to recommend a more expensive outing I would include a whale watch trip. You will see a fair amount of open ocean and be rewarded with a close encounter with ocean leviathans! For even more options go here.

3.  Luncheon at Jordan Pond House. This is just mandatory, that’s all there is to it.  Read all about it here.

2. Bike, walk or (horseback) ride the carriage trails. This is the Rockefeller family’s  gift to America representing an ideal of pre-automobile road and stone craft set in the beauty of Acadia. Don’t miss it. More here.

1. Drive the Park Loop Road and to the top of Cadillac Mountain. This is how most people start their trip here and it is a good way. Pick a clear day for the Cadillac summit and take your camera. Don’t forget the free Island Explorer bus which can take you just about anywhere. Try to time your Thunder Hole visit to middle to high tide and good waves are a plus. This is a good time to buy your week-long park pass.

Thunder Hole on the Park Loop Road

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Cape Elizabeth’s Fort Williams Park

Portland Head Light at the park

Many folks who come to SeaCat’s Rest for lodgings near Acadia National Park want to see a bit of history, and hope to see a few lighthouses too. Although Freeport and its retail attractions seem to be a popular stop for a route from the south, my vote would be for Fort Williams, just south of South Portland in Cape Elizabeth.  Here not only can you visit a bit of local military history, you can see two of Maine’s towering lighthouses. Portland Head Light, Maine’s oldest lighthouse (commissioned by George Washington in 1790), is right in the park and houses a museum and gift shop which are open daily 10-4 from Memorial Day to the Friday after Columbus Day. Admission is $2 for adults and $1 for kids. Winter hours are the same, but on weekends only.

Ram's Head Lighthouse from Fort Williams Park

Also visible from the shore is Ram Head Lighthouse. Entering Portland harbor means negotiating the passage between these two lights. It’s been said for centuries that all the world’s navies could fit into Maine’s many deep harbors and this was the worry in 1899, when president McKinley ordered the fort’s construction. From then until just after the close of WWII, big guns and underwater mines were at the ready. And the guns in place for WWII were big indeed, twelve inch in diameter and capable of hurling a projectile ten miles across the water.

But the guns are gone and what remains are masonry parapets where the guns once stood and the various other batteries. Battery Blair, home of the big guns is now partially underground. The town of Cape Elizabeth purchased the fort in 1966 and used it to dispose of extra soil from a sewer project. Now plans are underway to restore some of the buildings and excavate some of the added soil.

Battery Erasmus Keys

Two of the original buildings are uncovered and can be visited. Battery Keys was used for watching the mined area and firing upon ships which failed to identify themselves. Nearby is the Goddard Mansion, built by lumber baron John Goddard in 1858 and later (1896) purchased by the army to house enlisted men. Speaking of firing on ships, none of the guns ever did. They were used for practice only, and the guns were decommissioned after WWII.

Goddard Mansion

Fort Williams Park is not only about history. There are more than 90 acres of grassy fields, dog walks, tennis courts and picnic areas welcoming over a million visitors per year. Winter brings cross country skiers and skaters. So plug 1000 Shore Road, Cape Elizabeth into your car’s GPS as you head to our Acadia and take a break. You have only three more hours to go!

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Dragonfly Farm and Winery, Stetson, Maine

Frontenac Gris, growing at Dragonfly Farm and Winery

On Wednesday, January 12, in the midst of a wild blizzard, I visited the Dragonfly Farm and Winery on my way back from Vermont. There to greet me was the owner Todd Nadeau, who with his wife Treena grow grapes on two or three acres of gravelly Maine soil. What makes this winery unique in Maine is that all the grape wines are produced exclusively from grapes grown right on the farm. There is no option or inclination to buy grapes from other areas, in or out of Maine. That means this is the only commercial Maine winery where the wines can be said to offer the taste of the farm, a taste referred to as the “terroir”. The reason this is possible is that the winery is operated as a “hobby farm”, Todd and Treena have day jobs, so income from the winery doesn’t need to pay the mortgage, and we are the beneficiaries.

Todd Nadeau

Todd and Treena are both full-time Maine Air National Guardsmen, Todd a Lieutenant Colonel and Treena a Master Sergeant. Todd’s  inspiration to become a vintner started with his frequent military-related trips to the Moselle river area of Germany. Here he was practically forced to taste the local wine. Having never been a wine drinker, he was amazed at the taste and suddenly found his (second) calling.

