Discover Little and Great Gott and other isles aboard cruise

On board the R. L. Gott, Eli Strauss hauls up some lobster pots and explains how egg-bearing females must be tossed back in the ocean to conserve the lobster resource. PHOTO BY RACHEL TAYLOR

When Kim Strauss started Bass Harbor Cruises roughly 30 years ago, he named the 40-foot “lobster-style” vessel after Russell “Russ” Lorenzo Gott who taught him how to drive a boat. Now, passengers aboard the R.L. Gott can see Great Gotts Island where Kim has spent summers his entire life. The island lacks ferry service, electricity, or a store.

When he was too short to reach the steering wheel, Kim learned to drive standing on a milk crate on “Russ” Gott’s lobster boat, the Margaret Caroline.

Descended from Daniel Gott, who named Gotts Island after purchasing it from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1789, Russ served as the island’s mailman from 1949 until his retirement in 1989. He was the link between the island and the closest mainland town of Bass Harbor on Mount Desert.

Nowadays, seasonal island residents enjoy “the luxury” of propane-powered hot water heaters and refrigerators.

At Gotts Island, the harbor drains out at low tide. As a result, island residents must carefully time their comings and goings.

“We still use kerosene lamps. It’s a nice way to live,” Kim said. “You don’t have all that connectivity where you’re dependant on everybody, and you have that sense of liberty and freedom.”

Captain Eli Strauss, Kim’s son who took over the family tour business Island Cruises about eight years ago, skippers the various tours including today’s two-hour “Afternoon Nature Cruise.” While driving, he pointed out Bass Harbor’s former Underwood sardine cannery and told passengers how cod fish once was harvested, salted and dried.

This particular afternoon, the sun shone strong and warm, but the Atlantic Ocean was a bone-chilling 47 degrees. At the outset of the cruise, most folks sported T-shirts but they were bundled in jackets and winter hats by the time the vessel headed out of the harbor.

From the water, the R. L. Gott’s passengers were treated to a dramatic view of the Bass Harbor Lighthouse, the only lighthouse on Mount Desert Island, nestled between evergreen trees on a granite cliff.

Next, the captain points the vessel toward Great Gott and cruises by his boyhood summer home.  Spruce trees tower behind several houses spread out in a grassy field. The harbor there grounds out at low tide so islanders must time it right to come and go. At high tide, they can dock at the float, but the cove empties out hours later.

“Swim, row boats, throw rocks, get lost in the woods, you could just do anything you wanted,” Eli recalled about his childhood on Gotts. “It was being 6 or 7 years old and having complete freedom in a place that was really safe.”

As boys, father and son Kim and Eli Strauss treasured the freedom of being able to fish, dub around with boats and other activities on Great Gotts Island. The island lacks electricity and other amenities.

Moving on, the R. L. Gott passes the Green and Duck islands and Long Island, home to the town of Frenchboro. The latter is 8 miles offshore and reached via the Maine State Ferry Service from Bass Harbor.

Farther along, a pink granite ledge swings into view. Harbor seals are basking in the afternoon sun. Some flopped on their bellies and slid into the water to play. In the distance, a male and female bald eagle perch on neighboring spruces on a forested isle. The trees lean forward toward the water from the strain of the raptors’ weight.

The captain wraps up the afternoon cruise with a lobster- fishing demonstration. The boat slowly came to stop at a buoy bobbing in the choppy water. After pulling on an orange rubber apron, Eli pulled a trap from the water and into the vessel. Several small lobsters were crawling in the white metal trap. Using a gauge, he showed how a fisherman deems whether or not the crustacean is the legal size to be sold or if it needs to be returned to the ocean.

The first lobster he picked up is an egg-bearing female. Eli shows the eggs attached to the crustacean’s belly and he cuts a V-notch in her tail. The marking identifies her as a breeder so other fishermen know to release her.

One by one, each harvested lobster is thrown back to freedom. He lowers the trap into the frigid water, and the R.L. Gott heads for Bass Harbor.

Monday through Saturday, Bass Harbor Cruises offers a morning lunch cruise at 11 a.m. and its Afternoon Nature Cruise at 3 p.m.. The R. L. Gott departs from 12 Little Island Way in Bass Harbor. For more info, call 244-5785 or visit bassharborcruises.com.