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Family memories bubble to the surface in Maine

Staying in Boothbay Harbor, paddling around Cabbage Island and eating lobster remind the author of a childhood vacation.

August 07, 2011|By Susan Spano | Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Bay Resort, a collection of lodges and cottages near the tip of Maines Boothbay peninsula, was founded in 1919 as a girls camp.
Bay Resort, a collection of lodges and cottages near the tip of Maines Boothbay… (Susan Spano )

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Reporting from Boothbay Harbor, Maine

Early morning in a kayak on Linekin Bay. My paddle goes plash-plash. A gull gives me the hairy eyeball to warn me away from its nest. Across the water on the peninsula that ends at Ocean Point, a woman sits like a statue on a dock. I round Cabbage Island in pure, clear sunshine, no wind. The vessel rocks gently.

That's summertime on the coast of Maine the way I remember it from a childhood vacation many years ago. But that's not the way I found it when I arrived for a long weekend at Linekin Bay Resort late last summer.

A friend had told me about the resort on a rocky point near the tip of the ragged Boothbay peninsula. It was founded as a girls' summer camp in 1919, and it is a collection of mismatched lodges and cottages beloved by families, with a cracked saltwater swimming pool on the waterfront, two docks, a tennis court and shuffleboard court.

In the high season, the resort operates on the old American Plan, which includes accommodations, three meals a day, use of all recreational facilities, a children's program and sailing lessons, for $110 to $170 a person. When the kids are in school at the beginning and end of the season, the place quiets down and the bed-and-breakfast rate kicks in, with doubles for $129.

I had arrived at the tail end of the American Plan season with a nor'easter in the form of about two dozen sun-browned children whooping around the dining hall, cutting paths across the lawn, cannonballing into the pool and practicing for an after-dinner talent show on a keyboard and drum kit. Their parents were chattering in the lodge, searching for lost sneakers in outlying cabins and yelling for their children to come to dinner.

I was glad I was here for that. It was a season finale special of homemade haddock chowder and steamed lobster, served family-style on long communal tables by college-aged staff members from Eastern Europe to the accompaniment of crying babies and crashing china. Afterward, the window-lined dining room looked as though it could qualify for federal disaster relief funds.

I caught a bit of the talent show — the kid on the keyboard was quite good — then made my way to Mahaiwe Lodge, which had a veranda overlooking the water, a living room decorated à la Salvation Army and bookshelves filled with 20 summers' worth of abandoned bodice rippers and mysteries.

My tiny bedroom had two narrow single beds, a rusty metal shower stall in the private bath and access to a set of plastic lawn chairs on the porch.

I wasn't exactly disappointed. The friend who'd told me about the resort had warned me that it was rustic. I just hadn't anticipated how rustic. By the time I turned out the light, I'd decided I was too old for summer camp and planned to check out the next morning.

But there was something about the way dawn arrived through the east-facing windows. My bed was warm, and from where I lay, my little wood-lined cubicle looked as snug as a ship's cabin. The only sound was the easy creaking of the dock.

When I got up, I found coffee waiting for early risers in the dining hall and a life vest and paddle in the boat shed. I had to tug a kayak over the seaweed-coated rock slabs at the waterfront to launch it, but after that I slipped smoothly into Linekin Bay and paddled around Cabbage Island. Everything looked clean and sparkling; the sky was It's-A-Boy! baby blue, the water as cold and still as a dry martini straight up. On the way back I passed a red buoy and adjusted my course, recalling the old navigational rule "Red Right Returning" from sailing lessons in my distant past.

What a difference a day makes, especially at the end of August on Linekin Bay. The season was over at the resort. Dads were packing up the family wagons; staff members had begun taking sailboats out of the water; a little girl tugged me into the group picture several families were posing for on the dock. When I went to breakfast the dining hall was deserted, except for a friendly retired couple who advised me to try the blueberry blintzes and spend the morning exploring in town.

As it turns out, Boothbay Harbor is a good, old-fashioned tourist trap on one of the prettiest waterfronts in Maine, a center for fishing and shipbuilding as early as the 17th century. In the 19th century vacationers discovered it, bringing hotels, a long footbridge that traverses the inlet on the east side of town, a bowling alley, a handsome old opera house, restaurants and the kinds of shops — such as the Greater Boothbay Fudge Factory — that used to rivet me as a girl.

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