When the Tides of Penobscot Bay Conquer the Mighty Rockland Breakwater

When the Tides of Penobscot Bay Conquer the Mighty Rockland Breakwater
Thousands of locals and visitors alike enjoy the Rockland Breakwater each year

Thousands of locals and visitors alike enjoy the Rockland Breakwater each year (Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.)

The Rockland Breakwater may well be considered a Midcoast Maine gateway offering those who tread upon its crown of stone the opportunity to “go to sea” on Penobscot Bay without ever needing a boat.

With every step along this massive wall, visitors are treated to the delightful sights, sounds and sweet smell of the bay. From majestic schooners to busy lobster boats and seals to waterfowl, the breakwater is a front row seat to pure marine splendor.

At the end of the 4,346-foot long Rockland Breakwater stands a lighthouse that beckons one to come near. This benevolent structure is often a visual encouragement to the spirit of summer walkers who set out from shore to reach the site, but may have underestimated the healthy distance the breakwater bridges from shore to sea.

Occasional high tides each month will cut off access to Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse

Occasional high tides each month will cut off access to Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse (Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.)

Yet, as pleasant of a walk along the breakwater as it can be during more seasonable weather, there are times each month when the tides of Penobscot Bay swell to a point that stops visitors right in their tracks.

Constructed in the 1880s, the Rockland Breakwater was designed to offer maritime interests a harbor of refuge by protecting vessels from the scourge of the dreaded northeast gales with its armor of stone.

When originally built, the breakwater rose up to a height of 14 feet above mean low water, but following years of natural settling, this figure has been reduced.

Why does this matter?

Wind and swells often add to the dangers of a higher than normal tide at the Rockland Breakwater

Wind and swells often add to the dangers of a higher than normal tide at the Rockland Breakwater (Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.)

Well today, flood tides reaching 11-plus feet, which occur upwards to seven days a month, will inundate a stretch of the breakwater on its southerly end – cutting off access to Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse with a liquid barrier that is often accompanied by wind and swell.

During such times when the flood tide does “swallow-up” the breakwater, its presence can be an alluring curiosity to onlookers, but be sure to resist attempting a crossing to or from the lighthouse.

Not only is the stone breakwater slippery and dangerous when submerged, the moving seas across it can be more than two feet deep in spots and potentially powerful enough to cause a walker to lose their balance in the cold waters of the harbor.

The 1902 Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse still sends out it guiding light across Penobscot Bay

The 1902 Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse still sends out it guiding light across Penobscot Bay (Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.)

The Penobscot Bay is a beauty to behold, but when its waters overtake our “path” along Rockland Breakwater, it is best to stand back at a safe distance and simply admire this seascape treasure. Besides, within a couple of hours, the tides will ebb once again and your gateway to Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse will be restored!

Rockland Breakwater on an ebb tide

Rockland Breakwater on an ebb tide (Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.)

Rockland Breakwater during an abnormal high tide

Rockland Breakwater during an abnormal high tide (Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.)

Rockland Breakwater under water with Camden Hills in the background

Rockland Breakwater under water with Camden Hills in the background (Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.)