By Tony Cappasso
If you plan to explore Portland, Maine, a pleasant and interesting way to spend an afternoon doing it is to take the mail boat that runs to the islands in Casco Bay.
The boat stops at five islands in the bay: Little Diamond, Great Diamond, Long Island, Great Chebeague and Cliff Island. The whole trip lasts about three hours, so bring something to eat and something to wear; it can get chilly on the water. Oh, and bring a camera.
The boat, called the “Maquoit II” — supposedly an Abenaki word that meant “meeting place” — actually carries much more than mail. As it is the main means of getting stuff and people to and from the islands, you’ll see everything, from groceries to gas cylinders. There will be a flock of babies in carriers of every description, and lots of dog and cat carriers.
The summer residents stand out from the full-timers — they’ve got luggage.
As the boat pulls out of the slip, look to your left. Just off shore is Fort Gorges, a Civil-War era fortification that never heard a shot fired in anger. The roof of the fort is covered in trees, supposedly planted when it was built to help absorb the explosions of shells from warships of an enemy that never showed up to fight.
Off to the right are three lighthouses. The furthest out is Portland Head Light, the first lighthouse built by the U.S. Government. Commissioned by President George Washington in 1787 and completed in 1791. The closest lighthouse is Bug Light, not a particularly distinguished name, but it has the distinction of being constructed entirely of cast iron. The middle lighthouse is called Spring Point Light, which sits on the end of a pier that is the point of origin of an oil pipeline that runs all the way to Montreal, Canada.
Tony Cappasso is the author of the e-book America’s Highway: A Journey of Discovery Along US Route 1 in which he recounts his journey from Fort Kent, Maine to Key West, Florida. You can learn more about Tony on his website Americas Highway US Route 1, and his Facebook page.