Sometime during their fifties, men are often accused of going through what their wives and others call "mid-life crisis". Symptoms of this malaise are indicated by certain specific behavior patterns, such as the purchase of a Harley/Davidson Sportster, a Mercedes SL, or perhaps a BMW Z3 Roadster. In my case I bought a Yanmar.
In 1986 I asked Young Brothers in Corea, Maine to build the
boat of my dreams, and the result was MUSCOBE, a 33-foot Beal's
Island hull with accommodations for my entire family. With their
experience and my imagination, we worked together to fabricate
a boat as close to perfection in design, function, safety, and
performance as I could have conceived: comfortable accommodations,
traditional salty "lobster boat" lines, and the incredible
strength required to effortlessly take on the lumps of the Gulf
of Maine with economy and speed.
The proud Muscobe at rest.
275 horsepower Chrysler gasoline V8. For twelve years this engine performed flawlessly, driving MUSCOBE at a comfortable 12-knot cruise, with a top end of 19 knots.
But Young Brothers boats, in addition to being well built, are designed to go FAST (not that 19 knots isn't fast). And twelve knots simply was never really fast enough for me. A rational person understands that lobster boats typically cruise at twelve knots, and if you want to go faster you should buy a Sea Ray or a Bayliner. But their trophy-filled office was evidence of Young Brothers' many victories at the lobster boat races, and I knew I could have it all some day.
And so, at age 56, with two of my three children in college,
when it made absolutely no sense at all (do boats ever
make sense?) I began to give in to those symptoms. I started
by searching the internet, but not at www. BMW.com. I had heard
very good things about Yanmar, so I went to their site and found
they had just introduced a new 420 horsepower turbocharged diesel
that weighed only 1300 pounds. A few weeks of serious research,
including many conversations with the local fishermen, convinced
me that this was a solid, dependable power plant. So I took the
plunge and told the boat yard to go ahead and order the engine.
As the weather warmed, I began to make daily trips to the boat yard to check on MUSCOBE's development. At first progress seemed slow, and I would arrive time and again to find the engine still hanging by the come-along, supported from a beam strung between two stanchions. But upon more careful observation, I noticed that each day a new support had been fabricated, or the shock-absorbing motor mounts had been put in place, until finally one day my new engine stood by itself on its new mounts.
One day I found a new hole and through-hull fitting, and a
new strainer for the raw water system. Big new instrument clusters
appeared in the wheelhouse and on the bridge. Hydraulic hoses,
fittings, fuel lines and the plumbing for the cooling system
were put into place. The new exhaust system was installed. Return
lines were run to the fuel tanks, and the gasoline was siphoned
out of them. When I arrived one day to find two shiny new chrome
fuel-fill deck plates with "diesel" stenciled in them,
I knew we were really making progress.
The big day finally arrived. Al got here early, so we went out to breakfast at our favorite greasy spoon, the Driftwood, before setting out for the boat yard. I explained that there were a few "loose ends" to clear up, but assured him that we would see MUSCOBE in the water by late morning.
When we walked into the shed I admired MUSCOBE's freshly buffed green topsides, her new gold-leaf name and hail, and her gleaming white boot stripe, shiny bottom paint and beautiful freshly-finished teak trim. But, upon climbing the ladder into the cockpit, we were both dismayed at what we found: still hoses, hydraulic fittings, wires, tools, boxes, rags, wires and cables everywhere. Access panels and plates and the hatches were still open.
"I don't think MUSCOBE's going to see the water today," said Al. I assured him they would have everything together in time, but inside I had my doubts, especially when I was told they had the wrong hydraulic steering pump.
When the one we needed was found (in Gloucester), Al and I jumped in his car and drove up to pick it up. By the time we returned, things were beginning to come together. Finally, at about 2:30, MUSCOBE was moved to the water's edge and the slings slung underneath her as the final touches of bottom paint were applied where she had rested on her stands. "There's a little under five feet of water left, Joel," I was advised. (The boat draws 4-1/2 feet.) "What do you want to do?"