German wines are made from varieties such as Riesling, Gewürtztraminer and Müler-Thurgau but these varieties can’t make it in Maine’s climate, even though we’re further south. Todd and Treena set about to find hybrid varieties which can tolerate our climate but produce wines which recall that first taste in Germany. The chosen white grape varieties are La Crescent, St Pepin, Frontenac Gris, Louise Swenson, Praire Star, Edelwiess and a few new ones which only have numbers. On the red side are St Croix, Sabrevoix, Frontenac and Concord. Other fruits yield to Todd and Treena’s winemaking skills: blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, raspberries and plums.

My two favorites are the Clarity, made from the La Crescent grape and Shorty, made from Frontenac Gris. The full list of Dragonfly wines can be accessed at their website, This time of year there are not many wines for sale and no grape wines at all, but on Maine Maple Sunday, March 27, Clarity, St Pepin, By the Numbers (made from the Elmer Swenson 7-11-22 variety) and Serendipity will be bottled and available for sale. You’ll notice from the photo that the winery is very limited in production and be advised that wines sell out fast. What is available on March 27 may not be around for long.

Speaking of Serendipity, that’s exactly what led me to this gem of a winery and many thanks to Todd, Treena and Todd’s mom Rita for the chance to visit. The weather was awful but the winery was an inspiration to those of us hoping for a healthy grape wine industry in Maine. I’ve heard many say that it can’t be done, but now I know better.

Dragonfly Farm and Winery is located just 20 miles from Bangor in Stetson, Maine, not far (8 miles) from exit 167 on US 95. Take Rt. 143 north and turn left onto Mullen Rd (Rt. 222). The winery is at 1069 Mullen Rd on the left, but you might want to call ahead to arrange a visit at 296-2226/2229.

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Looking for Snow: Sugarloaf, Maine

Seems like yesterday I was writing about our marvelous snowstorm. We made time to hit the cross country ski trails in Acadia National Park and found a fairly level trail to start off at the second parking lot on Rt 198 just north of Northeast Harbor. In a few days we were ready for another outing, but by then we had several days in the 40’s and the the snow was gone. We decided to head for the Carrabasset Valley and Sugarloaf Mountain. This is a three hour drive from Lamoine, but we were pretty sure there would be snow.

As we approached our destination, we started to have doubts. In Kingfield, just thirty miles away, there was bare ground. While a big ski resort like Sugarloaf was certain to make their own snow for their downhill skiers, cross country trails do not get this benefit. We were assured that there was adequate snow on the trails however by checking the website.

The snow was adequate, barely. The wide groomed trails had bare spots and the texture was icy. We are not expert skiers and the conditions were not very forgiving–the trails were fast and difficult. We should have been more savvy in interpreting their report on line. “Snow depth 3″-6″” is minimal when machine surfaced and “Machine loosened granular” sounds, and is, icy.

Despite our experience, if there is snow anywhere in Maine, it will be here. This is a great ski destination, the options for every type of outdoor winter activity are numerous.  This makes Sugarloaf a great destination for groups with folks who have different winter activity interests. Cross country- and skate-skiing, snowshoeing and ice skating are available at the Sugarloaf Outdoor Center while the main resort features downhill trails for skiing and snowboarding. The extensive (20 km) trail network open to cross country skiing can be accessed for $20 per day or $15 after 12:30 PM. Of course, the resort caters to every need: lodging, restaurants, brewpubs and equipment. If only there was a little more snow on January 5, 2011….

Sugarloaf Mt. from the Outdoor Center

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Bar Harbour, in the Shire of Endewearde

It’s again that time of year again for knightly combat, suits of armour, authentic period costumes and Renaissance music as the The 8th Annual Medieval Tournament takes place again at Fort Knox near Bucksport, Maine on Saturday, September 11. Fort Knox is about a sixty minute trip from Bar Harbor. This event is put on by the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) a world wide organization devoted to pretending it’s 500 years ago. You may think this is silly, and to be honest, there is a bit of goofiness about it all, but it is easy to lose one’s self in the illusion. All of the members are so good at it! Each member adopts the persona of a character from a specific historical era and works hard to become knowledgeable about the life and times of that character. Even the dress is authentic. If the character is a poor shepherd and the cost of wool is beyond his means, he will be dressed in tatters.

