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Sailing the Maine Coast

Banner - Sailing the miane Coast, Charts from the 1879 Atlantic Local Coast Pilot

The United States Coast and Geodetic Survey was formed in 1807 by President Thomas Jefferson as the Survey of the Coast. An act of Congress dated February 10, 1807 appropriated $50,000.00 to begin the work of surveying the U.S. coast. In 1811 Ferdinand Rudolph Hassler (1770–1843), a Swiss émigré and acting professor of mathematics at West Point, was employed by the Federal Government to begin the work and in 1816 became the first Superintendent of the Survey. The survey is based on a network of triangles, with its first baseline measured and verified in 1817 on New York's Long Island. Two years after Hassler's appointment a new act of Congress passed control of the Survey of the Coast to the Army and Navy, where it languished until the early 1830s. In 1832 another act of Congress was passed, re-empowering the original 1807 act and re-establishing Mr. Hassler as Superintendent. He held this post until his death in 1843, allowing the work of the Survey to continue. Upon his death the post of Superintendent was given to Alexander Dallas Bache (1806–1867), great-grandson of Benjamin Franklin and noted scientist in his own right, having built an observatory of terrestrial magnetism in Philadelphia. Within his first year, Bache used his influence to quadruple the Survey's budget. Later he incorporated his own research to expand the scope of the surveying, gaining national recognition for his work in magnetism and instrumentation. After Bache's death in 1867 the position of Superintendent passed to Benjamin Peirce (1809-1880), who has been called the "Father of American mathematics" and is also known for calculating the exact location and path of the planet Neptune. Carlile Pollock Patterson (1816-1881) took the position in 1874, and during his tenure the Atlantic Local Coast Pilot books and maps were produced. In 1878 an emphasis on inland exploration grew, and the Survey of the Coast was reorganized and renamed the Coast and Geodetic Survey.

In 1970 the Survey was again renamed as the National Geodetic Survey, and became part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration within the United States Department of Commerce. Its primary mission is to define and manage a national coordinate system which provides the foundation for transportation and communication,mapping and charting, and a multitude of scientific and engineering applications.


Map - Coast from Wells to Little Boars Head

Map - Coast From Cape Elizabeth to Wells

Portsmouth Harbor

Dangers in Approaching and Entering Portsmouth Harbor

III. Coming from the Southward and Eastward, south of the Isles of Shoals. – A vessel bound to Portsmouth from Cape Ann, or from the southeastward, steers to the northward about fifteen miles, when the Isles of Shoals will be seen to the northeastward about five miles distant. These islands will appear as a group of small rocky islets, bare of trees, and of various heights, lying five miles off the coast of New Hampshire and six miles from Portsmouth entrance. Here and there ill be seen houses crowded somewhat thickly together; and on approaching the islands more closely a glimpse of the large hotel on Hog Island may be obtained if the day be clear.

White Island and Light-house. The most prominent object, advancing to the northward, will be White Island Light-house, which is often called Isles of Shoals Light-house. It is built on the southeastern end of White Island, (the southernmost islet of the group,) and will show as a white tower, with a covered wooden way, also white, extending in a northerly direction nearly to the keeper’s dwelling, which is built fifty yards N. of the light-house. The island is about forty feet high at the site of the tower, is entirely bare of vegetation, and lies nineteen miles N. ¼ E. from Thatcher’s Island, and a little over six miles S. by E. ½ E. from Whale’s Back Light-house. The light-house is forty feet high, and shows a flashing red and white light (with intervals of thirty seconds between) from a height of eighty-seven feet above sea-level. The lens is of the second order of Fresnel, and shows every alternate flash red’ and is visible fifteen miles at sea, around the entire horizon, except on a bearing of about NE., when it is eclipsed by the Oceanic House on Star Island. Its geographical position is

Latitude… ……………………………………… 42 deg. 58’ 0” N.
Longitude ………………………………………70 deg. 37’ 25” W.

