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The New New England, Pt. 2

Last week, I went for a surf in one of my favorite (and unlikely) spots in the world: York, Maine. The waves were small but clean the day before, but there was a wicked sideshore wind that was making a mess of things — though there were some corners to be had. Sitting in the lineup, I was sweating in my made-for-the-Bay-Area wetsuit, a 4.2 mil that was way too much rubber for the Gulf Stream and a 70%-humidity East-Coast day.

A gray day and small, crappy waves off Long Sands Beach in York, Maine.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

I don’t know when I noticed the sailboat (sailboats not being known for sneaking up on you). It was a 40-something-ft cruiser, and they were plodding north up Long Sands Beach, taking advantage of the 10-ish knots of wind. After living here for roughly five years in the early 2000s, this was the first time I’d ever seen a sailboat sailing off the beach. Just a few days earlier, I had been blown away by the number of boats at anchor in the nooks and crannies between Maine and New Hampshire.

The boat off Long Sands made a lazy run, coming within a few hundred yards of shore before turning east and heading out to sea. They would eventually make a low U-turn and head south again, presumably heading back to one of those idyllic New England anchorages. It was obvious that the boat was out for a joyride — a sail for the sake of sailing. It made me smile. Even though New England was changing, it seemed that sailing was doing just fine.

Boats for days off Kittery Point, Maine (nice job getting that tree obnoxiously in the frame).

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

But not everyone thinks the New England sailing scene is ‘fine’. "I sailed my boat from North Carolina up to Boston Harbor this spring and summer, and got harassed for having a 50-year-old boat and multiple ports of call," wrote John Retzlaff in response to part 1 on Monday, and speaking of his Pearson Triton Unbound, which hails from Newport, Rhode Island, and Boston, Marion and and Plymouth, Massachusetts. "They try to enforce their extortion ways of pushing you into a marina or mooring and not letting you drop the hook. All the good places to anchor are covered with moorings, which are mostly used by the weekend warriors. I have sailed over 30 years in 50 countries and want to avoid these ports."

John Retzlaff’s Pearson Triton Unbound.

© John Retzlaff

Putting aside for a moment the gentrification of harbors and ports, Maine has always felt strangely trapped in time, especially York, located about 20 minutes, as the crow drives, north of the New Hampshire border. The town of roughly 13,000 people has long been famous for shunning change; specifically alterations to its beachfront architecture, which is primarily composed of charming cottages lining the 1.3 miles of Long Sands Beach.

It’s said that businesses along this super-popular shoreline cannot put up signs that are incongruous with the clapboard-and-shingle-rustic vibe that pervades the entire seacoast. Businesses must blend into the charm, and are prohibited from having more than one cash register. This is a deliberate and overwhelmingly successful effort to shun large chain operations (they’re talking to you, Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonalds), and keep the beach low-key and cozy.

Charming New England beach cottage number 537. Longs Sands Beach is 180 degrees in the other direction across a two-lane road.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

There is a surf shop on Long Sands Beach in York, but it was closed the day I wanted to rent (renting being cheaper and far less hassle than trying to bring a board on a plane). But there was another shop in Ogunquit, about 20 minutes north. If York is charming, then Ogunquit is York on steroids, full of quaint 300-year-old houses dotted with colorful flowers and perfectly trimmed hedges. Ogunquit’s charm is almost aggressive and ensnaring. It feels like a theme park as much as it does a living, breathing town. 

Change in such a well-protected place is hard to perceive, but it is there, if you look hard. The traffic and crowds have long been normal here, but there’s no denying that they’re swelling. And there are a few modern affectations on these ancient buildings: Airbnb plaques adorn many façades, while "No Vaping" signs hang on the abundant outdoor patios (recreational marijuana is now legal in Maine, while New Hampshire, which once had draconian anti-pot laws, has decriminalized cannabis). And, oh yeah, even though the signal is notoriously weak in Maine, everyone is constantly on their phones.

Long Sands Beach, back in the day. (This photo is apparently reversed; the peninsula in the background — Nubble Point — should be to the north of the beach, not the south.) 

© 2018 Wikipedia / Totally Free Images

The sailboat was almost out of sight when I caught my "wave of the day," a crumbly five-footer that I somehow made the drop on, but immediately got caught behind the white water and missed the fleeting open face. Still, I was pleased to have made a difficult (for me) drop. It had up until that moment been a frustrating session — I was hot, the waves were crappy, and . . . it wasn’t the way I remembered it. Long Sand’s weak waves had become my favorite spot in the world to surf for reasons deeply personal. When I lived in York, I could walk to the beach, and watch its mood every single day.

After I left for the Bay Area, my visits and surfs here had been filled with nostalgia. But this trip was different. This place was changing. I was trying to remember and feel something that no longer existed. But I laughed at myself. "This place" was never mine, no matter how diligently I walked the beach and watched the waves. This place was always changing at a glacial, imperceptible speed.

Stay tuned for the last installment of the New New England next week. If you’re from the East Coast, or have noticed dramatic change where you live, please let us know.


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