“Places that are hard to get to are often the best. By all means, visit Monhegan if you possibly can. 1.4 miles long and .7 mile wide, it stands majestically alone, 10 miles out to sea, with a personality all its own and a wonderful sense of remoteness. Monhegan was important in the early history of Maine, and to this day remains as independent in spirit and fact as it is possible to be in these United States. As one islander put it, ‘What makes Monhegan different is that it is hard to get to and hard to live on, and anything that makes it easier is a step in the wrong direction.’”
So reads the first paragraph of the pilot book pages describing our next obscure New England island, Monhegan. (Pilot book titled “A Cruising Guide to the Maine Coast, by Hank and Jan Taft.)
The fog had not completely lifted when we set off from Hall Island to cover the 10 miles straight offshore to Monhegan. The lobster pots were thick for the first five miles, and the poor visibility didn’t make the going any easier. Finally, the fog burned off a bit and the wind picked up, which allowed us to turn off the engine and see where we were going, both welcomed developments.
Arriving in Monhegan is a bit like arriving in a third world country in that you are not exactly sure what check in procedures to follow. The bit of online research I did suggested that the right approach is to take a mooring ball and then go on shore to clear in with the harbor master who may or may not be easy to find. But a second online advisory said that leaving the boat unattended on a mooring would be a mistake as an angry lobsterman might arrive at any minute to tell you to get off his mooring!
My solution was to take a mooring ball and send Walt ashore in the dinghy to find the harbor master. While Walt was away, a rough looking fellow in a dory swung by asking if we had paid the mooring fee. I explained that my crew was on shore to do just that. The rough looking fellow introduced himself as Rusty, the assistant harbor master, and let me know that the mooring I was on was just fine. He would check with “Sherm,” presumably his boss, to see if we had paid and would come back later if necessary. As he motored away, I spied Walt on the pier and gestured that he should connect with Rusty to pay the mooring fee.
The formalities handled, Walt and I proceeded to explore the island.
The village is small and not really a village. Rather it is a collection of well weathered mostly residential buildings with the occasional art gallery, general store, inn, or casual restaurant sprinkled throughout. Dozens of pedestrians, most of whom arrived via ferry, walk the narrow graveled roads connecting the buildings. Motor vehicles were nowhere to be seen.
Once away from the village, the narrow gravel roads narrowed further to footpaths that crisscrossed the balance of the island. We climbed up to the island’s lighthouse buildings, which house a museum and gallery, then on across the island to a view spot atop 160 foot tall cliffs overlooking the ocean on the island’s eastern coast. Thousands of sea birds nested in these cliffs, the adjacent rocks painted white with their excrement.
We continued on the even narrower coast trail, down to the beach and then up again to another rocky promontory, before finally turning up a path leading back across the island toward the village. Emerging onto a gravel road, we discovered the Monhegan Brewing Company and paused to take time to enjoy a pint in their courtyard formed by walls of stacked lobster traps.
The afternoon made clear the greatest attraction of this remote island, its hiking trails. We continued our exploration the next day with a circumnavigation of the island on a trail that took us through piney forests and over tall seaside cliffs. Tired and thirsty from our exertions, a few pints at the brewery capped a perfect day.