(Vol. 5 pg. 513)

Sailing Directions for Approaching and Entering Cape Porpoise Harbor

I. Coming alongshore from the northeastward. - Steer SW. 1/4 W. from Cape Elizabeth (carrying not less than ten fathoms and passing a mile and a half outside of Wood Island in about twenty-five fathoms) until Goat Island Light-house bears NW. by N. 1/8 N., a mile and a half distant, with twenty-four fathoms, when steer NW. 3/4 N., leaving the red buoy on The Old Prince seventy-five yards to the eastward, Folly Island Point two hundred and fifty yeard to the westward, and Goat Island Point buoy close-to to the eastward, and carrying not less than five fathoms up to the latter. When past this buoy and the light-house, and the latter vears E. by S. 1/2 S., with thirteen feet, soft bottom, steer N. 1/4 W. for Stone's Hosue, and anchor abreast of the Pilot's Beacon, or when it bears E. by S. The best water at this anchorage is fifteen feet at mean low water, but is confined to a very narrow slue. Or, if the weather be mild, round Goat Island Point buoy and steer for the beacon, and anchor with the light bearing E. by S. 1/2 S. In very heavy weather it is best to run upon the flats, where you may lie aground at half-tide, soft muddy bottom.

II. Coming from Seaward. - Bring Wood Island Light-house to bear N. by W., six miles distant, and Goat Island Light-house W. by N. 1/8 N., distant seven miles, with forty fathoms water, and steer W. 1/4 N., carrying not less than twenty-four fathoms, until Wood Island Light-house is on with the eastern point of Fletcher's Neck (day-time) and Goat Island Light-house bears NW. by N. 1/8 N., when there will be twenty-four fathoms, and Wood Island Light-house will bear NE. 3/4 N. Now steer NW. 3/4 N., carrying not less than five fathoms, and follow the directions previously given. Book 5 pg. 495

Map of Portland Harbor

Half-Way Rock and Lighthouse. Vessels bound to Portland from the eastward, and intending to pass though Casco Bay, leave Seguin Island a mile and a half and Cape Small Point about two miles to the northward, and steer W. ¼ N. for Portland Head Light-house. When off Cape Small Point, a grey tower will be seen (if the weather be clear) bearing W. ½ N., and distant about nine miles. This is Half-Way Rock Light-house, and will appear, until within two or three miles of it, as if standing in the water. It is built upon Half-Way Rock, which is a bare rocky islet about sixteen feet high, situated in Casco Bay, seven miles and three-quarters E. 1/3 N. from Portland Head Light-house and nine miles E NE. from Cape Elizabeth Light-houses. The light-house is a granite tower sixty-six feet in height, showing a fixed white light (varied by red flashes once every minute) from a height of eighty feet above sea-level and visible fifteen miles. The light is of the third order of Fresnel, and bears from

Seguin Light-house, W. … ……………………………………… 12 ½ miles
Cape Small Point, W. 3/8 S. ………………………………………9 1/8 miles
Mark Island Monument, S. by W. ½ W. ……………… ……… 3 1/8 miles
Portland Head light-house, E. 1/8 N. ………………………….…7 ¾ miles
Cape Elizabeth Light-houses, E NE …….……….………………… 9 miles

The geographical position of this light-tower is

Latitude… ……………………………………… 43 deg. 39’ 21” N.
Longitude …………………………………………70 deg. 2’ 13” W.

Portland Head Light-house. Approaching Half-Way rock, if the weather be clear, a white tower will appear directly ahead and about eight miles off, showing against the land; and a little to the southward of this tower, on a high point of land jutting out into the sea, two towers, close together, will appear on a bearing of W. by S. The tower directly ahead is Portland Head Light-house, and is built upon Portland Head, a prominent headland of Cape Elizabeth, three miles and a half above the pitch of the cape. It is a white tower sixty-nine feet high, and shows a fixed white light from an elevation of one hundred and one feet above sea-level, visible fifteen miles. This light is of the second order of Fresnel, and its geographical position is

Latitude… ……………………………………… 43 deg. 37’ 22” N.
Longitude ………………………………………70 deg. 12’ 29” W.