"Drop her in," I responded immediately. A few minutes
later her keel touched the water, and the 1999 season began.
We ran down to the float and grabbed her lines and, like the
Volga Boatmen, hauled her out of the mud as the mechanic cranked
the engine. Suddenly we heard the unmistakable deep-throated
growl of a diesel engine, and a minute later we were inching
our way out of the cove for MUSCOBE's new sea trials.
It took me two days and several scrubbings with Pamolive dish detergent to get the boat clean enough so that water wasn't beading up on the grease on the cockpit deck. Over the next few weeks I got a new wheel, and any of these kinks were ironed out.
As the summer progressed, I became more familiar with MUSCOBE's new handling characteristics including, of course, her speed. At eleven or twelve knots you could look down at the chart or turn to look at something out the window for a few seconds; but at nineteen you're covering too much ground each second, and you'd better be paying attention all the time. She answers her helm much more quickly too. And she must look pretty good from afar as well, because quite a few people have come up to me and said, "Wow! We saw you flying across the bay the other day, and that's definitely not the MUSCOBE we used to know!"
During this time Al and I conversed enthusiastically and often
about our upcoming cruise, planning and re-planning out destinations.
Our departure date was Sunday, July 25th, and I spent the day
before that provisioning MUSCOBE, loading on the dinghy, and
attending to all the little chores that precede an extended boat
trip. That night I was like a kid waiting for Santa, going to
bed early in order to make the morning come sooner, and then
not being able to sleep.
The Captain and Al in the wheelhouse.
reached Baker's Island Light we had a good half-mile of visibility and could increase our speed to MUSCOBE's new nineteen-knot cruise without worrying about other traffic. The Blynman Bridge in Gloucester kept us waiting for twenty minutes, but after that we were soon through the Annisquam and passing the bell at the north end of the canal, bound for Maine at last, over a smooth, gray, glossy sea.
The sun attempted valiantly to burn but never quite made it
and though it remained calm, a big ground swell from our starboard
quarter pushed us around all day. In the early afternoon Al went
below to make sandwiches, more to relieve the boredom than to
satisfy our hunger. We droned on, and our only interruption was
the brief sighting of a pair of white sided dolphins.
Eventually the sun gave up trying altogether, and as we approached
Cape Elizabeth we were completely shut in again. Our destination
was Great Diamond Island, and I had intended to reach it by going
inside so we could view the Portland waterfront. But now we had
only about fifty yards of visibility, so I took the more direct
outer route through Hussey Sound, feeling our way along until
we finally entered Diamond Cove. It had been a workout navigating
from mark to mark in these unfamiliar waters. But the GPS and
the radar made it a breeze compared to the old days, when we
used to have to drive around in circles to make waves so the
bells would ring and the groaners would groan. I was just reaching
for the microphone to call for our docking assignment, when I
saw two attendants motioning us into the slip next to the ferry
landing. At 3:15 we tied up and shut down. The new Yanmar had
shortened our former nine hour run by one-third, and we would
have made it even sooner had it not been for the fog and the
delay at the Annisquam.
The foggy shoreline.
deserted for many years. Recently it has been privately developed with condominiums and private homes. The red brick government buildings now house a restaurant, art gallery and the General Store, among other things, and the marina is serviced by a ferry from Portland several times a day.
After securing the boat, Al and I set out to investigate the
Diamond's Edge Restaurant and explore the vicinity. At the end
of the cove there is a peaceful fresh-water pond with lawn furniture
scattered around it, and further on is an outdoor bar and hamburger
concession. Al and I sat under some pine trees with a "corner",
enjoying the peace and serenity of the place. Little evidence
remains of the former gun emplacements and military presence
here now. The fog had thinned enough to see across to neighboring
Crow and Cow Islands, and just below us a little girl with rolled-up
jeans waded in the nearby shallows, busily looking for sea creatures
as little girls do. The view was as lovely as anywhere further
down east, and surrounded by the tranquillity and beauty of this
place it was hard to believe that the bustling city of Portland
lay just a couple of miles behind us.
