Casco Bay Maine

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“Casco Bay, home of the Calendar Islands, is an estuary, a fertile crescent of ocean where rivers and tides converge.

Most of our country’s population centers were built along estuaries. These cradles of colonization, such as Boston Harbor, Long Island Sound, Chesapeake Bay, and Casco Bay/Calendar Islands, offered early settlers food from the sea, salt marsh hay for grazing livestock, and waterways for exploring the interior.

Casco Bay is saltier than most (a characteristic apparently preferred by lobsters) and cleaner than the rest, a quality enjoyed by all who spend time on Casco Bay.

The Bay supports some 850 species of marine life; from microscopic plants to migrating pilot whales. Each spring, fifty islands become noisy nesting colonies for many of the 150 species of waterbirds that inhabit Casco Bay. Casco Bay is both a working waterfront and a port of call for cruise ships, oil tankers, and bulk cargo transports and a scenic postcard of historic forts, stalwart lighthouses, and secluded anchorages.”

Above – Excerpts from “Islands in Time” by Philip W. Conkling.

Casco Bay: Islands of Tradition

A centuries-old mix of history and maritime pursuits, Casco Bay and the over 200 islands that call these waters home pepper the coast off the mainland, a scatter of small and not-so-small bits of land that hold either generations of families or the natural, wild beauty of the area. This particular stretch of the world lies off New England’s Atlantic Coast, and is an inlet of the Gulf of Maine, known for its ultra-salty waters.

Explored in 1525 by Portuguese sailor Esteban Gomez, Casco Bay has enjoyed an increasing significance ever since. From the first attempts at white settlements (some of whose descendants still live here), through participation during both World Wars, it has shown no signs of slowing down and is now active as a thriving community mostly composed of fishermen and lobstermen.

Casco Bay has earned the nickname the Calendar Islands, resulting from an English military engineer by the name of Colonel Romer who once remarked that there appeared to be an island for every day of the year. This proved somewhat generous of count, but the idea that 365 islands make up the Calendar Islands Casco Bay region is a common misconception to this day.

Most of the islands are left entirely to nature, several are private residences, but a select handful have nurtured the roots of multi-generational families and have grown into welcoming communities. Much of the island system has been united in purpose, connecting the fishing and lobstering community to the industry, which makes a good deal of sense. This kind of island kinship appears to have broadened the familial ties, turning the Calendar Islands into one large extended family where everyone has a part to play and everyone plays a part. Out of the many specks of land dotting the bay, only about eight of them have any kind of facilities available to visitors. Throughout the year, locals and guests alike take part in discovering the unique delights of each island and can be seen making their way across the bay by private boat or on the ferry systems that serves Peaks Island, Long Island, Chebeague Island, Diamond Cove, Little Diamond Island, Cliff Island, and Great Diamond Island.

A Glance at Some of the Islands Our Community Calls Home

The islands of Casco Bay are home to locals who live by a strong island ethic and enjoy the kind of life that can only be found in small seaside towns. There are families here who have produced several generations of lobstermen and fishermen, and witnessing three generations loading up their vessel and pushing out to sea just as the sun begins to come over the horizon is quite a heart-warming sight. From grandfathers, to fathers, to sons and daughters, this is more than a daily job; it is their livelihood, and they are very proud of it.

Peaks Island is the most populated of all the islands, providing a residential neighborhood for many who work in the city of Portland and at one time called the Coney Island of Maine. As home to a mix of artists, retirees, commuters, and folks from various walks of life, the community here is quite happy with its small town feel and the amazing sunset views of  Portland across the bay. A charming and lively place, Peaks Island holds roughly 1,000 year-round residents, but that number swells to almost 6,000 in the summer time. Peaks boasts a dedicated elementary school, stalwart police station, and growing library. Where everyone knows each other, they can also help each other and are always glad to do so in the spirit of neighborly goodwill.

Long Island has its own year-round population of 200 residents, which can burst to upwards of 1,000 during summer months, and is primarily a lobster ground.  A small but vibrant and active community, Long Island is best known for its lobstering, but its residents also enjoy a summer evening stroll or a leisurely bike ride. The biggest draw here – besides breathing in the ocean air and enjoying local activities – is Sandy Beach, where neighbors from the mainland flock to test the local legend that the sand sings beneath your feet while natives smile on, knowingly.

Chebeague Island is much loved by the residents around the bay and considered one of the most beautiful islands in all of Maine. This island is home to a central knot of hardworking, friendly people, many of who have lived here on this island their entire lives and would never dream of leaving it. Chebeague Island offers all the breathtaking scenery a person can take and is particularly known for its historical sailing past and Greek Revival architecture built by the stone sloopers (men who carried ballast for sailing ships) who lived and worked here in the 19th century.  Of course, we know this island of just 360 year-round residents as the place many of us call home and the port from which many of our lobstermen hale.  In the summer, Chebeague welcomes its distant brothers and sisters back from the more industrialized parts of the mainland as their cottages used for hiatus still stand here, passed down through the decades and generations.  It is said by some that though you might leave the island, the island never leaves you.  Year after year, this proves true as the call of the Calendars reunites kith and kin.

Survival of the Region and the Local Lobstering Industry

As happens with most islands and coastal lands, the folks who live in this area tend to make their living on the sea, putting in long, hard hours with a sense of duty and even devotion. Lobster is the main staple of the islands and the residents are deeply proud of their catches, moving in sync with the tides and seasons.

Sustainability is not just a buzz word in the world of Maine lobstermen and has been achieved through self-policing, careful management, and environmentally friendly harvesting methods. This allows even the most discriminating, eco-friendly consumer to feel good about the decision to enjoy gourmet Calendar Islands Casco Bay lobster and assist in the continuation of a harmonious relationship between human and marine life. Practical and profitable stewardship of the sea insure the continued reward the natural world provides for it’s care givers.

The entire scope of the bay is a sight to be enjoyed, savored and shared. The rugged and rocky beauty of the coastlines helps to remind visitors of the power of the Atlantic Ocean and her dominating winds and waves. Such power is not something that can be contained, but rather acknowledged and respected. As weather cannot be tamed, the whim of her fury and favor must be rolled with instead, making it the finest of lines to follow, especially for those who make their living by the sea.

Visitors to Calendar Islands Casco Bay can immediately feel the sense of a tight-knit community, family ties and a strong work ethic that define the area and remain intact even as the islands may become more developed and the scenery changes.

One thing is certain: Calendar Islands Casco Bay is rich in history and tradition, offering breathtaking scenery and a welcoming, small town atmosphere. The vibrant history of the area can be seen on Portland’s cobbled streets and felt when exploring each of the bay’s ports. Perhaps the best way to experience all that Calendar Islands Casco Bay has to offer is to commune with friends over delectable lobster dishes at one of the local haunts, where you will surely overhear the local lobstermen telling their seafaring tales after a long day on the water.