Photos by Susan Axelrod (I let Ted take the day off.)
Monhegan Island is a mystical, magical place, especially if you avoid the prime tourist months of July and August. Walking along its rocky village paths and taking in the view from its dramatic headlands, it’s easy to see how the island’s weather-beaten natural beauty attracted renowned artists like Edward Hopper, Rockwell Kent and three generations of Wyeths (Jamie Wyeth has a home there). In the summer, artists with their easels, paints and pastels are so numerous they become part of the landscape.
As part of a recent weekend on Southport Island, we took a long-in-the-planning day trip to Monhegan with our good friends Kevin and Connie Colby, who live on Southport. Nearby Boothbay Harbor is one of three mainland access points — the other two are New Harbor and Port Clyde, which offers the only year ’round boat service to the island.
Kevin, a licensed boat captain, works for Balmy Days Cruises, operators of the Boothbay Harbor-based boat service to the island. The 12-mile trip takes about 90 minutes and can be, as it was the day we went, a rough ride. We sat with Connie on the top deck, opting for the occasional spray of cold salt water over the dry enclosed cabin below, because I was determined not to get seasick (I didn’t). Capt. Matt Wilder was at the helm, with Kevin assisting (and bringing Ted beer).
Luckily, Kevin was able to get off the boat and spend the day with us. He knows Monhegan well and was a great tour guide as we hiked through the village and a piney stretch of woods to get to Black Head and White Head — the tallest cliffs on the Maine coast. We timed the end of the hike perfectly — just enough time before meeting the boat at 2:30 to stop in at Monhegan Brewing Company.
Monhegan may be the only brewery in the country you can’t drive to (there are no cars on the island). Opened in 2013 by Matt and Mary Weber, and Mary’s father, Dan McGovern (a brewing veteran who still brews at Marshall Wharf in Belfast), it can be visited from May 1 to Columbus Day (Oct. 13 this year). Matt also lobsters and the day we visited, he and Mary were painting buoys surrounded by lobster traps in the yard next to the brewery, getting his gear ready for Trap Day, Oct. 1.
Monhegan’s lobster fishing season runs from October to June — the whole fishing community works together to get everyone’s traps in the water on opening day. According to the Island Institute, just 69 people make their home on Monhegan year round. Many of them fish for lobsters.
We tried two of Monhegan Brewing’s beers — Balmy Days Citra-Hopped Kolsch and Trap Stacker Special Ale. I especially like the kolsch; it was light, wheaty and citrusy, the perfect summer beer. We bought a bottle to bring home (yes that’s the boat on the label) and will drink it this winter, raising a toast to all the Mainers who make their living on the sea, especially Kevin, Matt Wilder, Matt Weber and all the hard-working Monhegan fishermen.