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Gunkholing with Gizmo: Eastport

Gunkholing with Gizmo: Eastport

By Ben Ellison
Easport, Maine waterfrontDowntown Eastport and the breakwater facilities. Click here for more photos.
Photos by Ben Ellison
Q: What flowers on a beautiful island after a century-plus of hard times? A: Art and food. Pssst, friends, has your summer 2009 vacation budget come up a dite skimpy? How about a clean, $65-per-night motel room with not just a Canadian saltwater view, but a “beach,” a launching ramp, and a dock? Of course there are a few caveats. Eastport’s Seaview Campground (1) has all the above, but the grains of “sand” are downeast jumbo size, the water is wicked cold, and the missus quipped that “RV view” might be a more appropriate name, given all the land yachts happily herded between our little porch and the shore. But the Eastport area is all about making do, and the Seaview is an excellent base camp for exploration by boat or car. We did both. Approaching downtown Eastport by water we were struck by what a prosperous little port city it once was, 20-foot tides and Fundy fog be damned. The massive breakwater ship and boat facilities (2) are overseen by a classy collection of late-nineteenth-century commercial buildings. Similarly stately homes and churches climb the hill behind. At least, they were stately once. I was reminded of an old Tim Sample laugh line about “go’n ta Eastpawt every summa for the Empty Buildin’ Festival.” Q: What flowers on a beautiful, if remote, real-estate rich island (Eastport is on Moose Island) after a century-plus of hard times? A: Art and food. In just the lively east Water Street area (3) you’ll find the Eastport Arts Center’s cooperative gallery, The Commons, and the Tides Institute and Museum of Art, along with the WaCo Diner, the Happy Crab, the Rose Garden Café, and the new—and delicious—Pickled Herring. WaCo stands for Washington County, but there is a cheerfully whacky sensibility here, perhaps ultimately expressed in the annual three-day-long, wholly non-historical Eastport Pirate Festival, usually in September. Back in Gizmo, we rounded Estes Head, where the sight of a dramatic Victorian mansion being carefully restored while a gape-windowed old cannery stood vacant nearby said a lot about 21st-century Eastport. I later learned that a long-shuttered downtown factory is slated to become a boutique hotel, artisan shops, and marina. We also saw lots of the salmon aquaculture that is the area’s remaining job-rich industry; a tidal power project or (controversial) LNG terminal remain hopes (for some). But Moose Islanders don’t seem fretful, at least not when they can dress up as wenches and scallywags and “invade” Lubec during the above-mentioned pirate festival. We could have pulled the boat up on the “beach” at Shackford Head State Park (5), but the big tides and currents might have made the fine hiking there less relaxing than it was when we went there by car. Besides, going by road made it easy to check out The Boat School (6), which—like its home town—seems to be on a roll these days.
Charlet Key: 1) Eastport's Seaview Campground 2) Breakwater facilities 3) Water Street area, downtown Eastport 4) Estes Head 5) Shackford Head State Park 6) The Boat School Photo Gallery: Eastport
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Credits: Based on the 1:24,000 Eastport topo map, 3D by Memory Map, adapted by Ben Ellison. Not suitable for navigation. E-mail Ben (gizmo@benetech.net) about restaurants, parks, and the like that he can visit aboard the M/V Gizmo. Click here to travel with Ben Ellison and Gizmo on other coastal adventures on the Maine coast.
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