Exhausted after our long run through the fog, we turned in very early. In my sleep I was subconsciously aware of some sort of disturbance every couple of hours. Later, we were awakened by a bunch of young people who were having a loud party on a boat nearby. Constantly running back and forth along the docks and up the gangway, yelling loudly, they kept us awake off and on, until after 1:30 AM.
During this time I became aware of the disturbance I'd sensed earlier: it was the pulsation of the ferry's propellers as she revved up in reverse pulling into the pier. Traveling underwater to our hull, we could both hear and feel the vibrations. Awaking at 6:00 the next morning I was very uneasy when I could actually watch the big steel ferry glide into the pier, her bow towering above MUSCOBE before it finally stopped just a few feet from where I had been sleeping. I shuddered as I envisioned a headline in the Portland Times: "VISITING YACHT CRUSHED IN DIAMOND COVE MARINA WHEN FERRY'S REVERSE GEAR FAILS. CAPTAIN DIES WHILE SLEEPING IN FO'C'S'LE."
Walking up to the heads behind the general store, we found very nice clean shower accommodations. Afterwards we had coffee and a leisurely breakfast in the store, served by a nice college student who we learned lived in Louisville, Kentucky. All in all, we found Diamond Cove an interesting and beautiful place, well worth the visit.
By 8:30 we were under way again through dense fog. Inching
along down Hussey Sound, we listened apprehensively to many "securite"
announcements on the VHF, as vessels of all kinds departed the
busy port of Portland. Once clear of Peak's Island we had to
split the can and the nun at Green Island Passage. From there
to Cape Small and Fuller Rock our only hazard, other than lobster
buoys and other traffic, was Halfway Rock, which showed up clearly
on the radar.
Nearing Seguin Island, we turned north and felt our way past Pond Island light into the mighty Kennebec. As we proceeded inland, the fog began to thin out enough for us to enjoy the scenery. Along the way we passed a large trawler out of Bath headed in the opposite direction, and soon we heard her give a "securite" announcement as she disappeared into the fog at the river's mouth.
By the time we reached Bath at 11:30 it was quite warm and
sunny. We motored slowly over to the river's western bank to
observe a large yacht tied at the Maine Maritime Museum, and
then along by the ships being worked on at the Bath Iron Works.
I say "worked on" lightly: we went by four different
ships, and though each had many workers in hard-hats aboard,
we failed to see a single man actually working. All were leaning
against the rail, sitting down, or engaged in idle conversation.
Stern to at Bath Town Landing.
in various places, and we watched as a tiny little tug named PUSHER scurried back and forth pushing things into place.
There was no room on the town landing, but as we approached I saw space on the back, so I maneuvered MUSCOBE around and slipped in. Fortunately there was hardly any current back there, as our stern was now facing upriver. In any event, the tide was still coming and it seemed to be a strong one, as the boats out on moorings were all facing bow downriver.
After a brief walk through the business district, we entered
The Kitchen for breakfast (lunch?). There, for the second year
in a row, I was told I couldn't have my biscuits and gravy (they
only serve it on Wednesdays.) So we turned "breakfast"
into "lunch" and I had a Reuben and Al a grilled chicken
sandwich. Afterwards we walked to two places in search of fuel.
The first sold only gasoline and had no place large enough for
MUSCOBE to land, and at the other we couldn't find an attendant.
So, just forty-five minutes after our arrival, we were again idling past PUSHER as she buzzed busily about like some nautical bee. Slipping beneath the bridge, we turned east into the beautiful Sasanoa River. For the first time on our trip I expressed a little concern about not having a depthfinder. For some strange reason, my trusty flasher-type fathometer has refused to work since the installation of the new engine. It works fine while in neutral, but when I put the boat in gear it goes haywire. The problem is made worse, mysteriously, when I turn the wheel, which actuates the hydraulic steering pump. And to completely confuse and mystify, turning the GPS on further accentuates the problem.
