I think the first time we heard about Goodies Beach was from Leah, our head housekeeper, who talked about swimming there during low or retreating tide, when the water is warmer. She didn’t call it Goodies Beach though (I’ve never heard anyone use that name); she probably just referred to it as the beach at Rockport Harbor. Leah is an early riser – for hardy Maine standards, “early” is about 4 am, maybe even sooner – and sometimes she used to swim before she came to work (although I think that was before our time here. Now she seems to prefer sunrise clamming to swimming). It was late fall by the time we discovered the beach in person: it’s a small sandy strip next to the Harbor Master’s house, seemingly in hiding not only from the road, but even from the parking lot. Of course by hat time it was too cold to swim (for anyone other than Polar Bear Plungers); so it took us another seven months to finally test the waters.
The day was hot, housekeeping had just gotten done, check-in time hadn’t officially started – and we knew we needed something to keep us going through the rest of the day.We decided to put up a sign at the office door and play hooky for an hour. We drove with the top down, stopped at a kids’ lemonade stand, and by the time we got to the beach (about five minutes later) we felt like we had no more cares in the world than a kid on a summer’s day. For an hour, anyway.
I usually warm up a bit in the sun before swimming in cold water, but there wasn’t much time, so in we went, past the kids playing by the shoreline. Oh boy — it was cold. (Do half of my swim posts contain a sentence like that? Probably). And yet ours were not the only heads bopping along with the buoys in the harbor; a few others seemed just as anxious to get the swim season started. Here is one thing that’s so great about swimming (there are many!): even if the water or air are a bit too cold, the way you feel afterwards just can’t be beat. I think it’s about being immersed in another element, water not air, and then you return – cleansed, massaged, transformed – to your regular, non-liquid world. Something like that. On that day, our “Goodies” dip gave us exactly what we had come for: a big boost for the rest of the day, and the feeling that summer had definitely started.
There are several things I like about Goodies Beach: although it’s small even for Maine beach standards, it never feels crowded or noisy, not even when two or three small groups of people are there at the same time. If the parking lot looks busy, it doesn’t mean the beach is: many come to hang out in the park or go out on the schooner Heron, which leaves from Rockport Harbor three to four times a day. Sometimes special events like fundraising meals or small wedding receptions take place under a large tent in the park, but they hardly ever affect the beach. Also, you can swim close to the anchored boats and have a nice view of the opposite shore with its beautiful homes and woods. There’s even an apple tree by the beach, so in September you can share the water with premature apples that have tumbled down the sandy slope. Restrooms, showers, hoses to clean off dogs or feet are all available, and even a small washer/dryer area. I’ve never seen anyone use it, but I’m sure there is a reason for its existence: probably boat people?
Our first summer here I spent a lot more time at Laite Beach in Camden than at Rockport Harbor; this past year it was the other way around. My swim season started late this summer: I didn’t even try for an ocean swim until July. I had badly sprained my ankle in March, the healing process was slow enough to lose at a snails’ marathon, and I had to relearn many things, including how to be barefoot (I often wore water shoes instead). As a local friend and fellow innkeeper told me, I had disobeyed the golden innkeeper rule: you can’t break or sprain things! You need to be able to move around at all times, especially if you own a big building like we do. Most beaches in Midcoast Maine are rocky, so I didn’t have a lot of choices for my first beach visit of the year: Rockport Harbor is one of the only sandy ones I know. (Laite Beach is both sand and fine gravel, but it has more steps and hills to negotiate before you get down to the beach. The kinds of things you have to think about when you’re not stable on your feet).
Anyway, my first beach outing was on a hot July afternoon, and the only other person, at first, was a woman just arriving in her kayak. During the time she parked it and rested for a bit, I had the water to myself. Not that I needed it for long – it seemed just as cold as the previous year in June. But I did swim, a hair-only-half-wet prelude swim to a longer one a bit later, after a warm up in the sun. The next time my eyes scanned the water, I saw kayak woman swimming leisurely out by the boats, entirely unfazed by the temperature. Two moms with offspring had also arrived, and the kids – super cute 5-10 year old girls – were exploring the water in the multiply creative way kids do at the beach. I have to confess I don’t usually find kids’ play relaxing to watch and listen to (not if it involves a lot of shrieking and screaming), but that day it was. I briefly wondered whether that was because everyone around me was female – but no, that wouldn’t make sense; women are often louder and less peaceful than men (although little girls usually seem to be quieter than little boys – when they play together, anyway).
