When a Working Harbor meets Leisure

When a Working Harbor meets Leisure
Rockland Gulf

"Rockland Gulf" is one of many vessels that call Rockland Harbor and its traditional working waterfront, home (Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.)

The heartbeat of Rockland Harbor’s working waterfront never stops. This traditional connection to the sea not only keeps pace with the rhythmic tides of time, it thrives in a world of seaborne activity that ensures its signature sense of place remains ever-vibrant.

From lobster boats and fishing trawlers to ferries and barges – windjammers, sailboats and Coast Guard cutters too, Rockland Harbor is happening theatre for all things maritime.

The assortments of briny sights, which glide effortlessly in concert to and fro, are as familiar as they are endearing to coastal Mainers. It is as if there is a certain comfort derived from this time-honored acquaintanceship – a ‘steady as she goes’ feeling of stability you might say that keeps Rockland Harbor’s heritage rock solid.

So when something changes in this daily dance of life upon the sea, one can’t help but notice.

Cruise ship Regatta

A view of the 593-foot cruise ship "Regatta" as seen from shore on October 3, 2011 (Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.)

It was just after dawn on October 3, 2011 when the impressive cruise ship Regatta of the Oceania Cruises Fleet slipped inside the Rockland Breakwater for a one-day visit. The 593-foot vessel, which can carry 684 passengers and a crew of 400, was a sight to behold for residents along the harbor.

Even if one had no knowledge of daily harbor life, it could easily be determined that the presence of the Regatta was anything but ordinary. This friendly ‘stranger’ from afar, whose sheer size was as riveting as its bright white streamlined appearance, was a stark contrast to the vessels along the working waterfront.

With a draft too deep to grace Rockland’s proud, sea-stained wharfs, the Regatta instead dropped anchor along the outer confines of the harbor with nary a sound. In fact, the cruise ship’s daylong stay was marked by a quiet, professional touch that seemed all too intent on not being an intrusion to the maritime bustle about it.

Throughout the day, motorized launches – appearing more like water bugs scurrying across the harbor, transported hundreds of cruise ship patrons to and from shore where they were treated to the finest culture, food and shopping the City of Rockland has to offer.

Rockland Breakwater

Cruise ship passengers sought to experience a slice of Midcoast Maine (Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.)

But whereas the visitors desired to experience a slice of Midcoast Maine ashore in Rockland, I found myself wanting to see the Regatta, which was moored just beyond the detailed scrutiny of shore-bound residents.

For regardless of one’s feelings about cruise ship visitation to Rockland Harbor, it could not be denied that the Regatta’s presence was engrossing and inspired both fascination and curiosity for many who cast a gaze her way.

Such a rare scene inside the harbor naturally intrigued me and I quickly decided it was time to a closer look at this floating symbol of leisure travel before it departed for its next port of call.

Without a boat, the only other place to draw nearer to the Regatta at her position in the harbor was to make the long trek out the Rockland Breakwater.

Regatta from breakwater

A view of "Regatta" as seen from the Rockland Breakwater (Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.)

So after work my three children and I did just that. We timed the moment to ensure we were able to not only view the cruise ship closer than we could from shore, but also to see it pass the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse when the vessel set sail around 6:00 pm.

Arriving at the south end of the breakwater about forty-five minutes before the Regatta welcomed its last shore visiting passengers back aboard, the kids and I found a dry spot along the previous tide-doused breakwater to have a seat where we could watch this unique drama unfold in the minutes ahead.

The kids were talking with each other about this and that, but all the while I looked about the harbor, admiring the various scenes and wondering what the cruise ship passengers might be thinking as they prepared to bid our great harbor adieu.

With time to spare before the ship’s departure, I decided to enjoy what ebb tide was fast revealing in the water beneath my dangling feet as I sat on the edge of a sun-warmed granite rock.

Seaweed dances

Seaweed along the breakwater dances to the rhythm of the ebb tide (Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.)

As I observed some seaweed dance with the rhythm of the sea, seemingly reaching upwards time and again with a buoyant thrust to bask in the warm rays of a setting sun, I was reminded that life’s joys are often found in the little things all around us.

Despite dusk’s downward pull on the sun, the star’s hearty orange presence was still powerful enough to splash about a liberal dose of light to illuminate the darker world just below the surface of the water. And though the light found itself ripple-bent upon entry, it cut through the murkiness just enough to reveal delightful secrets hiding below.

This enjoyable distraction was suddenly interrupted by energized waves of water jumping up below me, spraying my legs and feet. Though I subconsciously heard a lobster boat’s engine hum by as I sat on the breakwater, its passing did not register in my mind – that was until its rolling wake coaxed me from my seat with a sense of urgency.

Sunset

The sun douses Rockland Harbor with its soft light before setting on October 3, 2011 (Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.)

Shaking the droplets of salt water from my sneakers, I looked around and noticed a Pilot boat was now standing off the stern of the Regatta. This sight told me it wouldn’t be long before the Regatta would engage its engines and head for the open waters of Penobscot Bay.

At this point, the light of day was growing thin in the sky as the sun slipped behind the western horizon. Its evening departure seemed to signify that the cruise ship patron’s time in Rockland had concluded as well, for the Regatta pointed its bow toward the bay and started pushing whitewater.

The ship’s engines were so quiet the only sound I could hear was music being played throughout the vessel as it plied past Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse en route to Bar Harbor.

This was just the scene I had planned to see – and what a contrast it proved to be.

The Regatta and the lighthouse were like two ships passing in the night. As the luxurious vessel glided by the vintage guardian of the sea, I couldn’t help but marvel at the stunning moment such a crossroads created.

Regatta heading to open water

The "Regatta" heads towards Owls Head and the open waters of West Penobscot Bay (Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.)

Not long after the Regatta departed Rockland Harbor, I watched it round the perch of Owls Head Lighthouse whose steady beam was shining bright and growing more robust by the second.

It was time to go, but as we walked back the breakwater, I took one last glance seaward before the Regatta was obscured by the majestic bluff of Owls Head. It was then the beacon at Rockland Breakwater flashed across the bay as if on cue – bidding a fond farewell to our visitors from afar.

In the wake of this experience, I shared some photos of the Regatta passing Rockland Breakwater Light with my friend, Chris Mills. Being a former lighthouse keeper, Chris couldn’t help but wonder what the passengers aboard the cruise ship might have been thinking when they passed the sentinel.

Regatta passes Rockland Breakwater Light

The "Regatta" passes Rockland Breakwater Light on the evening of October 3, 2011 (Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.)

“The scene conveyed such an historic and timeless feel,” said Chris Mills. “It is fascinating to think about the decades of ship traffic that has passed Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse – from wooden schooners to today’s hi-tech cruise ships. I wonder if the folks aboard the Regatta stopped to think for a moment that even with today’s reliance on radar and GPS, the light and horn at the end of Rockland Breakwater still symbolizes the very foundation of safety at sea – with the welcome and warning of its flash and blast.”

That’s a good question but I can assure you the vessels of Rockland Harbor’s working waterfront still value the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse. To many, this venerable beacon of the sea is a friend – and a tribute to our seaborne heritage.

May its light always shine to guide and welcome locals and visitors alike!