We moved onwards from the Bar Harbor Area, wandering gradually southwards. Next stop in Thomaston, Maine. This is in the area of Camden, Rockport, Rockland, Bath, Freeport, etc. And, tho we only drove a couple hours to get here from BH, it is a WORLD AWAY.
Could easily have been that Cruise Ship which ruined the day for us.
Look, I get it…a BUNCH of people wrote that they had LOVED Bar Harbor when they visited. We did not. Not arguing or implying our experience was the “real” BH and theirs’ wasn’t. Could easily have been that Cruise Ship which ruined the day for us. But I can say that in every way we did NOT like Bar Harbor, we DID like the Rockland/Camden area. Part of this might be because we are starting to understand a little better what exactly it is we like. And part may be because there was NO Cruise Ship anywhere near Camden.
So what did we do/like in 4 peaceful days in Thomaston?
TIDES!!! For a midwesterner, this is still and probably always will be fascinating to watch.
Our RV Park was a gently sloping field heading down to the St. George River. This is a tidal body…nearly empty at low tide and full to the brim at High. For a midwesterner, this is still and probably always will be fascinating to watch. Also in the park: a swimming pool (very nice), laundry room and a couple of Bald Eagles that soar overhead almost every day.
In nearby Thomaston, which is a small town with some stately old houses that people are buying and starting to renovate, was a nice coffee shop with an EXCELLENT brunch. We don’t eat out that often on the road, but one of our guilty pleasures is a weekly breakfast. In Chicago, before retirement, this would have been Sunday. These days, every day is Sunday, so we pick a day based on proximity to a local breakfast place.
We spent our time in the area visiting and wandering around the nearby towns. One day we learned that Camden was having a “Windjammer Festival.” This had the harbor full of Sailing Schooners – some old, some built by their owners, some newer and some offering week-long cruises for 10-or-so passengers. As part of the festival, you could tour these boats and speak to the crews/owners/builders – all VERY PROUD of their craft and happy to describe their lives on board.
There was also a small group of vendor booths, a Coast Guard Search and Rescue Boat (fascinating to talk to the sailors about their careers), a local brew pub and a family restaurant with an EXCELLENT Lobster Roll/Chowder special.
There was also a Lobster Crate race, which looked fun for the participants and was certainly fun for the spectators. Even MORE fun for THIS spectator, as we were able to watch from the deck of the Brewpub, which overlooked the harbor! The setup for this race was a string of wooden Lobster Crates attached at both ends to segments of the marina piers like so many beads on a necklace. There was about 50 yards between ends of this floating “bridge,” so a 50-yard dash, right?
Not so much!!! Lobster crates are not very stable, nor are they very bouyant. So the “race” part comes down to trying to step on the exact middle of each crate as you move at just the right speed (so the crates don’t sink under your weight) across all the crates to the end. Then back across the string again – the winner of the race is the person who crosses the string the most times in two minutes!
As we watched this race, we started to understand what it takes to win. You need to be about 10 years old, and slightly-built. If you are older or heavier, the crates sink too much as you push off. If you are younger or smaller, your legs are too short to reach the center of each crate from the previous one, in full stride. Either way, you are going swimming. A winning racer keeps just the right pace in addition to being a light-weight and stepping always EXACTLY in the middle of each crate. And it is VERY clear that the whole thing is exhausting – like running in soft sand since the crates sink out from under you as you push off, wasting most of the energy in each stride.
I had NO IDEA how important the small Maine Town was to the shipbuilding industry up until the 1920s!
We found some other things to do while in the area. Among the most interesting: We visited the town of Bath. I knew that Bath had a Shipyard, but I had NO IDEA how important the small Maine Town was to the shipbuilding industry up until the 1920s. Before then, there were almost 200 Ship Building companies, who produced HUNDREDS of wooden schooners of all sizes. Some were small fishing boats, others were Behemoths, built to carry coal.
