It was the perfect ending to a wonderful summer: a week in Lubec, dinner at the Water Street Tavern (our favorite restaurant there) and an exciting whale-watching adventure with Campobello’s Island Cruises.

George

We’ve got this down now, our very special end-of-summer treat. A week at Catherine Mettey’s Lubec Bay Cottage, where we gather as many family members as we can, a memorable feast at the Water Street Tavern, hikes along the cliffs of the West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, astonishingly close looks at whales, an enjoyable concert by Lubec’s Summer Keys program and several visits to Monica’sChocolates, punctuated on the way home by a stop at the American Folk Festival in Bangor. The only downside: When we finally get home, summer is over.

This year, daughter Rebekah and grandson Vishal joined us for two days, while daughter Hilary, who lives in Washington, D.C., and her friend Dani arrived mid-week — in time to participate in this column. Here’s what they had to say:

Dani

Ever been so close to a whale you can smell its breath? This is how close Island Cruises on Campobello Island will get you. Few things in life are as exciting as they look in movies, but this particular tour took our breath away. Seeing a whale blow just 30 yards from your boat, almost feeling the spray on your face, is much more captivating than watching Planet Earth.

When we found our first well-fed finback, we stuck with her for quite some time, her reappearance never failing to thrill. We watched in childlike wonder as miles of whale would pass by before her fin would even break the water’s surface.

After about 20 minutes of stalking our whale, we found that some of the porpoises we’d seen were now stalking us! They circled the boat a few times and playfully raced alongside it like my Husky does when she wants to show off how fast she can outrun me. Just when I thought we might get bored, we spotted a friendly seal here and there.

But I knew the trip would be successful when, at the very first turn, a bald eagle soared directly overhead and landed on the branch of a spruce already occupied by another adult eagle. We were so close we could hear them screeching back and forth.

Hilary

Dinner at the Water Street Tavern is bound to wake up anyone from a restful vacation in this this quiet coastal town. Everything is vibrant here — from the service to the wine to the food. But perhaps what is liveliest are the guests. Happy to be surrounded by like-minded vacationers, the locals and tourists alike will visit with you, cheerfully take your picture and share insider secrets about the best items on the menu.

With the help of owner Jim Heyer, we selected some real gems for food and wine — Prisoner Zinfandel from Napa Valley, a fried oyster special of the day and “black and blue” haddock preparation with lump crab cakes as a garnish!

Dani loved the slightly sweet coleslaw, which is prepared fresh every day with a hint of pineapple, and her oysters (which were melt-in-your-mouth tender) almost as much as she enjoyed the white chocolate blueberry cheesecake, which was both creamy and very light.

I was partial to the seafood stew — with a hearty helping of lobster and sweet, tender haddock — and the smoky, spicy haddock entree. The fish was dredged in a dry rub featuring chipotle chili powder, as were the crab cakes, and both were fiery and flavorful. I must mention the accompanying green beans with roasted garlic because such crispy, bright green beans are rare in even the fanciest restaurants in Washington.

George

Well, Hilary would know about the beans, because she’s a server in one of Washington’s best restaurants. After returning to Mount Vernon on Sunday, I reversed course with brother Gordon and drove back to Lubec to spend some time with our 90-year-old uncle, Philip Searles, who was visiting from his home in Alabama. Phil was born in the West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, and we really enjoyed riding around the area while he told us stories about our ancestors and others.

Wanting to give Phil and his friend Gladys a real treat, Gordon and I took them to the Water Street Tavern for dinner. Having enjoyed my favorite dish there, the Moqueca (Brazilian Seafood Stew) the previous week, I opted for Hilary’s choice, the Black & Blue Haddock with two crab cakes on top.

Gordon did, too, and we are both still raving about it.
It’s not surprising that the dish is so good, because Jim Heyer came up with it after spending a couple of hours with world-famous chef Paul Prudholm. Jim’s connections from his days as a national wine/beer salesman help make his menu — and his unique selection of wines — very special.

I overheard a couple nearby giving advice to a single lady at the table next to us about Maine’s St. George Peninsula and Monhegan — where she was headed next — and was amused when they invited the lady to join them at their table. When the gentleman came over to our table (after noticing us taking photographs) and offered to take a photo of all of us, we discovered that he and his wife were from Silver Springs, Maryland. So here we had tourists giving another tourist advice about our state. Wonderful! And then we got another surprise when we learned that the couple’s son is a chef at a restaurant in Washington, D.C. where Hilary once worked.

Everywhere we went in Lubec and Campobello, I would introduce Phil and people would ask if he knew any of their ancestors. And he always did. Sure enough, at the tavern, server Julie’s parents were local farmers that Phil knew well. He knew the uncles of the U.S. Customs border agent, too, and that caused a bit of a delay in crossing the border as the agent and Phil traded stories.

But it was when Phil was introduced to Robert, the guide on our Island Cruises whale-watching adventure, that I really got a sense of what a small interconnected community Lubec and Campobello is. Phil’s father (my grandfather) was from Campobello and Robert not only knew all of our relatives there, but he played in a band with one of them. The stories flew as we motored out to the islands they call the “wolves,” where we got up close to many amazing finbacks, the second largest whale in the world. They came up two and three together, right next to the boat. For almost two hours we were surrounded and entertained by whales. Wow!

Visit George’s website — georgesmithmaine.com — for book reviews, outdoor news and all Travelin’ Maine(rs) columns, found listed in the “Best of Maine” section.