Many travelers heading for Maine’s more celebrated vacation spots along Rte. 1 blast right past Bath without giving it a second thought. But if you’re a boater, this very nautical city warrants a closer look.
Located on the west bank of Kennebec River some 12 miles from the Gulf of Maine, Bath has a shipbuilding heritage that began in 1743 and continues today in the form of the modern, high-tech Bath Iron Works, which serves as a major Navy shipbuilding facility and the area’s primary employer. Downtown Bath is down-to-earth and unpretentious, featuring an eclectic mix of historic houses and buildings bordering the river, as well as numerous restaurant and shops.
Two free, all-tide launch ramps can be found north and south of the downtown area, affording excellent access to the Kennebec and its tributaries north and south of Bath. The Sasanoa River, which begins just south of the bridges, on the east bank of the Kennebec, offer a protected backwater passageway to Boothbay Harbor and Georgetown. Along the way you’ll find myriad quiet coves in which to anchor and perhaps fish or swim.
Head south of the city and you’ll pass the huge dry dock and industrial shipbuilding facilities of the Bath Iron Works. A security zone of 400 feet exists around the BIW facility, so keep your distance or you’ll be paid a visit by the company’s security team.
South of the BIW is the much more welcoming Maine Maritime Museum (MMM), where you can sometimes arrange for a mooring or dock space along Deering Pier while you visit the museum and stroll its beautiful campus. The Visiting Yachtsmen’s Building provides amenities for those visiting the museum by boat.
The MMM celebrates Maine’s maritime past through fascinating exhibits, dioramas, and its extensive collection of historic wooden boats and artifacts. It also offers a host of hands-on boating courses and seminars, along with several interactive exhibits, including the Tugboat Pilothouse, the Ship ’s Fo’c’s’le, and a Pirate Play Ship. It’s a must-stop for boating enthusiasts.
Continue south and you’ll pass the lighthouse on Doubling Point and the pyramid shaped foghorn tower. From this point the river runs nearly 10 miles due south to Popham Beach and the open ocean.
The upriver portions of the Kennebec north of Bath are equally beautiful and worth exploring. At Thorne Island Ledge, keep a lookout for seals, which like to sun themselves on the exposed rocks. Travel a bit further north and you will pass through the Chops Passage and enter tranquil Merrymeeting Bay, which is fed by five rivers. In the northeast portion of the bay, you might be able to beach your boat on a small sandbar that’s exposed at low tide.
Boaters can tie up at the Bath Public Dock at Beacon Park for a generous three hours while they shop or get a bite to eat in town. A weekly farmer’s market is held at the park on Saturdays, and Bracket’s Grocery Store is a few steps away, as well. Overnight stays are possible for a fee, but must be arranged though the harbormaster.
Another overnight option, as well as a good dock-and-dine, is the Kennebec Tavern & Marina. The marina sells gas, but no diesel, and offers both slips and moorings.