by Troy Gilbert
Beneath sprawling moss-draped oaks with their seconds standing by as witness, two sailors from New Orleans marched off fifteen paces between each other and fired. The men were settling an “Affaire d’Honneur” from a perceived slight towards a young lady the previous evening at a post regatta ball on the grounds of the Grand Hotel at Point Clear. The year was 1852, and as the smoke from their black-powder pistols joined the early morning mist, both sailors were left standing and they agreed the affair was settled. The men then returned to their schooners anchored on the eastern shores of Mobile Bay long a destination for cruisers and racers, and today the arts colony of Fairhope is a jewel on those bluffs rising on the Alabama coast.
A welcome respite or starting point for cruisers traversing the Tombigbee River and the Great Loop, Fairhope is well known to “Loopers,” and the town is well appointed to serve transients. Easily located from the water by the historic Ecor Rouge or “Red Bluff” outcropping on the bay, this red clay cliff is the highest coastal point between Maine and Mexico and has been used by mariners as a navigational point since the first Spanish explorers plied these waters in the 1500s. Due south of Ecor Rouge is the channel to the entrance of the full-service Eastern Shore and Fly Creek marinas, as well as the Fairhope Yacht Club.
Mobile Bay itself is quite shallow with an average depth of around 10 feet, yet sandy and shifting shoals abound, and it’s best to stick to the maintained channels. Fairhope Yacht Club is full of Southern charm and with proper advance notice, quite welcoming and accustomed to transients. Located about a mile from Fairhope’s bustling town center, scooters and bicycles are recommended, however, the adjacent Eastern Shore Marina offers a courtesy car to transients. Otherwise, a short dinghy ride to the municipal pier will leave you only a few blocks’ walk into town.
by Peter A. Janssen
It’s easy to pass by Portland if you’re cruising Down East on a rhumb line from the Cape Cod Canal to the popular Boothbay or Penobscot Bay areas. After all, the coastline curves west at Portland, so you might think it’s a bit out of the way. But think again, because Portland—once an industrial town with a hard-working commercial waterfront—has transformed itself into a vibrant city with a thriving art and restaurant scene with some of the best full-service marinas in the Northeast. And Casco Bay, with its handful of small islands, historic forts and iconic lighthouses—not to mention rocky ledges and finger-like peninsulas—offers some of the best cruising in a state already famous for its spectacular cruising grounds.
Portland is charming because it’s the gateway to the real Down East but still has the feel of a small town, even though it’s the largest city in the state with a population of 66,194. With cobblestoned streets rising up a small hill from the Old Port waterfront (the downtown section), almost everything in Portland is accessible and within walking distance, even in a pair of boat shoes. The I.M. Pei-designed Art Museum is easy to find; so are restaurants of almost every description. Indeed, with 230 “America’s foodiest small town.” The harbor, meanwhile, is full of recreational boats, power and sail; old schooners carrying tourists out in the bay; fast ferries; commercial fishing boats; a fleet of working lobster boats—and tons of lobster pots. There are countless reasons why 3.6 million tourists visit Portland every year.
But history has not always been kind to Portland. The first European to land there was Christopher Levett, an English sea captain, who arrived in 1623 with 10 men and a grant of 6,000 acres from King Charles I to start a settlement. He built a stone house for his men then sailed back to England, where he wrote about the wonder of the New World; his men were never heard from again. A subsequent trading village was destroyed by the Wampanoag Indians in 1676, but it was rebuilt and destroyed again by the French and Indians in 1690. During the Revolution, Portland was shelled by the British, and in 1866, a fire during Fourth of July celebrations burned down most of the city leaving 10,000 people homeless.