Seal Bay plus Winter Harbor

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Photo: Kate Wilson Somers

On the east side of Vinalhaven, this very secluded yet accessible and protected bay has gorgeous Maine scenery, many nooks and crannies to explore, and diverse wildlife, including seals and bald eagles. There are many hazards, but they are well charted. Find a spot to drop a hook in the inner harbor, then take the dinghy around the islands at high tide to explore the coastline. You can even go up into Winter Harbor near mid- to high-tide. Just remember to get back to your boat before the ebb catches you high and dry.

Approach & Cautions

Photo: Aerial of Seal Bay (center) and Winter Harbor (right) by Dale Bruce with Frank & Libby Simon, pilots

The entrance to Seal Bay plus Winter Harbor is located on the eastern side of Vinalhaven, just 1.5 to 2 miles south of the Fox Islands Thorofare. Start into Winter Harbor heading generally southwest. Watch out for the rocks to starboard in the outer entrance, then once inside, you can head a little farther in toward Winter Harbor, and then turn left (south) into the gap between Little Hen and Penobscot Island. Then proceed cautiously in the deep water between Davids Island (to starboard) and Hay Island (to port), around the unnamed boulders to starboard into the first area where you can anchor. Or head into the inner harbor (past Burnt Island to port) where there is also a good thick mud bottom for anchoring. Moorings in this area are private and of unknown reliability. On the way in, make note of the rocks and shallow water along the Penobscot Island side of the channel. The rock is more of a hazard than the muddy shallows.

Click the chart to open Navionics.

Not to be used for Navigation.

Docking, Anchorages, or Moorings

There are many places inside Seal Bay and Winter Harbor to anchor.

One of the “snuggest” and most secluded is all the way up in the inner harbor of Seal Bay, as far past Burnt Island as your keel will allow. The charted depths are remarkably accurate, but take care given the tidal range. One rock you’ll need to avoid is between Hay (smaller) and Penobscot (bigger) islands. Favor the Hay Island side of the channel, go slowly, and you’ll be fine.

Another popular spot for those who’ve been to Seal Bay a few times is the cove to the SE of Hen Island just after turning the corner to enter Seal Bay. There is deep water (35 feet or more), and as long as the wind doesn’t pipe up out of the north, it will be very comfortable. Also, if you’re feeling brave (and careful), you can sneak out the narrow channel to the north. Everyone will wonder where you went.

There are several anchorages going farther into Winter Harbor. One of the best is in the deepwater “hole” opposite Starboard Rock — being careful to avoid the two-foot spot noted on the chart. Depending on your boat’s depth (and your adventuresomeness), one can anchor farther up this harbor, but the channel is littered with rocks and has shallow edges.

Getting Ashore

Photo: Courtesy of Maine Coast Heritage Trust

There are no amenities, but there are some excellent hiking paths around Seal Bay, thanks to local land trusts (below). It is usually a calm harbor — great for dinghy rowing, paddleboarding, and kayaking. And by August, the water may be warm enough for a quick swim.

Other places of interest:

  1. Maine Coast Heritage Trust has five preserves here: Penobscot Island, David’s Island, Little Smith Island, Carrying Place, and Huber. The Huber Preserve can be accessed by water at half-tide or higher. It’s located due south of Burnt Island on a rocky peninsula attached to the central part of Vinalhaven. The trail is well maintained and reportedly an excellent area to spot a variety of indigenous bird species. Do not expect to get in or out of Huber near low tide, as the mudflats here are notorious for grabbing onto boots, flip-flops, or bare legs and not letting go. The above link includes a map showing the dinghy landing area.
  2. Vinalhaven Land Trust has many preserves throughout the island, two accessible via Winter Harbor at mid-tide or higher: Lower Mill Preserve and Carrying Place Bridge Preserve, both with well-marked trails — maps can be found on the VLT website. Dinghies can be left at Carrying Place preserve or the kayak ramp by the bridge. You need to be mindful of tides to avoid having to drag the dinghy through the mud.
  3. Starboard Rock inside Winter Harbor is the prominent hunk of granite that dominates the north shoreline and the local landscape. A marked hiking trail starts in the low area just to the NE of the rock. The view from the top is one you’ll not soon forget. On a clear day, you can see far and wide. It is possible to find spots along the shore where one can clamber up, but you must respect the private property that is sometimes marked.
  4. There are two camping areas in Seal Bay noted on the MITA website. One is on Hay Island, and the other is at Little Hen. Visit the MITA website or download their Mobile App for more details.
  5. At high tide, one can take a dinghy all the way into Winter Harbor to Vinal Cove, where there are the remains of a granite quarry. The area is also littered with rocks — proceed with caution.

Seal Bay is another anchorage with beautiful light and many opportunities for memorable photography. This shot by Brian Ward was taken in August 2022.



What CCA Members are saying:

This is our favorite “gunkhole” in Penobscot Bay. The scenery is always captivating, and the birdlife engaging. Best of all it's a place that lets you unwind, relax, and briefly forget your shoreside worries.

Doug & Dale Bruce

I walked the Huber Preserve and marked the trees on the shoreline near the trail with pink plastic ribbons. Oak Point is the best place to land (it should be on a chart). High tide (to half-tide) is still needed to avoid the dreaded mudflats if going by dinghy. The trail is beautiful and well-maintained. See the link above for a trail map.

Wendy Richards

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