It was just about flood tide as we passed easily through upper Hell's Gate. Because of this I went straight between the spindle and the island below the Gate, rather than go around. A little further down we saw that the osprey's nest was still in green daymark #21, but it seemed deserted.
Crossing Hockomock Bay we left the Sasanoa and turned north into the Back River. The last time through here the greenhead flies had eaten me alive and nearly caused me to run aground in the unmarked channel, as I wildly swatted at them while navigating up on an ebbing tide. Today, however, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my new Northstar 951 GPS, when zoomed in, clearly showed the depth contours on the screen. All I had to do was to keep the little boat between the lines. This resulted in an easy, stress-free passage along this beautiful and little-traveled stretch of paradise.
At 2:15 we emerged into the confluence at Wiscasset, where the Back and Sheepscot Rivers join. We slipped over to the Eddy Marina on the opposite side, to obtain some much-needed fuel. I had still to learn what my new engine burns at various speeds, and wanted very much to have this information. If I ran a tank dry with the Chrysler, it was just a matter of switching tanks and cranking the engine until the fuel pump got gas to the carburetor. But when you run a diesel dry it's an entirely different matter: you have to loosen a nut on the Racor filter and pump until fuel flows out; then do the same on the engine fuel filter; and finally repeat the process with the nut on the fuel high pressure pipe on the engine. If this doesn't work, you have to loosen the injectors. All of this can be a nightmare to do, as you drift slowly toward the mud bank, or roll around in the waves offshore.
On our first day I had switched tanks after six hours of running.
That tank now took 51.4 gallons, which averaged 8.5 gallons per
hour. However, some of this was going slow in fog looking for
marks or traffic, so it still wasn't an accurate reading of my
burn at cruise. I "guestimated" about ten gph at our
19-knot cruise, but time would tell. All in all we took seventy
gallons and averaged 6.5 gph since leaving Marblehead.
After a few drops from the edge of a passing thunderstorm, we idled across to the Wiscasset Yacht Club. By the time we got there the sun was out and it was quite warm. Some kids in a sailing class were being taught how to right a sail boat after capsizing, as we secured MUSCOBE to the far end of the dock. I completed my entries in the log; we readied the boat for the evening, and then Al and I headed out in different directions for a walk.
I chose to meander down the tracks that run behind the yacht club; Al headed up into town. I hadn't gone far when I heard the whistle of an approaching train, so I sat down to watch. Soon an engine pulling several cars filled with passengers rolled slowly past, horn blowing and bell clanging, as it pulled into the Wiscasset Station. They say there's a certain romance that's associated with trains, even these big diesels, and I felt a bit of it myself as I watched it pass by.
These tracks lay across a stone and earthen dike that was built to support them, with a wooden trestle in the middle, which allows the tide to run in and out of the estuary behind it. Walking out to the trestle, I spent a few minutes gazing down at the rush of water flowing out with the tide. The ebb creates a large, shallow pool inside the railroad tracks which traps many small fish. For some time I stood watching a little blue heron stalking his dinner. Standing quite still, he'd wait patiently until, by a movement of his head, I could tell he'd spotted a victim. Taking one or two slow, cautious steps he'd advance, pausing first on one foot and then the other, until striking with lightning speed. He never missed, and I watched him catch more fish than it seemed his belly could possibly hold.
Beyond the trestle a wooden walkway goes out to a tiny, tree-covered island surrounded by mud flats. There are many ancient pilings sticking up out of the mud on the eastern side. At the shore from where they extended were the remains of several foundations constructed of lichen-covered granite blocks, and surrounded by lilacs and a couple of crabapple trees. What had once gone on here? Shipbuilding? Sailmaking? Cordage? Surely something so near the water had to do with Wiscasset's great shipping and trading heritage. But why would someone plant lilacs and crabapples there?
As I stood there solemnly pondering these questions, I was jolted back to reality when I flushed a pair of mourning doves, who flapped up noisily just in front of me, then sailed off on whistling wings. Walking further on, I came out of the trees at the end of the island into a grassy area where I had to step over many beautiful, bleached pieces of driftwood. Far across the flats I could see a few people bent over raking for clams. Adding to these sights and sounds was the pungent aroma of low tide. A few steps further on, a killdeer rose and circled, crying out its name to me repeatedly. I stood motionless for several minutes, reflecting upon how fortunate I was to have this opportunity to add yet another "Maine Moment" to my collection.