The Fort Knox website has posted the following schedule:

Tentative Day Schedule – On the Parade Ground
9:45-10:00     Opening Procession into Fort
10:00-11:00     Rapier Duels & Fencing Melees
11:00-12:00     Live Music & Dance Presentation
12:00–1:00     Pas d’Armes Tournament of Knightly Combat, opened by our youth fighters
1:00-1:30     Fashion Show on the Parade Grounds
1:30:-2:15     Rapier Duels & Fencing Melees
2:15-3:00     Live Music & Dance Presentation
3:00-4:00     Pas d’Armes Tournament of Knightly Combat, opened by our youth fighters
Around the Fort
10:00-4:00     Arts & Science Exhibits in the Gun Bays
Battery A – times will be listed on site
Thrown weapons demonstrations
Combat archery demonstrations

See displays of Medieval life

Don’t show up expecting lots of souvenirs and food vendors; this is not a commercial event! It does cost to get in, but it costs the same to get into Fort Knox regardless of what’s happening there. $3 will get you through the door, $1 if you were born in this century. Out-of-staters have to pay $1.50 more. This event is primarily for the members of SCA and “not a show for outsiders to watch, but a living play into which new people can insert themselves”. That doesn’t mean you have to dress up or risk being shunned, the event is a good time for all.  SCA has a great .pdf file with lots of cool photos and FAQ’s here. Fort Knox is not a pretender to America’s gold warehouse, it’s a real fort built in the early to mid 1800’s to protect us from the Canadians. Needless to say, it never saw action. It’s the perfect setting for the Medieval Tournament because it’s so castle-like. You can combine your trip with a climb to the observatory on the top of the new Penobscot Narrows bridge. This is a September event not to be missed!

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Maine’s WoodenBoat Universe

The WoodenBoat Store welcomes visitors

Huge brick barns house the workshops

WoodenBoat Magazine and the WoodenBoat School are a short 45 minute drive away from Acadia National Park in Brooklin, Maine. This is the center of the universe for people who lust after traditional wooden rowing, sail and power craft. Remarkably,  the magazine and school are situated on an incredible 60 acres of what can only be described as Maine coastal paradise. This property is open to any who would like to pay a respectful visit, and is a great day trip for folks lodging in the Acadia area.

Jon Wilson, July 29, 2010

WoodenBoat was started by Jon Wilson in 1974 from a nearby cabin without running water or electricity. He had two subscribers. After a fire destroyed his home he published out of a Volkswagen bus. Phenomenal growth in circulation allowed the purchase of the coastal property in 1977, the site of a grand family mansion and barns. WoodenBoat School was begun in 1981. Today, a wooden boat lover can choose from many courses, from building a skiff to making his or her own bronze cannon. These courses are not really “career oriented”, but more for enhancing quality of life. Students can camp on the estate for a nominal fee or accept dorm-like lodgings. Students are able to participate in the wetter aspects of boating as well; a beautiful harbor and dock allow full access to the southern end of Eggemoggin Reach. Students can even show up for class in their own boats!

WoodenBoat has been instrumental in the renaissance of wooden boat building and appreciation in Maine and far beyond. The culture of wooden boats has taken hold and inspired other schools, shows, regattas and builders. I know a few of the staff and I can tell you without reserve that this is a jewel of an organization, one we would be much poorer without.

So pay a visit to the store and buy a set of plans or a book  (like  Building Small Boats by our friend and WoodenBoat instructor Greg Rössel) and then check out the workshops. You will find yourself signing up for a course in no time.

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Castine: Maine History at Every Turn

Steam ship Cangarda, built 1901, in Castine harbor August 6, 2010

Visitors to Acadia National Park soon learn about the devastating 1947 fire which wiped out much of the evidence of early settlement on Mount Desert Island. Fortunately an hour or so away there is a genuine jewel of  history, Castine.

Known variously through history as Pentagoet, Bagaduce and finally Castine, it lies on a peninsula at the mouth of a “huricane hole”, a natural harbor offering substantial protection from bad weather. Also, the high elevations offer good lookout and cannon sites. For these reasons, Castine was a coveted military settlement since 1626, and unlike Bar Harbor, many of the colonial structures remain. There were more invasions and flags flying over Castine than are easily summarized, but here goes:

English, 1626-1632;

French, 1632-1654;

English, 1654-1670;

French, 1670-1674;

Flemish/Dutch, 1674-1687;

French, 1687-1690;

English, 1690-1693.

Let’s not forget the Indians, who played their military hand as well. Things settled down a bit during the early 1700s with a truce of sorts between the English and the commercial interests of Frenchman Baron Castine. Things heated up again in 1779 when the English dug in for a fight with Washington’s rebels. They got the chance in 1780 when an American force of 19 armed vessels and 24 transports stormed the peninsula. Colonel Paul Revere was in charge of the munitions. The outcome of this battle was not one of America’s proud military moments, as the overly-cautious commander Dudley Saltonstall gave the order to retreat. British ships soon arrived and chased Saltonstall’s fleet up the Penobscot River, where he ran them aground and set them all ablaze. His troops then headed back to Boston by foot. Revere was acquitted of any wrongdoing in this debacle, but his reputation suffered. This has been long known as the greatest defeat of the American side in New England during the Revolutionary War, and our greatest Naval defeat of all time.

