Are you ready for island life? You can win this Maine inn by writing an essay.

"The community is such an important part of living here, so we want to have a little more say over who gets it."

Swan's Island Harbor.
Swan's Island. –Harbor Watch Inn

Have you always wanted to be an innkeeper?

If you can put your dream on paper, you have a shot at owning the Harbor Watch Inn on Swan’s Island, located off the Maine coast near Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island.

Engaged couple Jennifer Helman, 48, and Dale Joyce, 59, owners of the inn, are holding an essay contest to determine the inn’s next owner. The entry fee is $99 and the prize includes the inn plus $25,000 for operating expenses.

The five-unit inn, which is listed on Airbnb, attracts visitors from across the U.S. and around the world, said Helman, who has hosted travelers from as far away as South Africa, England, and France. Access to the island is by ferry out of Bass Harbor.


Joyce’s family has a long history on the island, Helman said, and her fiancé fell in love with it after spending summers there with his grandparents. It didn’t take long for the Pennsylvania native to fall in love with it too, after Joyce took her there for the first time. Three years ago, they moved from North Carolina to Swan’s Island and bought the inn.

Helman said the close-knit island community has inspired them to search for the inn’s new owner in this manner.

“If we put it on the market, anybody could buy it,” Helman said. “The community is such an important part of living here, so we want to have a little more say over who gets it. We want to make sure they are going to continue to run it as an inn, that they’re going to be successful, that they’re going to fit into the community.”

Harbor Watch Inn on Swan’s Island in Maine. —The Harbor Watch Inn

The island of 350 residents does not have a movie theater or restaurant, said Helman, but hosts many community events throughout the year. Islanders look out for each other, she said, rallying around the ill and helping each other with, say, forgotten items after a ferry trip to the grocery store.


“It’s like one big family,” Helman said.

Guests on the island can explore the Burnt Coat Harbor Light, she said, and take advantage of the many hiking trails and beaches. They can also plan day trips to Acadia National Park.

“It’s just a really naturally beautiful spot,” she said.

Burnt Coat Harbor Light on Swan’s Island. —Harbor Watch Inn

What’s more, you couldn’t ask for a more idyllic setting for an inn, she said.

The inn has four units on the first floor and a one-bedroom apartment on the second floor. The first-floor units all have double beds and bathrooms and two have kitchens and private balconies overlooking the harbor. The couple has added mini refrigerators and microwaves to the other two units, Helman said. As for the upstairs apartment, there is a queen bed, kitchen, and a bathroom with a separate shower and garden tub, Helman said.

“It’s a beautiful apartment,” Helman said. “It could be used as a residence for the new owner if they needed it.”

A room at Harbor Watch Inn. —Harbor Watch Inn

Helman, a mother of three, was working in real estate in North Carolina when she met Joyce online in 2016. Joyce was working as a computer programmer, but had bought a house on Swan’s Island and planned to move there to pursue photography. As their relationship grew, he asked her to move to Maine with him.

“We bought the motel because I have a background in hospitality and it was mostly to help with income when we first started the photography businesses,” she said. “I’ve loved doing it.”


But now that their business, Harbor View Studio, is “taking off,” Helman said, they want to change gears, and she will head up sales and marketing for the business. They will continue to live and work on the island.

The one-bedroom apartment at Harbor Watch Hill. —Harbor Watch Hill

When applying, innkeeper hopefuls are asked to answer five multiple choice questions pertaining to their work experience and thoughts about island life (are they concerned about the island’s lack of restaurants? Dependence on the ferry? Maine’s coastal seasons?) and then write, in 350 words or less, why they want to own the inn. The entries will be judged by a panel of retired school teachers with deep ties to the island, Helman said. The contest deadline is March 31.

“We love the idea of giving this to somebody who has dreamed of doing this but hasn’t been able to pull it off yet,” Helman said.

Here’s the link to enter the contest.

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