Spring time in New England can be so unpredictable and sometimes nonexistent.
Teasing you with sunny days and warmer temps, followed by snow flurries and rain. In spring, 50 degree weather feels more 80 degrees after a long, cold Maine winter. Many New Englanders refer to spring as "mud season," which is only appealing to little ones (like my toddler son who loves to stomp around in the mud!).
Surprisingly, after not having a "true" winter or changing seasons for so many years while living down south, I forgot how much I loved and missed winter. I had no idea I missed the snow and the activities that came with it. But this March when most of the snow had melted away, I too was eager for spring to arrive…along with every other Mainer.
It’s the second week of April and for most of Maine, you can still find snow on the ground or patches of dirty ice. As I’m writing this large, fluffy snowflakes are falling from the sky! The chilly wind cuts right through you and mornings can be bitter cold.
Is it just me, or am I more cold in spring than I ever was this winter? Like in winter, impatiently waiting for more snow, I find myself constantly checking the weather, hoping for dry, sunny days.
Days when you can go outside without heavy coats and winter hats.
Finding things to do outside in New England in the spring can be hard ... especially in early spring. So I was excited when I my girlfriend (who's also a Mainer living in Charleston), recommended the mailboat run in Casco Bay. So a couple weeks back, after dropping off both my boys off to school, I jumped in my car and headed to Portland, Maine.
Portland is less than a hour drive from York, Maine so I arrived in plenty of time to park, purchase my mailboat ticket (which was only $16.50) and snap a few pictures before boarding the boat at 10:00 am. The mailboat run of Casco Bay Lines is a true working boat that carries passengers, mail and freight to five islands. The boat goes out twice a day, once at 10:00 am and again at 2:30 pm and is available daily year round.
When we boarded the mailboat there was no more than 12 of us, a combination of people like me just along for the ride, workers and island folks waiting to get off at their next stop. I really had no idea what to expect, but I was excited for the adventure!
It was a bright sunny day, which made all the difference on the open water. Most of us passengers sat outside, bundled up in our winter coats.
Our first stop was to Little Diamond. It’s a quiet, private island with a year-round population of around 5. At low tide, Little Diamond connects to Great Diamond by way of a semi-submerged sandbar (which was our next stop). As we got closer to the island, you could see trucks pulling up to pick up their cargo. We dropped off one individual who appeared to be an electrician and delivered lumber and a john deer riding tractor. We were docked for only a few minutes and off to the next island we went.
Our second stop was to Great Diamond Island. Great Diamond Island is a car-free and kid-friendly island with a year-round population of around 70. The primary modes of transportation are golf carts and bicycles. When we returned back hours later, we dropped off several elementary school kids (no older then 6 years old), who were attending school at one of the larger islands.
Our third stop was to Diamond Cove, which was once a military base built during America’s Gilded Age. In the distance you could see the barracks of the once military base. Although Diamond Cove is a private community, there are summer rentals and even a restaurant.
Our forth stop was to Long Island. Long Island is home to a year-round community of about 200 residents, many of whom are in the lobstering industry. Again the boat delivered packages and lumber.
The next island we delivered to was Chebeague. It was one of my favorite islands we visited that afternoon and one I’d love to visit again. It is home to generations of year-round and summer residents. At almost five miles long, Chebeague Island is home to over 360 year-round residents. Its name means “isle of many springs.”
Our last stop was to Cliff Island. It is the smallest year-round island in Casco Bay and the only one that has all unpaved roads. While cars are allowed, most people walk, bicycle or use golf carts. Once docked, the captain announced that we could get out and walk around while they delivered the cargo.
The island was very quiet and as many of us walked around you could see several older residents sitting out on their porches like it was a hot summer day. It was so neat to be standing in the middle of the island and be able to see the water on either side of you. This is another island that I would love to visit again.
On our way back to Portland, we stopped at several of the original islands that we visited at the the beginning of our trip, picking up and dropping off more people (including school children). It was so incredible to watch and imagine how different life must be when living on a remote island.
There were many moments as I sat outside in the sun, trying to stay warm, that I was in complete awe. Even on the second day of spring, when trees were still bare and patches of ice and snow covered the wooded islands, Maine was still breathtaking.
As we rode back, I put away my camera and tried to take everything in. It was so peaceful, even on the choppy waters. As I sat there, going back in my head through all the amazing adventures we’ve had in the last eight months, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. Grateful that I was raised in such a breathtaking place, grateful for such a unique experience, and grateful that I took a leap and moved my family to Maine so they too could be in awe of Maine's pure beauty.
One of the passengers on the boat was a very friendly and talkative woman, who made her rounds during our cruise, eager to learn everyone's story and to share her own. As we spoke while gazing out at the open water passing island after island, she looked at me and said "this is God's country" and I'd have to agree. There's something so raw and salty, and yet poetic about Maine's landscape and people. There's no place like it.
The trip took about three hours total, which allowed me just enough time to get home to my boys.
It was one of the most unique things I’ve ever done — I’m just kicking myself that I didn’t do it sooner this fall or winter.
If you're local or visiting down east and haven't taken a cruise on the Casco Bay Lines mailboat run, it's a must! You will not regret the experience, no matter the season. If you have young kids, like myself, I'd suggest one of the shorter ferry trips to one of the individual islands in the summer.
I hope to do this again in the summer. Next time I have my heart set on the Bailey Island Cruise!