One of the places we wanted to take my parents was to the little coastal towns of Castine and Brooklin – two charming quintessential Maine towns that have a rich maritime history in shipbuilding and seamanship. Brooklin actually won the title of the “Wooden Boat Building Capital of the United States.” My dad's love for sailing had me convinced this days adventure was going to be right up his alley.
First, we stopped in Castine for a look around. Downtown Castine is charming and very picturesque (as we had been told by numerous people and expected it). Castine is home to the Maine Maritime Academy - a public, co-educational college specializing in engineering, management, science, and transportation established in 1941. The academy is located throughout the downtown and co-mingles with historic buildings, shops, and galleries. It’s no wonder this institution is located in Maine given this state’s serious ties to all things marine.
The first class started with 29 cadets but a rapid increase was soon to happen as World War II required a steadfast build-up of the U.S. Merchant Marines with a critical need for trained deck and engineering officers. The Academy rose to the challenge graduating its first class in 1943 and producing more than 300 officers who served at sea during the war. Today, students go on to serve in the Merchant Marines, the Armed Forces and private industry. The success of the college and its programs gained Maine Maritime Academy the accolade of being #1 Best Public College on Money magazine’s Best Colleges list released in August, 2014.
The centerpiece of the academy is found down on the waterfront where the maritime emphasis of this school is apparent when you stare at the assortment of ships docked at the harbor. These training vessels range in size and function. The Training Ship State of Maine is the flagship training vessel and is a towering and impressive feature at 500 feet and 16,000 tons. Of particular historical interest is the schooner Bowdoin. Built in 1921 in East Boothbay, Maine this ship was designed for Arctic exploration and has made 28 trips above the Arctic circle, the first of which was under the direction of Donald B. MacMillan, the famous Arctic explorer. The academy solidifies the link between the towns' seafaring past with its prosperous future while still keeping its charm.
Downtown Castine is charming. Many of the old buildings have been lovingly restored and turned into restaurants, boutiques, and galleries. We got a great history lesson from a woman in the town book store which prompted us to venture over to Castine Historical Society to learn more about the town. Castine is one of the oldest communities in North America having been occupied continuously since the early 1600’s. Signs of Castine’s deep history are ever present with forts, missions, churches, and other structures.
Castine certainly lived up to our expectations but now it was time to move on to Brooklin and check out some wooden boats. Any lover of wooden boats is sure to have heard of WoodenBoat Magazine and School. Here boat enthusiasts are in their element. The 64-acre salt water campus lies perfectly perched over the bay offering an array of courses in boat building, sailing, woodworking, navigation, nautical crafts and much more – nearly 70 different courses in all. The campus is inviting and homey attracting students from all over the world for their expertise in wooden boats.
The town of Brooklin can easily be missed with the blink of an eye. As we were not in a hurry, we slowed down and decided to pull over for a bite to eat and a look in a couple of shops. Talking to local shop owners is always a good way to get information on the town and what there is to see. We ventured into Betsy’s Sunflower Store (a great boutique with items for the kitchen, garden, home, and more) and got a great tip about another boat yard down the road – the Brooklin Boat Yard. Betsy told us to go to the boat yard, ask for Pam, and tell her we were interested in a tour. So we did. Pam called one of the carpenters to show us around and we got an incredible personalized tour. Gotta love small Maine towns! They were building a custom sailing boat, over 75 feet in length with an estimated $5-10 million dollar price tag. The ship has phenomenal details with natural wood showing throughout the interior and a complex array of window panes to create unique natural lighting patterns. (I did not take any pictures inside of the boat for privacy reasons.)
We had a great time with my parents and were sorry the time together went so fast. Hopefully, they will meet up with us somewhere else down the road.