Sailing the Sound

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Experience Acadia’s mountains by the sea in Somes Sound.

  • BY: WILL BLEAKLEY
  • PHOTOGRAPHY BY: SUE ANNE HODGES

Sailing through the narrow passageway between Northeast and Southwest harbors on Mount Desert Island reveals a staggering view, unlike any other on the eastern seaboard, of mountains emerging from the ocean. The entrance gives way to a five-mile long and half-mile wide body of water known as Somes Sound — the only spot in the U.S., outside of Washington and Alaska, with the characteristics of a fjord. It’s a sight to behold whether you’re driving from Northeast Harbor along Sargent Drive or viewing it from the top of Saint Sauveur Mountain. But the only way to truly experience this natural phenomenon, formed by glacial activity 14,000 years ago, is by sea.

“There is nowhere else like it,” says Leslie Watson, who owns Mansell Boat Rental Company out of Southwest Harbor. “Nowhere can you sail and the mountains are right there. You can literally reach out and touch them.” As you pass by the grand houses of Southwest and Northeast harbors and into the Sound you are flanked on each side by the 852 and 681-foot peaks of Norumbega and Acadia mountains rising out of water that itself can reach depths of 125 feet. “I’ve sailed from here down to Cuba,” says Andrew Keblinsky of Downeast Sailing Adventures. “And it’s safe to say Somes Sound is unique.”

For decades, people referred to this arm of the sea as a fjord. Recent research shows, however, that Somes Sound’s oxygenated waters and just-too-shallow seabed disqualify it from being placed in the same category as the Scandinavian and Alaskan wonders. It’s a meaningless distinction to the sailor who witnesses the sun setting between the peaks and reflecting off the water, the kayaker who is face-to-face with the cliffs of Valley Cove, or the pontoon boater puttering up to a dock in Somesville and looking south toward the Atlantic. They all call Somes one thing: spectacular.

Will Bleakley is the associate editor at Down East magazine.

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