Gunkholing. To landlubbers, the word may conjure up any number of inglorious images. But in boating parlance, it refers to the deeply satisfying pastime of cruising from one secluded anchorage to another, with only the suggestion of a plan. The beauty of gunkholing is that its practitioners can justify what essentially is a cruise to nowhere by maintaining a purposeful appearance. After all, this is a mission: There are charts to study, foghorns to listen for, other weekend warriors to consult, and yarns to invent.
The Maine coast is a gunkholer’s paradise, especially the stretch of rocky shoreline beginning at Portland and heading northeast past fingers of land separated by rivers that wind to inland woods. Out at sea, boaters looking for a spot to drop anchor can take their pick of hundreds of islands in the region extending from Cape Elizabeth to Penobscot Bay and beyond.
Kennebunkport, located about an hour (by water) southwest of Portland, is a favorite embarkation point. The town, built on a patch of coast used for fish drying before it was settled in the 17th century, has a population of about 4,000. Stately old homes erected by sea captains still stand in the outlying areas, but most visitors are drawn to the shops and eateries around Dock Square. “There’s not a lot between Boston and Kennebunkport, so yachts often stop here,” says skipper Daryen Granata, who handles boat charters for the town’s White Barn Inn. “People pull in to shower, do some shopping, have dinner, and sometimes see the Bush place.” (The family’s summer estate occupies Walker’s Point, just outside town.) “But there aren’t many boat slips,” he adds.
The White Barn Inn has helped remedy that shortage with a new wharf. The 200 feet of dock space on the Kennebunk River will accommodate either a megayacht or a clutch of smaller vessels. The dock gives way to a private, gated compound with three guest cottages, each featuring a stone fireplace, flat-screen TV, and patio that faces the water. A large clubhouse caters to yachtsmen with its roomy shower, butler’s pantry for catered meal service, and bar area.
Boaters can stay aboard their vessels, in the cottages, or at the White Barn Inn itself, located a short walk up the street. The inn’s amenities include spa treatments, picnic menus, and bicycles for onshore exercise. Visitors who arrive by land can charter a 44-foot Hinckley piloted by Granata. His passengers most often request a course north along the coast, past lighthouses and forts to the islands of Casco Bay near Portland.
No gunkholing excursion in Maine would be complete without a lobster meal. Fortunately, one of the largest commercial fishing ports in southern Maine lies just up the road from Kennebunkport, at Cape Porpoise, where you can purchase the crustaceans at the pier after the boats return with their daily catch. Better yet, reserve a table at the White Barn Inn’s acclaimed restaurant, where you can enjoy lobster in a Cognac coral butter sauce and consider your gunkholing mission accomplished.
White Barn Inn