Then, turning back toward the trees I saw Al coming my way. After returning briefly to MUSCOBE, we walked up to Le Garage for dinner. Sitting on the enclosed lower deck, we missed looking out on the wrecks of HESPER and LUTHER LITTLE, which had been broken up and removed after the town declared them a hazard. Wiscasset just isn't the same place without them, though in our opinion it is still one of the most picturesque little towns in Maine.
Next morning, Tuesday, we awoke to MORE FOG. Wandering up into town for breakfast, we couldn't find anything open, so we settled for coffee in the Wiscasset Hardware & General Store. Dave Stetson, who had recently purchased the business from his father, was just opening up. This certainly was a general store: It held everything from models of lobster boats (equipped with wire lobster traps now instead of wood), hardware, plumbing and electrical supplies, dishes, and just about everything in between. It's located just off the main street (Route 1), next to Red's, a takeout with a reputation for some of the best lobster rolls in Maine.
After coffee we returned to the boat to find the visibility much improved. Buttoning the boat down (which now includes closing the galley's through-hull fitting to prevent water geysering up out of the sink at MUSCOBE's new cruising speed), we idled across the eddy into the Sheepscot. The outer edges of the eddy were clearly defined by a ring of flotsam and jetsam which the current had spun out and left there. Most of the lobster buoys were entangled with large masses of seaweed and sea grass, and many were dragged just below the surface so that we had to watch our step.
Rounding the bend and turning south toward the sea we again encountered thick fog. Interestingly, however, it rose from the river only to a height of four or five feet, so we could see the trees along the shore more easily than the water (and pots) ahead of us. At times we entered higher banks of fog, where everything suddenly disappeared from view. Other times we could look off at great, long, distinctly shaped patches of mist which gave the river an eerie, haunting aspect.
There was no wind whatsoever and the river was calm, so except where the fog prevented it, we were able to proceed at normal cruising speed. We soon reached the southern tip of Barter's Island, where we would turn in and down inside the Isle of Springs (what a beautiful name!), and then into Townsend Gut. The radar clearly showed the nun and can between which we had to pass, but it wasn't until we were almost upon them that they loomed out of the mist.
Once away from the river the fog seemed to disappear, though the water surface remained mirror-smooth. We climbed up onto the bridge to better enjoy the sun and the view. As we passed the beacon on Cameron Point and entered Townsend Gut, we waved down to a young boy pulling his lobster traps in a small skiff. Al commented, "That's you, Joel, forty years ago." A bit further in we passed a small tug headed out toward the Sheepscot.
As we neared the Southport swing bridge, we tried to gauge
whether or not we would have to ask them to open it. As it is
supposedly the most-often-opened bridge on the east coast, we
make every effort to avoid disturbing them, though the operators
are always cheerful and friendly. Lowering our VHF and GPS antennas
we slowed and cautiously approached the bridge it was going
to be very close Coasting in neutral, ready to shift into reverse,
we slipped closer; then, lowering our heads we glided under with
barely six inches between the compass and the big green girder.
I shifted back into gear for better steerage, and was suddenly
horrified at the thought that the other side might be lower.
The author on the flying bridge.
for an omelet. By 11:00 we were on our way again, and encountered more fog outside the harbor. The visibility was good enough to make the going fairly easy, however, and the sun was beginning to show itself overhead and brightened things up.
We could just make out the surf crashing on Pemaquid Point as we passed south of it and entered Muscongus Bay. Gray, gray, gray. More gray. Navigating in the fog is an expected part of any cruise to Maine, and the extra challenges it brings make it even enjoyable up to a point. But we were well into our third day of it now, and it was becoming a bit tiring. I wanted to see the glittering diamonds sparkling on the brilliantly-blue sea, green-black spruces above the granite ledges of distant islands. I wanted to catch the occasional flash of a lobsterman's windshield on the distant horizon as he turned to haul a trap. And I wanted to pass through those vast fields of iridescent colored lobster buoys bobbing gaily in the sunlight. I had waited twelve months for these rewards, and I was beginning to feel cheated.