(Vol. 5 pg. 470)

Map from Seguin Island to Cape Elizabeth

Map from Pemaquid Point to Seguin Island

Map from Whitehead to Pemaquid Point

Muscongus Sound

To enter New Harbor. - Keep the eastern side of the Dry Ledges and Little Island aboard until exactly off the entrance, with the middle of the passage bearing W. 3/4 N. Then, if drawing less than twelve feet, or if it be high water, steer W. 1/2 S. into the mouth of the harbor. This course leads to the southward of a bad sunken rock, with three feet at mean low water, called Flat Rock, lying exactly in the middle of the entrance; but which is marked by a red spar-buoy (No. 4) placed in three fathoms off its southwestern side. When within about seventy-five yards of the western point of entrance to Back Cove the shoals which so contract the entrance are cleared, and a NW. course will lead to a convenient anchorage in from twelve to fifteen feet at low water.

To enter Long Cove. - On the NE. 5/8 N. course, when Franklin Island Light-house bears E. 1/3 N. and you are abreast of Little Island, steer N. by E. This course passes to the eastward of Salt Pond Ledge and leads safely up to the anchorage near the head of the cove, carrying not less than five fathoms.

The passage of the Lower Narrows is unsafe for stranger. It may be made by keeping the northwestern shore of Hog Island aboard until you are past the five feet rock which obstructs the entrance, and then gradually inclining toward the Hockomock shore until within about sixty yards of it. Then keep from sixty to seventy yards distant until fairly through the passage, when an E. by S. 1/2 S. course will lead into Medomak River between Oar Island and the wooded island south of it, and will avoid the rock in mid-channel by giving it a berth of nearly a hundred yards to the southward. (See Middle Ledges, page 342.) Thirteen feet at mean low water may thus be taken through the Lower Narrows.

Light-Houses in Muscongus Bay





Latitude N.

Longitude W.


In Arc        In time 


Fixed or Revolving.


Interval of Flash.


Height above sea-level


Distance visible in nautical miles.


Monhegan Light-house

Franklin Island Light-house

Pemaquid Light-house

    o    '    " 

   43    45    52

   43    53    31

   43    53    12
o ' " h m s

69 18 5 4 37 15.8

69 22 30 4 37 30.0 69 30 22 4 38 1.5






m. s.

1 0


1 30












Tides in Muscongus Bay


Medomak River

New Harbor

Corrected Establishment

10 h 56 m

11h 7 m

Mean Rise and Fall of tides

10.0 ft.

8.9 ft.

Mean Rise and Fall of Spring tides

10.6 ft.

9.3 ft.

Mean Rise and Fall of Neap tides

9.2 ft.

8.1 ft.

Mean duration of Rise

5 h 58 m

6 h 20 m

Mean duration of Fall

6 h 27 m

6 h 5 m

(Vol. 4 pg. 349)

Coastal Chart - Entrance to West Penobscot Bay

Coastal Chart - Penobscot Bay

Coastal Chart - Entrance to East Penobscot Bay

Penobscot Bay and Tributaries

Penobscot Bay, the most extensive of the great bays which penetrate the coast of Maine, may be said to begin at Isle au Haut on the east and White Head (at the entrance to Muscle Ridge Channel) on the west. Between these two points the distance is twenty miles, which is here the width of the bay; but a great mass of islands, large and small, lying about midway between the eastern and western shores, separates the bay into two parts, known as East and West Penobscot bays. From the entrance to the mouth of the Penobscot River the bay is about twenty-eight miles long, - its general course being about NE . by N . to NNE . It is not only the largest but the most important bay on the coast of Maine. Upon its shores are situated the towns of Belfast, Castine, Camden, Rockport and Rockland; while at the head of navigation, on Penobscot River, is the city of Bangor, the centre of the most extensive lumber trade on this part of the coast. Many smaller towns and villages, most of which have some coast-wise trade, line the shores of the river and bay.

