As Captain Bruce loaded our few pieces of luggage onto the runabout at the Inn at Cuckolds Lighthouse in Maine, he commented on the darkening September skies.
“We actually had no guests able to access the island all last week and are watching the storms in the Atlantic closely.”
This is not something you hear when booking a room at the local Hyatt. However, a lighthouse located on a small rocky islet in the Atlantic creates its own issues.
The Inn at Cuckolds Lighthouse
What is it about the lure of a lighthouse? Lighthouses hold our imagination like few other structures. Their distinctive towers evoke visions of epic storms and daring rescues.
Their lights have warned countless sailors of unseen dangers and their fog horns have sounded the way for the blind.
They also conjure up dreams of leaving the hustle and bustle of modern life behind and escaping to quiet seclusion, living in austere accommodations and embracing Mother Nature.
What to Do in Maine: Lighthouses, Seafood and Sailing
There are more than 60 lighthouses along Maine’s 5,000 miles of coastline, inlets and islands. Sailing vacations in Maine are popular. Many island are accessible for tours, and a few offer overnight accommodations.
One, with an improbable name, is The Inn at Cuckolds Lighthouse. A fully operational lighthouse, it provides the romantic adventure of a night spent surrounded by an ocean, far from the din of civilization.
After signing waivers acknowledging potential risks of jagged rocks, temperamental docks and possible missed flights due to inclement weather, we arrived, as all guests do, by boat through a moderate sea. The lighthouse crowns an island a half-mile off of landfall and three miles outside Boothbay Harbor, Maine.
To call the rocky shoal that was to be our home for two nights an island is a bit of a stretch. The name Cuckolds is given to a pair of treacherous granite ledges rising approximately 10 yards above high tide that encompass less than 2 acres.
As the captain timed our approach to the rise and fall of the pier, what we saw was a quaint, red-roofed, all-white house with a picturesque, black-topped tower that encases the light. Framed by an overcast sky, it presented the very essence of the lone sentinel awaiting its next encounter.
Cuckolds Lighthouse Built in 1892
The original lighthouse and fog station were built in 1892. The attached quarters, now serving as the inn, were literally rebuilt from ground up in 2012.
My wife Kathy and I were greeted at the dock by Heather and Mark and their long-hair dapple dachshund Piper, the hosts for our two-night sojourn. Genial and enthusiastic, Heather and Mark are the entire staff, assuming the roles of concierge, housekeepers, chefs and wait staff throughout the season from May through mid-September.
Heather escorted us to our suite, one of two available to guests, on the second floor of the keeper’s house. Far from being the sparse lodgings one might expect of a century-old lighthouse, the rooms are the height of luxury.
The suite comprises a bedroom with king-size bed covered in plush linens and downy comforter, an over-sized sitting room and a bathroom with marble soaking tub and separate shower. All are stylishly presented in a subdued nautical décor.
The floors are equipped with radiant heating so your feet will stay toasty on those cool September Maine mornings. There is also Wi-Fi, Bluetooth radios and LED TVs for those who cannot completely detach from the world.
After settling in, we made our way downstairs to the drawing room and afternoon tea, with a selection of cheese, crackers, olives, fruits and nuts, as well as a decanter of port.
It quickly became obvious that our visit was to be nothing but comfort. The original lighthouse keepers would be envious of such grandeur.
Afterward, a brief exploration of our surroundings ensued, poking our heads into various nooks and crannies, strolling the grounds and visiting the lantern room itself, resulting in skin-pinching awareness that we were spending the night in a real lighthouse.
Meals were included with our stay. Menus are pre-arranged; a necessity when the nearest grocery is a boat-ride away.
Lobster Bake, a Perennial Maine Favorite
Our first night we gorged on a perennial Maine favorite – a lobster bake. Fresh steamed lobsters, corn on the cob and potatoes on a bed of harvested sea-grass were served at the communal dining table.
After providing a cursory lesson of how to dispense with the lobster shell to reach the delicacy hidden inside, Mark stood back to watch the fun. Eating whole lobster is rather sloppy business.
But the resulting rewards are of a delicate taste that is far sweeter and more tender than this Midwest resident has tasted before. It was well worth the flying debris.
After dinner Mark, an itinerant musician in Florida during the winter months, regaled us with an impromptu concert while we all sat in the equipment room of the lighthouse. The curved, white-washed brick walls with their 12-foot ceilings made for a wonderful acoustical stage. It capped a charming evening.
We retired to our chamber where the thick pillows, generous sea breezes and waves crashing on the rocks below our windows lulled us into a deep sleep.
In the morning the clouds enveloped the horizon as they tried to beat back the sunrise. The lonely voice of the channel marker’s bell bounced across the choppy waves as a single lobster boat chugged its way from bobbing lobster buoy to bobbing buoy plying its simple trade.
The fog horn sounded, and the sun broke through.
After feasting on waffles, frittata, bacon, potatoes, sausage, muffins, fruit salads and sweet breads, we sought out the tranquility of an island (nearly) all to ourselves.
Stunning View of the Atlantic
The island lends itself well to the business of relaxing. While Kathy was entertained by Piper, I climbed up into the beacon’s tower and out on the widow’s walk for a stunning view of the surrounding Atlantic.
The crescendo of surf breaking onto the shore was joined by the cry of assorted gulls that found the storm-racked timbers of a large wooden deck, once used as a Coast Guard helipad, a convenient roost.
Afterward, we explored the rocky shoals rife with various flotsam and jetsam and an occasional piece of sea glass. As the sun warmed the Atlantic breezes, I settled into an Adirondack chair to read about the history of some of the original lightkeepers and their life, both mundane and exciting, as they struggled to survive on the Cuckolds.
Nearby, one of several visiting harbor seals climbed upon the rocks and barked his presence.
On our final evening, a notification came across warning of potential gale-force winds arising the next afternoon. It required some deft changes in itinerary for the next-day’s guests, as arrangements were made to convey them to the island before the waves kicked up.
After dinner, Kathy and I strolled the pier out over the dark seas. Turning toward the lighthouse we watched as the lantern flashed its dot-dot-dash pattern.
In the pitch-black night, the beacon must have been a welcome navigational aid for wayward boaters. For us, it was a warm front porch light that beckoned us into its comfortable embrace.
The following morning broke with full sunshine and no indication of approaching weather. As the wallowing seas began to rise, we motored away from the dock, waving goodbye to Mark, Heather and Piper as they scanned the skies for signs of the predicted winds.
It was perhaps our loveliest view yet of The Cuckolds – the bright sunlight basking the small island and its ever watchful sentry in a radiant glow.
If You Go:
The Inn at Cuckolds Lighthouse is approximately a 1 ½ hour drive from the Portland International Jetport and a 15-minute boat ride from Cape Newagen, Boothbay Harbor, at the tip of Southport, Maine.
Author Bio: Frank Hosek is a sometime traveler who embraces the journey and the written word.