Still, this beach seems like a very female space in my experience. It’s small, protected, enclosed and feels safe, and the main visitors are younger women with their kids, as well as middle aged and older women who like to swim. One unusually busy day this past summer, I counted almost twenty heads on the beach – all of them female except for one little boy and one father with his family. Even the harbormaster is a woman, and so is at least one of the people who work in and around the harbor master’s house (the assistant harbor master?). She’s always willing to help with one thing or another, talks to everyone, seems to know all the locals, and gives advice to tourists.
Whether feminine or not, Goodies Beach is almost always peaceful – not because it’s always quiet, but because most everyone who comes here seems to have left behind whatever else they may have going on. I remember one day when I was by myself and yet had to listen to a guy on his boat screaming into his phone – but generally, it seems like there is something calming about the place. Maine is full of calm places, of course (Woods! Mountains! Hundreds of lakes! Places without people!)– but even popular spots with small crowds of visitors can often feel relaxing in Maine. Siobhan thinks that visitors here are more respectful, more capable of adapting to the local nature and culture than in other touristy places where she’s lived and visited. If that is true, I wonder if it’s because Maine has a powerful effect on people, or because people coming to Maine are already of a different breed than, say, the average tourist in Myrtle Beach or Atlantic City. I saw an article recently about what your vacation says about your personality or character type. It claimed that introverts are more likely to head to the mountains on vacation, while extroverts prefer the beach. That sounds a bit simplistic to me – if only for its implied definition of “the beach” as something warm and Southern or tropical, populated by thousands of roasting bodies flaunting their tans and taking them back to the bar for margaritas and more socializing. Most beaches in Maine don’t even remotely fit that description. Maybe this article would consider Maine as a whole a vacationland for introverts – perhaps with the exception of Lobsterfest crowds and groups of family and friends renting vacation homes. But if so, does that mean the majority of our guests are introverts? I never got that impression – unless you define introverted as quiet and considerate to others!.
Unscientific digressions aside, Rockport Harbor Beach became my go-to beach for hot sunny days: it’s close, convenient, sandy, relaxing, and it works well for swimming during all tides (except perhaps at the peak of high tide, when there is barely a beach). The water had warmed up a lot by August, and seemed warmer this year than at Camden’s Laite Beach; it doesn’t have as many cold pockets to swim through. And even in the middle of September it was still just as warm as in August. For a longer beach afternoon, I would recommend Laite because it’s much bigger, but Rockport has fewer tourists (if any). And both have a lot of boats to feast your eyes on. (They both run out of sun in the later afternoon, and they both have occasional pollution warnings, which many people seem to ignore)
Around the harbormaster’s house to the side of the beach, there is an elevated grassy park area with benches (part of the Marine Park). People bring their lunches, books, cameras, and dogs to this area, and some sit on the ledge right next to the beach having a picnic, feet dangling above the water. During high tide I sometimes saw kids jump into the water from there. For a few hours a day, until Labor Day, a food truck next to the harbormaster’s house sells salads, fish tacos, burritos, Cuban and Vietnamese sandwiches, and even desserts. I’ve never tried anything there, but it looks fun and better than your average food truck. When it wasn’t warm enough to swim yet (or not warm enough anymore) I took my yoga mat to the park, for sun, relaxation, and for whatever exercises my ankle didn’t complain about.
That’s what I was up to one beautiful late September day when, after about a hundred ab crunches, I realized it was a lot warmer than I had expected. Meaning, it would be a lot more fun to swim than to look at the water from above, even if that look was upside down, from a downward dog position. I was lucky: my backpack still harbored a swim suit and my goggles from a previous outing. It was low tide and I had the beach to myself at first. The water was colder than the week before, but no colder than at the height of summer the year before – and still very swimmable. I might’ve kept my head a little drier than the previous week, but it still felt as amazing as it had all summer. And afterwards it was warm enough to lie around in a wet bathing suit for almost a half hour. Watching the only other visitors, a young woman teaching her daughter how to look for hermit crabs and other goodies, I got a distinct end of summer feel. The thought crossed my mind that this might’ve been my last ocean swim of the season – but it didn’t even make me feel sad. Endings can be fine if they’re good ones – and this swim had been a very good one indeed.
P.S. I should probably add that Rockport Harbor is a great place to visit year-round, not just when you can play in the water. There’s the statue of Andre the seal, the Rockport Opera House next to two excellent restaurants with views onto the water (Shepherd’s Pie and Saltwater Farm); and the weekend after Camden’s Christmas by the Sea, Rockport has its Marine Park Christmas celebrations, complete with tree lighting, hot cider, homemade cookies and other goodies, luminaries lining the streets, pictures with Santa, and the best fireworks we’ve seen in years. The water can be very pretty in the winter too, when it’s cold enough to have frozen into shiny geometric plates of ice.