The largest were 6-masted sailing vessels – absolutely HUGE. There is a sculpture at the Maine Maritime Museum (on the river front at the site of one of the last shipbuilders) representing the last boat built – the Wyoming. We’ve seen the Tall Ships in Chicago, but the size and majesty of these 6-masted boats would have been a sight to see.
Unfortunately, almost all of the wooden boats built at Bath are now long gone – we learned that the average lifetime of a working schooner was 13 years only! Most succumbed to fire or reefs; a couple were torpedoed in WW1!
The museum had many of the original buildings that created these boats – the Sail Loft, Joinery, Pitch Furnace, Paint and Treenail shed, caulker’s shed, etc. There was a reproduction of the blacksmith shed, which also fired the steam trunk used to warm the timber so it could be bent and formed around the hull. The history, so well explained, of the place and the manufacturing processes was riveting, even though treenails, manufactured by the thousands for each ship, not rivets were used to hold the craft together. Along with a whole range of specially manufactured iron straps, fasteners, loops, buckles, etc.
After touring the museum and learning about the shipyard as it operated up until 1920, we took a boat cruise on the Kennebec River, with an ongoing commentary by a museum Docent. He described exactly WHY Bath was such an important center for shipbuilding, which included proximity to lumber (though in later years, a lot of this was brought in by ship), a natural and sheltered, deepwater river port, gently sloping river banks (the better to slide ships down the Ways when hulls were built), etc. The Docent told of the Quarantine Hospital on a lonely point on the river just out of town where any ship form overseas had to stop and be boarded before it was allowed to offload passengers into Bath.
Who knew that the Bath Customs House was once the FOURTH-BUSIEST in the US, after, Boston, New York and Philadelphia!
Our Docent-led cruise included a run past the Bath Iron Works, a still very-much-active Shipyard building Destroyers for the Navy. They make two types – the Arleigh Burke Class and the Zumwalt.
The latter looks like something from Star Wars — all angles and weird lines. This is a Stealth boat – BIW has made 2 of them and the third is under construction in their yard.
Apparently, the Zumwalts have been singularly UNsuccessful, so much so that the Navy will build only 3 (after contracting for 32). They had huge cost overruns (how UNUSUAL for military procurement!), problems with guns, problems with Ammo for the guns etc. etc.
The nail in the Zumwalt coffin: The original Stealth design, while somewhat effective, is exceeded naturally and completely by the Navy’s other stealth warships – SUBMARINES. So the navy is looking for some way to use them productively (and justify their $billions pricetag) considering they already have an inventory of the latter. Not to be political, but how much of our military spending is for weapons tech that is built first, AFTER WHICH a mission for the tech is sought?
The docent spent a lot of time talking about the process of building modern steel warships. From the creation of sections, to lifting those sections into place – which are often instructed upside-down so must be “flipped” (a word that sounds inappropriate for a huge thing that weighs hundreds of tons). A HUGE crane – once the largest in the US – is used for this. Finally, the ships are moved onto a special floating platform, where the ship’s assembly can be nearly completed BEFORE the platform is simply sunk down to float the ship off. Turns out this is way more efficient that the old-fashioned building practice where the hull is created, then slid down the ways into the water with a huge splash, where it spends several more years being finished.
One disappointment in the area: Visiting the epicenter of L.L.Bean in Freeport, Maine. We had been warned that this was just a shopping center/Outlet Mall, but we thought we’d visit anyway. They were right, those who warned us. A shopping center. Crowded. Nothing much worth visiting; nothing purchased, even. Ahhh well…Bath was on the way to/from!
I think the contrast between Bar Harbor and Camden/Rockport/Bath/Freeport might have sharpened our focus on the kinds of things we like in our travels. High-end tourist destinations, no matter how beautiful, elegant, educational and/or comfortable almost always disappoint, for us. It might have to do with the fact that we are NOT really tourists anymore. Not on vacation, not needing to see as much as practical in 2 weeks. Not wanting to eat every dinner out. We can afford to (in fact PREFER to) go slow. Spend an afternoon at a coffee shop. Eat IN (having purchased stuff at a farmstand).
