George

About a minute after the Swans Island Ferry left the dock in Bass Harbor, I felt my body relax. Letting a hectic week flow away in the wake of the boat, along with a lengthy to-do list, I gazed out over the water, enjoying the stunning view and a deep breath of cool clean ocean air.

Our conversation with two ladies from Pennsylvania, also on board and headed to the island for a two-week visit at the historic Quarry House (in the family of one of the ladies since she was a child) hinted at the reception we’d get when we arrived: very friendly and eager to share information about their island paradise.

Everyone we met on the island was friendly, talkative and welcoming. Consider this: Less than 24 hours after arriving, we were invited to the birthday party of an island resident! And we went!

This trip started when Islandport Press asked me to do a book talk on the island. Seemed like a wonderful idea, so Linda and I turned it into a travel column visit, booking an extra night and working with Candi Joyce (the island’s librarian and mover and shaker) on a plan that included eating at all three of the island’s eateries.

Candi picked us up at the ferry terminal and our first stop was the library — a huge, stunning, amazing building. Soon we were off for a tour of the island with Candi and her friend Vernon. Turns out Candi is also the sternman on Vernon’s lobsterboat.

There are only six rooms available on a nightly basis on the island, but plenty of places if you’re coming for a week or more. We had hoped to stay at the Carter House both nights, but Nancy Carter could only accommodate us for Saturday night, so we booked a room at the Harbor Watch Inn for Friday night. If you choose to stay there, be sure to specify one of the two rooms with kitchens.

While touring the island, we met a Skowhegan couple who summer on the island. Iver Lofving is a school teacher, with a unique self-service art and antiques store on the island. His wife, Maililani Bailey, manages Waterville’s soup kitchen. But on the island, she has a rental business, Swans Island Vacations.

We loved Nancy Carter and her Carter House Bed and Breakfast, with two elegant rooms ($90/night in season), a gorgeous harbor view and a very friendly coon cat named Lucy. Nancy’s place is open all year long and, in the winter, she even cooks dinner for her guests (primarily because none of the eating places are open).

Nancy grew up here and the B&B was her grandfather’s house. She ran the island’s only store for 17 years and regaled us with stories of the old days. She was 14 when Swans got its first ferry, a 40-foot wooden boat. Her ride to the high school on the mainland took one and a half hours, “bobbing on the ocean.” A friend had to drop out of high school because the ferry ride made her seasick.

We gathered so many stories from both locals and summer folks. Brian and Kathy, the couple at TIMS, the island store, would be a good example. He’s an architect, she’s an artist. They escaped the rat race in Connecticut and bought the island store. “The further east we looked the better we liked it,” said Brian. They are very personable, and the highest compliment I can pay them is this: If you didn’t know it, you would think they were locals.

Vernon was especially interesting. He was born on a boat in Stonington Harbor. His grandfather and father worked in the island’s quarries and he grew up in the Quarry House. He lived in Portland for 30 years, then came back to the island. His kids actually came back first.

My favorite eatery was TIMS. Their haddock burger was to die for, enjoyed with a Moxie at an outdoor picnic table. And their Italian sandwiches (get the 6-inch, it’s plenty) enjoyed on Fine Sand Beach, were splendid. But the breakfast at Tea House was very good, and my lobster and crabmeat potato salad at Appy’s was good, too.

Candi, a Swans Island native, is especially entertaining, and I hope she accomplishes her dream of starting a tour bus for the island. As we toured the island, she told us the story of every cove (Ghost Hollow was my favorite), and it became evident early on that history is very important to the people here.

We capped off our visit on Sunday morning with the Odd Fellows breakfast, a fabulous gathering of both locals and summer folks for a morning feast featuring homemade donuts, sausage gravy and biscuits, eggs, bacon and pancakes. Wow! We sat at Iver’s table and were blessed with his own maple syrup, made on his Skowhegan woodlot. Tasted like home!

And boy, did we ever feel right at home here on Swans Island. We left with many new friends, and a determination to make this a regular stop every summer or fall.

Linda

Swans Island is quintessential Maine and about as peaceful a place as one might find. Taking the ferry out of Bass Harbor, we really didn’t know what to expect on the island. Two ladies asked me at the terminal what there was to do there, and what Swans Island was like. I told them I really didn’t know much about it but was going out for the weekend. They got back in their car and left.

And this brings us to an important point. Once on the island, you need transportation. You should bring your car or know someone on the island who will transport you around the large spread-out island.

Through the generosity of Candi and Vernon, we took scenic rides to see the island in both the evening (spectacular sunsets!) and in the daytime. Of course, it helped to have picture-perfect weather, but it would be beautiful here no matter what the weather.

We toured the Burnt Cove Lighthouse Station with Eric, a summer resident who is leading the lighthouse restoration effort, and enjoyed a hike with Candi along the beautiful lighthouse trails. The keeper’s house has undergone major renovations downstairs, and there are plans to do the upstairs as well. The climb up metal steps inside the lighthouse opened into a 360-degree view from the top that took my breath away.

We took a picnic (obtaining delicious subs from TIMS) out to Fine Sand Beach, one of the most pristine beaches I’ve ever seen. Beaches like this are usually lined with mobs of people and blaring radios, but we enjoyed the spectacular view, walked up and down the beach several times and watched Candi’s granddaughter Michaela splash in the ocean — all in supreme peace and quiet.

With breakfast at the Tea Room, dinner at Appy’s and two meals at The Island Market Store (TIMS) we experienced every eatery on the island! On our first evening we headed to TIMS. A food trailer is set up awaiting orders for fresh fish and seafood, chicken, burgers and pizza. From the grill, one can get a Steak or Chicken Bomb. Never seeing the version in chicken, my mind was quickly made up. Chopped chicken, peppers and onions bathed in a delectable sauce served in a sub roll. A small 6-inch sub was plenty for me ($5.50). The French fries here are super and eating at the picnic table with Candi and Vernon that first night was memorable.

I now know how The Tea Room got its name. The menu had two pages of coffee and tea offerings! Eric, who has been spending summers here with his wife for 26 years, had a latte in front of him when we arrived. It looked good to George so he ordered the same. However, he was a bit surprised when Nancy (our server and one of the owners) explained it was a double shot of espresso with steamed milk. “Oh, I really wanted some caffeine, I better order coffee” he says in all innocence. At least he knew what the breakfast sandwich was!

The minute I woke up Sunday morning at The Carter House, I looked out the window to a scene so inviting I didn’t want to miss a moment of it. I quickly made a cup of coffee with the Keurig and headed for Nancy’s deck. I gazed at the spectacular view over Mill Pond and across to Burnt Coat Harbor. The mirror image of the sky and clouds could be clearly seen in the protected harbor.

A lobster boat was already out hauling traps and the crows were having quite a conversation. The peaceful scene reminded me of Cobscook Bay, where we camped when I was young. I would have very unproductive mornings if I lived here. Nancy was so hospitable, and the image of the view from her deck has me yearning to return to Swans Island next summer.

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.