Throughout the town are signs marking historical structures and events. With a little advance preparation like reading Redcoats at Castine, available at Seacat’s Rest, a visitor can relive this exciting history. Visit the lighthouse and the earthworks of the two forts or take a tour of the huge 500 foot State of Maine, the floating classroom of Maine Maritime Academy. Quick or sit-down restaurants, pubs and souvenir shops are plentiful. You won’t need your passport, Castine has been in American control since April 28, 1816.

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All Aboard, New Scenic Railroad Leaving Ellsworth Station

Once a popular way to get to Acadia for vacation, train service has been absent  for a quarter century. Originally starting at Brewer, the  train used to stop at Hancock Point where passengers would hop onto a steamship to take them to Bar Harbor. For the first time in over 25 years train whistles will be heard in Ellsworth, Maine.     Starting Saturday July 31, 2010  you can climb aboard for a ride.

Leaving only twice a day on weekends (on Saturday and Sunday at 10:30 and 1:30pm), who could resist a scenic 90 minute ride in a classic ca. 1916 passenger car?    It’s an experiment after all.   So if you are a train buff, come support the efforts of a group of 500+ volunteers who love trains just like you do. They call themselves The Downeast Rail Heritage Preservation Trust.

Like my brother-in-law who has much of the Colorado train system modeled in his basement, this effort is a labor of love for the local die-hard train buffs, just full scale. Rides last 90 minutes and travel to Ellsworth Falls, reverse and then to Washington Junction and back to the depot. The depot is at the site of the old one; on Maine Street just northeast of High Street. But tickets can be purchased at Cadillac Mountain Sports at 32 High Street; since the boarding platform is between the two sites, it’s best to park by the store. The ride costs $12 for adults and $8 for kids 4 to 12. For a special ride, try the caboose for $17 and $13.

Future plans call for extending the trip to Green Lake, another 10 miles. Take the trip for a chance to see Ellsworth and environs as only the rails can offer. Now and Then: Not so long ago rail travel was a real option for folks coming here for vacation. Maine Central Railroad used to offer passenger service deep into Maine’s interior. Those rails are in most cases still available for future service, though serious upgrading is necessary. Today, you can take the train from Boston’s  North Station to Portland for $24. Then you’re on your own! Plans and funding have been approved to extend service to Brunswick. Stay tuned.

Maine Central Rail map 1923

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August is Regatta Month in Downeast Maine

A quiet celebration of small sail and rowing boats took place at Lamoine State Park on July 28- Aug 1. This fifth annual Small Reach Regatta has grown too big for it’s former hosts and so moved a few more miles downeast to our spacious State Park on Frenchman Bay.  Sponsored by The Small Reach Regatta Club and Traditional Small Craft Association Downeast Chapter, the well organized event drew small boat enthusiasts from at least (by casual count) eight states. The typical craft was of wooden construction, traditional design and about 15 to 20 feet in length.

The Regatta was not advertised as a spectator event, but kept quiet; for the benefit of the participants. I had no idea it was happening until it was well under way. Next year I’ll know better.  Most boats were trailered in and by the time I got there most were back on their trailers for the evening. Still, it was a nice opportunity to feast the eyes on the craftsmanship afforded by close inspection. The boat below for example, is actually two halves bolted together along a bulkhead so that it can stow in a smaller space. Other boats were just like fine furniture or works of art. My pictures don’t do them justice.

There are more Regattas this month. The Eggemoggen Reach Regatta, about an hour away from Bar Harbor, will happen on the 7th. It is a serious race among sailing wooden boats at least 26 feet in length. The wooden boat culture of the Maine coast is due in no small part to the presence of Woodenboat Magazine and the Woodenboat School,  located at the finish line of the Regatta, near Brooklin Maine.

Nearby Castine is hosting the Castine Classic Yacht Regatta on August 5th in cooperation with the Eggemoggen Reach Regatta. Boats will race from Castine to Camden. When it’s time to get to Brooklin, the fleet will engage in the Camden Classic Yacht Race on August 6. At the end of August (27-29) the Shipyard Cup will take place in Boothbay and will not be limited to wooden craft.

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