Enjoyment, Put Mathematically:
Locals / Tourists > 1
Our enjoyment of a place, it turns out, can best be predicted or summarized most easily by the ratio of Locals to Tourists. The more of the former, the more we have EXCELLENT experiences. When the ratio of locals is high, you get the sense of people who are proud of their hometown, what they eat, the music they perform or listen to, etc. They pull you into their joy of where they live, sometimes with recommendations for things to do or see, and often with unexpected offers of hospitality (and sometimes even moose meat!).
And, I do not include shop and restaurant workers in tourist places in the “Local” count – they may live locally, but they tend to be curt – even grumpy – after a long day of dealing with Tourists. Their JOB is to maximize the economic impact of their brief contact with people from away. Not conducive to nuance and joy.
Places can be beautiful, but when people are beautiful it is far more enjoyable (for us).
The kind of places we enjoy, in addition to locals often have museums; but they tend towards the quirky, or at the very least, off-center. For example, the Canadian National Potato Museum on Prince Edward Island. Or the Maine Maritime Museum. The Blues Music Hall of Fame. The Catch-and-Release Mini-Aquarium in Petty Harbor, Newfoundland. Any Aviation Museum. Every Presidential Library we have been to.
Not to say some “tourist-oriented” places are not worthy of our attention and time. We have enjoyed the National Parks (Canadian or US), The Baseball Hall of Fame, The aforementioned Presidential Libraries, Beale Street in Memphis (and yes, Graceland, too). But we tire of these after a few days unless there are some “Local” interests or eccentricities to engage us.
So maybe THAT explains why we preferred Thomaston to Bar Harbor; ever respectful to the fervent recommendations of so many for the latter?
Usually, we are troubleshooting bus issues…
And, what would a blog post be without at least SOME mechanical mischief?
This week a new twist on the usual!!! As we wandered around Maine, we started to hear a really strange noise emanating from the front of the Clown Car. NOT just a squeak – with the bus at its age, I am fully able to ignore squeaks (or at least differentiate “squeaks” from impending disaster). This sounded AWFUL and vibrated like the front end is going to fall off. Given the short nose on the Clown Car, the vibrations from the fan were actually tickling my toes!
After listening and considering and Googling – I even found a YouTube Video of a Smart Car making the exact same sound — I came to the conclusion that the radiator fan is dead or dying. This is serious, even though as the weather cools, the fan is hardly used (it comes on really only when the A/C runs except if it is really hot and we are sitting in city traffic). We can limp along, sans A/C for local stuff, but this is cramping our style getting to/from things to see and do.
Unfortunately, from what Dr. Google reports, in order to change out a simple electric fan, one must: Remove a significant part of the front body panels, drain the cooling system and dismount the radiator, discharge the A/C refrigerant and remove it’s condenser before you can even get to the fan. Then you have to do all that in reverse to put the car back on the road.
I could probably do most of this, EXCEPT the A/C Discharge/Recharge, but only if I had a place to work. So we need to find a mechanic. This is NOT an easy thing to do for a Smart Car; we thot maybe we would have to tow the car all the way to Boston (which eventually will be on the way for us, as we make our way to Cape Cod). Even assuming we COULD find one sooner or closer, online estimates of this job come in at $1,000 or more labor to replace a $100 part.
I have long thot that its life would be a short one due to the beating it takes; over time we have come to realize we need something bigger — something that can haul bikes on the back or a Kayak on top. Something with higher ground clearance – some roads are just not passable for us. So, we are considering an older Jeep Wrangler or Suburu or ??? Problem is, we are not quite ready to do this, only resigned to the need to do this.
Buying a used car is as much related to happening on the right one as the decision to buy one. And once we find one, we need to move the towing bits from the CC to the new toad. This, we thought, would happen this winter when the bus is parked for a month or so. It was ONE of the projects on my Winter ToDo list. Unfortunately we will have to bite the bullet and get the CC fan fixed even though we will be dumping it in a few months. BAD (and expensive) TIMING.