Winter Living Off of Maine’s Coast: Vinalhaven 

It’s just another morning commute for many, but for first time travelers, the ferry ride to Vinalhaven may be as beautiful as it is cold.

For most, this trip is strictly business and the start to their work day on the island 12 miles off the coast. It’s a boat ride that’s at least an hour and fifteen minutes on a good day.

“I think the thought here is that we don’t have anybody else to rely on, that we really have a set of people that step up. You know, nothing is perfect, but boy, I think we have a great group of people,” said Marjorie Stratton, the town manager.

Stratton works daily to help that group of people take care of life on the island.

“It runs like a well-oiled machine,” she says.

That may because many of the people in those positions have lived here their entire lives, and know just what it takes to function within an island community.

“I’ve lived here my whole life, so that’s 42 years,” said Marc Candage.

Candage has been the fire chief since 1998.

“It used to be kind of a hobby, or a group of people, I would say they would get together, and kind of a social organization, but did a lot if important stuff still. Now, it’s kind of a job other than a group getting together once in awhile,” he said.

The Vinalhaven Fire Department has 30 people. The closest mutual aid to them is North Haven, their neighboring island town.

“The biggest last fire we had was a structure fire in October. Unfortunate circumstance, it was a total loss for the family,” said Candage.

But the family credits fire crews and their neighbors for helping them through their personal tragedy.

“Very necessary. Probably wouldn’t be here like this today if people weren’t so nice,” said Isles Blackington.

“It’s a very close knit community, and, you know, before the fire was even out, there was people getting stuff together, and doing what they can for the family. and it’s a unique circumstance and I’m very happy to live here. You know, people really do come together,” said Candage.

Coming together to keep island residents safe is a daily challenge, especially in the winter with the threat of severe storms.

“We set up an emergency operations center, where fire, and public works, and Fox Island Electric Co-op.  Fox Island Co-op that does the electrical, are very good. They keep it, they do a very good job at getting things back on quickly, and we work hand in hand with them,” said Candage.

It provides power for all 1,700 residents on North Haven and Vinalhaven.

“There’s a cable that comes from the mainland, a submarine cable that comes from the mainland, and goes to North Haven. There’s a cable that comes from North Haven to Vinalhaven and then everything else is pretty much in the air, and exposed to the elements.  In 2005, that cable was replaced, so that was a huge boost in the reliability,” said General Manager Chip Farrington.

Dealing with 70 to 80 mile an hour winds is typical out here.

“There are nights here, when the wind just blows extremely hard, and I’ll come in the next morning and there’ll be no outages, knock on wood.”

The island avoided a major disaster recently. They narrowly missed December’s ice storm that left many in Maine without power.

“We were lucky. It worked that the storm looped out around Vinalhaven, and North Haven, and it really nailed Islesboro. They had a lot of trouble with power off and trees down. But, we really didn’t get any icing,” said Eric Davis.

With an island that’s close to 170 square miles, Davis has quite a bit of ground to cover as road commissioner. He says the expense and accessibility of salt and sand is just one of their challenges every year. Davis says having a private contractor locally is a huge help.

“The fact is, they’ve got the expense of their own crusher, and everything else. I’m happy to have it, because without them, you know, we’d be out of luck this year. I believe we’ve overspent our budget on salt and sand this year,” said Davis.

Keeping the roads clear and safe in case of emergencies is on the top of his list.

“I plow the airstrip out, and at times, Penobscot Air will actually fly out in very, very rough, primitive conditions and fly people out to get them to the mainland,” said Davis.

Emergency crews that run the medical center say the service is one they typically use a few times a week. The reality is that there are times when weather prevents anyone, be it by water, or by air, from getting on or off.

“It’s amazing to watch it, it really is. I always use the analogy of when I was broke down on Route 1, and 300 cars went by me. Well out here, the first car that stops is gonna pick you up, give you a ride, help you change the tire, do whatever needs to be done. It’s a very special community. People come from the mainland and say this is a wonderful place, and they’re right. they really are,” said Candage.