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Penobscot Bay; Maine coast: islands, charm, lobster - and fog

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The fog was thick, a white-on-white vista of shifting ghostly shapes that materialized into lobster boats or bell buoys as we approached.

We were aboard the Vinalhaven ferry, on a day excursion to Vinalhaven, which is one of the offshore islands in Penobscot Bay, the largest of the island-studded bays that make up the undulating coastline of Maine.

Halfway along on the hour-and-a-half ferry ride, the sun broke through the fog bank, revealing an archipelago of tiny, rocky islands, each neatly capped with a shock of blue-green spruce trees.

We passed the Outward Bound School on Hurricane Island, and studied the summer homes along the shore. Our captain deftly wove our cumbersome craft through a slalom course of red ''nuns'' and black ''cans'' that mark the channel and brought the ferry into the wharf at Carver's Harbor (pronounced ''Cahvah's Hahbah''). It's the only town on the island, and has a population of 1,211 year-round.

Lobstermen were crating their wiggly, green catch, soon to be stuffed and baked for customers in restaurants in Boston, New York, and perhaps San Francisco.

We talked with one 12-year-old who had been lobstering for three years in his own small skiff with 50 traps; he spoke with confidence, seeming to be much older than his years.

Wandering down the one-street village, we passed a fish factory, a boatyard, several restaurants, and a stand-up ice cream and sandwich counter. A half-hour stroll beyond the town took us to an abandoned granite quarry for a picnic lunch and swim. Local boys practiced swan dives from the high cliffs, dropping down into the rain-filled waters like terns diving after fish.

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