Bangor , one of the largest towns in the State, (having a population of about sixteen thousand,) is situated on the western bank of Penobscot River, forty-five miles above the mouth of the bay, and at the head of tide-water and navigation. Belfast is situated at the mouth of Belfast or Passagassawakeag river, (which empties into Belfast Bay,) and is about twenty miles above Owl's Head and twenty-six miles above the mouth of the bay. Castine is on the eastern side of the bay, on what is called Bagaduce River, which makes in to the northward of Cape Rosier, between it and Dice's Head. It is twenty-one miles above Saddle-back Ledge Light-house at the mouth of the bay. Camden lies on the western side of the bay, seven miles above Owl's Head and thirteen from the entrance. Rockport is about two miles below Camden. The city of Rockland is also on the western side, at the had of a large cove which makes in on the northern side of Owl's Head. It is the largest town on the western shore, and is famous for its lime-works. The entrance to the harbor is about six miles above the mouth of the bay.

Saddle-back Ledge and Light-house. Both sides of the entrance to Penobscot Bay are marked by lights. The easternmost is on Saddle-back Ledge, which is off the southwestern end of Isle au Haut, and is a high, black rock, formed somewhat like a saddle, lying a little over three miles NW. by W. ¾ W . from the southwestern end of Isle au Haut, sometimes called Western Ear. Saddle-back Ledge Light-house is of granite, the lower half painted white and the upper half remaining of the natural color of the stone, and has a one-story wooden porch attached, painted brown. The tower is thirty-six feet high, and shows a fixed white light, of the fifth order of Fresnel, from a height of fifty-one feet above the sea, visible twelve miles. Its geographical position is

Latitude ................. 44 deg. 0' 51" N.

Longitude ................ 68 deg. 43' 35" W.

White Head Island and Light-house. The light which marks the western side of the entrance is on White Head Island, a rocky island lying close in with the main shore, about seventeen miles W. 5/8 N. from Saddle-back Ledge Light-house. It is about eight hundred yards long in an E . and W. direction, and wooded principally with stunted spruce and fir, with which, like all the islands in its vicinity, its surface is covered. White Head Light-house is built on the western end of the island, half way up the slope of White Head , and is a granite tower, unpainted, thirty-four feet high, and shows a fixed white light, of the third order of Fresnel, from a height of seventy-nine feet above the sea, visible fourteen miles. The tower is connected with a one-story dwelling-house, whitewashed. Its geographical position is

Latitude. ............... 43 deg. 58' 42" N.

Longitude ................ 69 deg. 7' 28" W.

A ten-inch steam fog-whistle has been established at this light-house, which, during a fog, gives blasts of eight seconds at intervals of fifty-two seconds. (Vol. 3, pg. 190)

Coastal Chart - Southwest Harbor

Coastal Chart - Winter Harbor

Ice in Frenchman's Bay

Ice forms in this bay and its harbors about the same time and in the same manner as in Englishman’s Bay and machias Bay; - and, like the formations in those bays, is purely local, except during severe winters, when a mass of “field” and “drift-ice” is formed, completely obstructing navigation. Winds have little influence in preventing or assisting the local formations; nor have the tides; but both assist in bringing in drift-ice from outside, and in carrying it off when the mass is broken up. Calms and light winds from the northwestward are favorable to a rapid increase in the local formation; while strong winds break it up and force it on shore to leeward. The bay is generally dangerous to navigate, even in moderate winters, from January 1st to March 1st; and in severe winters is closed from December to April.

In 1874-75, sailing-vessels found navigation exceedingly hazardous as early as the middle of January; and impossible after the twenty-fourth of that month. During February all access to the bay, or even a near approach to it, was cut off by an immense field composed of drift-ice “packed” together and frozen into a solid mass, which not only filled the bay, but extended several miles out to sea. The southwesterly, easterly and northeasterly winds which occurred in the latter part of that month broke this mass up and carried much of it to sea; but it did not finally disappear from the bay until the latter part of March; and the harbors remained, for the most part, closed several weeks later. (Vol. 2 pgs 133-134.)

