If at all possible, any visit to the coast of Maine ought to include at least one ride on a boat. For centuries, life here has revolved around the water. It’s what the expression “you can’t get there from here” means: travel by land often requires going the long way around between peninsulas and islands breaking up the coastline.
The views and even the weather are different once you leave the shore. Lulu, a gleaming green lobster boat, takes passengers on two-hour trips several times per day. Trips leave from Bar Harbor’s Harborside Hotel pier. The 42-foot fiberglass vessel can accommodate up to 40 people.
On this spring afternoon, as Lulu headed out among the Porcupine Islands in Frenchman Bay, it was partly sunny and in the upper 60s ashore, but much chillier on the water. It was calm, with a northwest wind blowing about 6 miles per hour. The lobster boat’s back deck, though, is covered and shields passengers seated on padded benches. Even on hot days, everyone puts another layer of clothing as cool winds whip through as the boat gathers speed.
Later in the summer, mornings here are often calm, but the wind picks up in the afternoon to 15 miles per hour or more. Anti-seasickness wrist bands are available at the beginning of the trip, but no one has ever gotten seasick in the years since the tour boat has run.
As part of their tour, passengers get to see the colorful wire lobster traps, which replaced heavier, less-durable wooden ones decades ago, up close. Captain Andrew Allen will hook one of the colorful buoys in the harbor with a gaff, pull it aboard, wind the attached rope into a winch near the boat’s wheel, and hook the rope through a pulley. Then, a hydraulic pot hauler pulls the rope to haul a trap to the water’s surface.
It’s a bit too dangerous for passengers to help with that step, but crew will bring lobsters and crabs around so everyone can get a good look.
The Lulu experience was created by Captain John Nicolai, who sold the boat and the business this year to brothers James and Andrew Allen. Passengers learn about lobsters and the lobster industry in entertaining detail, and also see seals, seabirds, islands and a lighthouse.
“John and Coreen Nicolai have built a wonderful business, and we know they have mixed emotions about retiring,” James Allen said. “We are very excited to be able to continue the work they have started.” They don’t plan any changes to the business.
Nicolai worked in France as a chef before moving to North Carolina, where he ran a yacht detailing business, and then to the coastal Maine town of Gouldsboro. The current Lulu is the third vessel used in the tours, which have been running locally for 19 years. All three boats were named “Lulu” in honor of Nicolai’s mother, Lucie, whom his dad affectionately called “Lulu.”
Tours like those on Lulu operate with a special class of state lobster fishing license. Called a “demonstration” permit, it allows the holder to fish up to 20 traps. Unlike sole-operator tours that run with a recreational, or part-time, license none of the lobsters can be kept.
“Everything that’s brought up gets thrown back,” James Allen explained.
The Allens also operate the Sea Princess, an excursion boat out of Northeast Harbor, and the Wild Acadia Fun Park in Trenton. Trips on the Sea Princess explore a natural fjord, Somes Sound in the middle of Mount Desert Island, the Cranberry Isles and more.
For both Lulu and Sea Princess, buying tickets is easily done online, and email reminders and updates help passengers keep information they’ll need close at hand. Wild Acadia features a ropes course and zipline, water slides and go-carts.
Fun on and off the water
Brothers James and Andrew Allen own and operate the tour boats Lulu and Sea Princess as well as Wild Acadia Fun Park in Trenton.
* Sea Princess
* Wild Acadia Fun Park