Life after Labor Day; it’s the best sailing time in New England. Harbors are emptying, waters are reasonably warm and light northerly winds give us crisp, clear horizons. There is of course the possibility of hurricanes, but more on that later.

Up and down the New England coast, it’s the same story. It’s a great time to be on the water.

One of the lovely aspects of coastal cruising in the fall is finding towns that still have a commercial district on the harbor. A sailor putting in for a night or two has the luxury of rowing his dinghy ashore and walking through the town, buying supplies, learning local lore, chatting with people and even getting a seat at a waterfront restaurant without a reservation. All the New England coastal communities were once tied to the sea for survival; the ones that have resisted the suburban shopping mall and the pull toward the interstate highway have kept their waterfront village centers attractive and engaging.

We are lucky to have several such communities on Martha’s Vineyard. But there are many others both up and down wind. On the north shore of Long Island, the town of Northport is a great place to go in the fall for food, marine supplies and small town ambiance. A short sail west takes you to Oyster Bay, where an oyster festival every October is well worth the dinghy trip into town. Jamestown, R.I., is another lovely autumn spot, far removed from the high-end traffic of Newport. Stonington, Ct., is a great working village, if a bit of a rolling anchorage.

But really autumn sailing should take you to mid-coast Maine.

The Penobscot Bay area is littered with wonderful islands, all with nautical heritage and facilities of some sort for the boater. There is less fog to contend with in autumn and the breeze is more consistent. A lack of recreational boating makes moorings available, people more relaxed and maneuvering through the lobster buoys somewhat less of a chore. That said, the lobster buoys of Maine are always an issue.

The buoys and toggle floats of Maine lobster traps fill the waterways, especially navigational channels. My nephew, a lobsterman from Friendship, Me., says the currents and dropoffs in the channels make those locations attractive to the lobsters during the warmer months. A boater must pilot his boat carefully as the polypropylene line of a trap is a horrible thing when wrapped around a propeller shaft or jammed on a rudder’s upper edge.

I know. One fall evening, we slowly and carefully motored into Burnt Cove on Deer Island. I dropped the hook and Joan started to back down to set the anchor. The boat wouldn’t reverse. Odd. Everything in the engine room and drive train seemed fine.

As the anchor was set enough for a couple of minutes of work in a calm harbor, I put on a mask, snorkel and flippers and jumped in to look at the propeller. Did anyone ever tell you about the water temperature in Maine? Even after a hot summer in early fall?

When I was able to breathe again after my splash entry, I looked at the prop. The culprit was of course the line of a lobster trap wrapped around the propeller shaft. Add to that the fact that plastic line, when heated by the abrasion around a spinning shaft, melts into a mess of plastic goo. I keep a seriously serrated and very sharp knife on board for just such an occasion, so under the boat with the knife I went. After about half an hour of playing Lloyd Bridges in Sea Hunt and bobbing up and down for air every couple of minutes, I cleared the line. Pulling myself up the boarding ladder, I told Joan “Well, it actually wasn’t that cold, I’m surprised at how warm it was.”

She gave me that I’ve-been-married-to-you-for-over-30-years-and-I-know-when-you’re-out-of-your-mind look, and ordered me into a hot shower. When I came out, I was shaking and chattering. She gave me hot tea, I put on all the layers of clothing I owned and lay outside in the weak sun with a blanket. I stopped shaking after an hour or two. Hypothermia is not a good thing. Even in the fall. Even in Maine.

Back to hurricanes. Not long ago mariners didn’t have computer models of hurricane tracks or 24/7 weather analysis. We just worried and took precautions. Even without weather gurus, New England sailors know that our southern-facing harbors are pretty exposed places when a hurricane moves northerly up the coast.

The coast of Maine, with its rivers and islands, is wide open to the south. If you are cruising wonderful Maine in autumn, listen to the WX channel. If a named storm is heading north from the Carolinas, get your boat to shelter.

Leaving Maine one autumn on a bright sunny day, I motor sailed on a direct course for the Cape Cod Canal. Joan, who hates the sound of engines, kept questioning the need for the motor. It was only some 20 hours later when we got to our mooring in Vineyard Haven that I told her we were trying to get home ahead of a threatened hurricane. I’m sure my stoic attitude saved her from worrying about meeting a hurricane in Cape Cod Bay. I know she still thinks I’m a jerk for not telling her. But we did beat the hurricane.

Sailing after Labor Day, you could also try Nantucket. It’s less crowded and you’re likely to secure a mooring or dock space in their charming little harborside village. If you fancy seersucker pants with whales on them, Murray’s Toggery Shop is walking distance from the harbor. But they may not have your size after the summer season.

Jim Malkin lives in Chilmark.