ELLSWORTH, Maine — While Hurricane Earl regained Category 4 status late Wednesday after having weakened earlier in the day, the kind of punch it will pack for Maine late Friday or early Saturday depends on when the storm turns toward the northeast.
On Wednesday, the National Weather Service was projecting the center of the storm to track east of Maine on Friday night and Saturday morning.
Mark Bloomer, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Caribou, said Wednesday that if Earl stays on its projected bearing, coastal Washington County and perhaps even Hancock County could experience tropical-storm-force winds of 39-73 miles per hour. Just offshore, he said, wind speeds could come close to hurri-cane force speeds of 74 mph or more.
“It will get more dangerous as you get out on the water,” Bloomer said.
In a prepared statement released Wednesday by the Maine Emergency Management Agency, Gov. John Baldacci said that a team from the Federal Emergency Management Agency already has arrived in Maine. He said he has spoken with federal officials, weather forecasters, MEMA representatives and county and local emer-gency response managers to help coordinate resources and information.
In the statement, Baldacci and MEMA officials urged Maine residents to monitor weather reports, exercise caution and heed warnings through Saturday.
“Many Mainers and visitors will flock to our beaches and rocky coastal areas to experience the high surf,” Baldacci said in the statement. “We’ll continue to work with the [National] Weather Service, Acadia National Park and all coastal areas to ensure that all steps are taken to protect public safety.”
As of late Wednesday afternoon, Earl was centered more than 680 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, N.C., with winds of 135 mph.
Hurricane warnings were posted for most of the North Carolina coast, with a hurricane watch extending to Delaware and part of Massachusetts.
The governors of North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland declared a state of emergency, but the only evacuations ordered were on Hatteras and Ocracoke islands, part of the Outer Banks.
In Maine, lobstermen, boat owners and service yards were taking precautionary steps Wednesday.
At Hinckley Yachts in Southwest Harbor, employees hauled 25 boats out of the water over the past few days and expected to haul out that many more by late Friday, according to Service Manager Paul Frederick. He said Hinckley often hauls boats out of the water for winter storage at this time of year, but that the work usually is more spread out over the fall months.
“The majority [of removal requests] have been because some people have concerns about the storm,” he said. “People already are feeling like they got enough boating in [this summer].”
In harbors such as Cutler, Jonesport-Beals, and the village of Corea in Gouldsboro, fishermen have been moving lobster traps to deeper or more sheltered areas to help protect their gear from the storm.
In Corea, some have been taking traps out of the water altogether, according to Corea Lobster Co-op Manager Dwight Rodgers. He said he expects fishermen to continue moving or hauling out traps through today.
Corea has a well-protected harbor, Rodgers said, and the advance notice of Earl has given fishermen ample time to move their gear. He said he’s concerned the current heat wave along the East Coast may have boosted coastal water temperatures, which in turn could help Earl retain its power as it moves toward Maine.
Some fishermen have been replacing chains on their moorings, which they usually do every three years, to make sure their boats don’t drift ashore during the storm, according to Rodgers.
“It’s very cheap insurance,” he said.
Organizers of the Camden Windjammer Festival decided late Wednesday afternoon to delay the popular event by 28 hours for safety’s sake, starting at 4 p.m. Saturday instead of noon Friday.
“We’re not doing anything Friday, because the forecast is just too dicey,” said Dan Bookham, executive director of the Camden-Rockport-Lincolnville Chamber of Commerce.
Schedule changes include having the fireworks display at 9 p.m. Sunday, at the end of the Gordon Bok concert.
For more information and an updated event schedule, keep checking the website at: www.camdenwindjammerfestival.com.
In Blue Hill, fishermen are taking some precautions, according to harbor master Dennis Robertson.
“A lot of the fishermen are bringing their dinghies in, but they’re leaving their boats out on the moorings,” Robertson said. “They’re waiting till Thursday until they get a better idea of which way this doggone thing is headed.”
Stonington harbor master Steve Johnson said he’s advising fishermen to leave their vessels on their moorings where there will be less chance of damage from the high seas that are predicted. The latest forecast, he said, was calling for 8- to 14-foot seas.
“That’s enough to cause problems,” he said, “but if you’re mooring’s been inspected and you’ve kept up on things, you should be OK.”
At Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, Marine Operations Manager Tim Leach said Wednesday that school officials would wait for the 36-hour forecast today before deciding whether to begin pulling some of the school’s smaller boats out of the water.
“That’ll give us a better feel for the wind directions and velocities,” Leach said.
The State of Maine training vessel is tied up to the main MMA pier, which according to Leach is designed to withstand hurricane-force winds. Crews likely will drop the bow anchor on the training vessel and add more shore lines in preparation for the storm.
Some of the college’s other vessels, such as the tug Pentagoet and the historic wooden schooner Bowdoin, are tied up behind that main pier and should be well-protected, he said.
Not since Hurricane Bob in 1991 has such a powerful storm had such a large swath of the East Coast in its sights, said Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the National Hurricane Center. When Bob swept through Maine on Aug. 19 of that year, the storm killed three people and caused at least $2 million damage in Cumberland and York counties, the most hurricane damage occurred.
Last year, Hurricane Bill had been reduced to a Category 1 storm when it passed east of the Gulf of Maine and Nova Scotia. Bill’s storm surge, combined with an unusually high tide, swept several sightseers from the shore into the water near Thunder Hole in Acadia National Park, killing a 7-year-old girl.
Bangor Daily News writers Rich Hewitt and Abigail Curtis, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.