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Casco Bay is an inlet of the Gulf of Maine on the southern coast of Maine, New England, United States. Its easternmost approach is Cape Small and its westernmost approach is Two Lights in Cape Elizabeth. The city of Portland sits along its southern edge and the Port of Portland lies within.
There are two theories on the origin of the name "Casco Bay". Aucocisco is the Abenaki name for the bay, which means 'place of herons' (sometimes translated as 'muddy'). The Portuguese explorer Estêvão Gomes, mapped the Maine coast in 1525 and named the bay "Bahía de Cascos" (Bay of Helmets, based on the shape of the bay).
The first settlement in Casco Bay was that of Capt. Christopher Levett, an English explorer, who built a house on House Island in 1623-24. The settlement failed. The first permanent settlement of the bay was named Casco; despite changing names throughout history, that settlement remains the largest city in the Casco Bay region, now called the city of Portland, Maine
It was first reported in 1700 by Colonel Wolfgang William Römer, an English military engineer, that there were "as many islands as there are days in the year". The United States Coastal Pilot lists 136 islands, leading to the bay's islands being called the Calendar Islands based on the popular myth there are 365 of them. Later, Robert M. York, the former Maine state historian said there are "little more than two hundred islands".
See Forts of Casco Bay below.
Since Casco Bay was the nearest American anchorage to the Atlantic Lend-Lease convoy routes to Britain prior to US entry into World War II, Admiral King ordered a large pool of destroyers to be stationed there for convoy escort duty in August 1941.
In 2008, up-and-coming composers Peter J. McLaughlin and Akiva G. Zamcheck wrote a piece in four movements paying homage to the wreck of the Don in Casco Bay in 1941. The piece received critical acclaim from the Portland Press Herald and from fellow Maine composers.
Portland has a substantial fleet of deep-sea fishing vessels which offload their catch primarily at the Portland Fish Exchange. Numerous towns and islands serve as ports for lobster boats. Recreational fishing boats can also be chartered.
Predominant fish in the bay include mackerel, striped bass, and bluefish. Shellfish include lobsters, crabs, mussels, clams and snails. Harbor seals congregate on certain exposed ledges, and whales on occasion swim into the bay, and in a few instances into Portland Harbor. Seagulls, cormorants and varying species of ducks are the most common birds; more rarely osprey, eagles and herons have been sighted. Casco Bay contains bay mud bottoms and banks in some locations, providing important substrates for biota.
The major islands in the bay are served by the Casco Bay Lines ferry service at the Maine State Pier in Portland. Peaks Island is served by a car ferry and, during the summer, sees 16 ferries a day. The other islands see fewer ferries and no car transport. Great and Little Diamond islands and Long Island are served primarily by the Diamond Pass run, which is popular with tourists in the summer months. Other services offered by Casco Bay Lines include a daily mailboat run, a cruise to Bailey Island, and a sunset run.
Other services such as water taxis are also popular alternatives to the ferry, but are limited to six passengers per boat.
From south to north:
Casco Bay is home to 7 lighthouses:
Forts in Casco Bay:
|Fort Gorges||1865||Hog Island Ledge, Portland, ME|
|Fort Levett||1898||Cushing Island, Portland, ME|
|Fort Lyon||1909||Cow Island, Portland, ME|
|Fort McKinley||1907||Great Diamond Island, Portland, ME|
|Fort Preble||1808||Southern Maine Community College/Spring Point Ledge Light, South Portland, ME|
|Fort Scammel||1808||House Island, Portland, ME|
|Fort Williams||1872||Fort Williams Park, Cape Elizabeth, ME|
|Battery Steele||1942||Peaks Island, Portland, ME|
The newspaper for Portland, the largest city in Casco Bay, is the Portland Press Herald (Maine Sunday Telegram on Sundays). The Island Institute publishes The Working Waterfront, a free monthly newspaper reporting "the news of Maine's coast and islands." For Southern Maine news, obituaries and sports, The Forecaster is published weekly.
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