Coastal Chart - Campobello Profile

Coastal Chart - Moos-A-bec Reach

In Approaching and Entering Eastport Harbor

By the Maine Entrance from the Eastward, through the Bay of fundy. - If passing to the southward of The Wolves, the revolving light will act as a guide to prevent all danger of running upon them, and thence the passage is clear until up with East Quoddy Head. But if passing to the northward of these islands, great care must be taken to avoid being set on the northernmost island in thick weather. The current of ebb sets directly toward the island, and unless you can get hold of East Quoddy light it is not safe in foggy weather to attempt to pass them closely to the northward. A small rock which lies a short distance from the northeastern end of the northernmost of The Wolves is called Molasses Rock. It is bare, and not dangerous secept in thick weather.

Black Rock. After passing East Quoddy Head the first danger met with is Black Rock, sometimes called Gull Rock, but in reality two bare rocks, lying north and south of each other and close together. Black Rock is quite bold, and can always be seen and avoided except in thick weather. It bears from East Quoddy light NW. 3/4 W., nearly a mile, and from the southern end of Spruce Island SW. by W. 3/4 W., about five-eighths of a mile distant.

Pope's Shoal. After passing Black Rock there are no dangers in this passage until abreast of Pope's Folly, - both shores being exceedingly bold-to and the channel absolutely free from shoals. But about one-eighth of a mile SE. by S. 1/4 S. from the southern end of that island lies a ledge, called Pope's Shoal, with fourteen feet of water upon it. (see page 19.) It is not buoyed, but is seldom approached except by vessels beating to windward, as with a fair wind they generally keep the Campoballo shore.

After passing this ledge there are no dangers whatever; but strangers may stand boldly in to the anchorage in Friar's Roads. It may be remarked, however, that without a fair wind of considerable strength it will be impossible to enter or leave this passage against tide. (Book 1 pg. 20)

Sailing Directions

For Cone Island Passage

Coming in from the southward and westward, bring Nash's Island Light-house to bear N. by E., one mile and a half distant, with about twenty fathoms water, soft bottom, and steer NE. 1/2 N., which course will lead into Tabbott's Narrows at their western end. There will not be less than ten fathoms until you reach the Narrows; after which there will be nothing less than four fathoms to Jonesport.

These courses pass a quarter of a mile to the eastward of Cone Island; the same distance to the westward of Green Island; and midway between Ram and Sheep islands.

In beating through Cone Island Passage, do not approach Nash's Island from the southward nearer than three-eighths of a mile, nor the southern end of cone Island nearer than six hundred yards; but you may stand close to the eastern point of the latter, as it is quite bold-to. In standing to the eastward, to the northward of Flat Island, give that island a berth of half a mile, and Green Island a berth to the northward of nearly five-eighths of a mile, to avoid the shoals lying off those islands. The western shore of Green Island should receive a berth to the eastward of two hundred and fifty yards.

Cone Island Passage is an excellent channel, and is frequently used by vessels bound to the westward, after they have passed through Tabbott's Narrows.






Latitude N.

Longitude W.


In Arc        In time 


Fixed or Revolving.


Interval of Flash.


Height above sea-level


Distance visible in nautical miles.


Moos-a-bec Light-house

Nash's Island Light-house


    o    '    " 

   44    28    27

   44    27   51     


o ' " h m s

67 31 55 4 30 7.7

67 44 50 4 30 59.3



Fixed Red










Book 1 pg. 80.

About this Exhibit

Among the holdings of the Maine State Archives is a series of five books produced by the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey. These volumes, collectively entitled 'Atlantic Local Coast Pilot', span the U.S. coast from Cape Small Point to Passamaquoddy Bay. Published in 1879 the books and maps are from an advance set which were published to meet immediate needs at the time and ahead of the regular issue. We have selected thirteen maps out of a total of 48 from these volumes in an attempt to depict the entirety of the Maine coast which is the longest of any state in the continental U.S. Alongside each coastal section is an excerpt taken from the pages of its respective volume. We have attempted to show the variety of detail contained in these books, including descriptions of dangers and obstructions to navigation, sailing directions for approaching and entering harbors; positions of lighthouses, and information on fog signals and tides. All of the original maps and volumes are available for viewing in our Search Room if requested.

Copies of these images, as well as other maps, photographs and documents, are available through our on-line store. If there is a subject that you are interested in and do not see listed, contact either Peter Mallow or Jeff Brown.