Soon the fog began to increase in density, but the GPS confirmed our ded-reckoning and directed us toward Eastern Egg Rock. The radar showed us where it lay, and the two machines guided us easily between the daymark on the rock and the nun marking the ledge to the north, which we barely made out as we passed unceremoniously between them. A bit farther on we slipped through the Davis Straights into the mass of ledges and reefs surrounding Port Clyde. Once intimidating, these were now like old friends, and MUSCOBE was soon clear of Mosquito Island, turning northeast toward the Muscle Ridge Channel.
Here we encountered dense fog again. Reducing speed, we felt our way along carefully monitoring the instruments and the chart, while keeping a sharp eye out the window. Here we found a nun just where it should be. There we encountered a sailboat, feeling its own way along, where we expected to find a green daymark. Always a busy place, Muscle Ridge was no exception today as we worked out way up through the array of little islands, rocks and shoals, and the host of lobster-fishing and cruising boats, almost none of which we had the privilege of actually viewing.
Nor did we get a glimpse of little Marblehead Island as we left Muscle Ridge, rounding Ash Island toward Owl's Head. But the visibility did begin to improve here, and by the time we reached Owl's Head light we could look over toward Vinalhaven and catch a hint of the magnificent views that make West Penobscot Bay so famous. The fog horn on Owl's Head droned out its long, mournful bawl as we left it behind. Entering West Penobscot Bay, we turned towards Camden and the visibility began rapidly to increase, suddenly allowing us to enjoy the majestic views of this most spectacular part of Maine.
Camden, as usual, was like a busy beehive. It seemed every mooring and float were taken with boats which hailed from ports stretching from the Maritimes to the Caribbean. Boats were rafted three abreast along the Wayfarer Marine floats, and the docks and landings along the town side of the harbor were jammed. Launches and dinghies scuttled back and forth in all directions. And it was HOT!
Our request for a mooring at the yacht club was politely denied, as all were either occupied or reserved and float space was at a premium. A call to the Harbormaster, however, got us some float space at the town dock for "an hour or two," which was all we wanted. I needed to get over to Wayfarer to see if I could retrieve the manual to my VHF, which I had left there several years earlier when I had gone there and spent sixty dollars to learn that my microphone couldn't be fixed.
Al had visited Camden before but only walked the crowded streets where the shops and restaurants are. Hiking around the harbor to the marina (boy, was it hot!), we left the crowds behind and came upon secluded streets with some of the magnificent homes for which the town is noted, and he got a whole new perspective of this beautiful place. As we walked through the bustling activity of the boat yard, we couldn't help but be impressed by the work they were doing. These were BIG, impressive yachts both power and sail. Teak decks, construction and brightwork everywhere was being worked on. Men were being hauled aloft in bosun's chairs to the tops of HUGE masts. This is one of the few places on the east coast that can handle the really big boats, and some of the restorations and refits they do cost over a million dollars.
The electronics shop was deserted, and Chet, the manager, was up a mast somewhere so we left him a note asking him to mail my manual to me. By now I was so hot and tired I was dreading the long walk back. I was looking at MUSCOBE, tied just a couple hundred feet across the water from us, when one of Wayfarer's launch drivers walked past. "Could you please take us over to that green boat?" I asked him. (We were customers of sorts, after all.) When he very politely agreed, we were happy to show him our appreciation with some stuff that folded.
Back at the boat, we walked up to the Harbormaster's office, and I told him we'd-like-to-go-up-into-town-and-spend-some-money-so-could-we-leave-the-boat-at-the-float-a-little-while-longer? "No problem," he said. We were beginning to like the people of Camden more than ever. Tourism is Maine's number one industry now (not lobstering, lumber, or potatoes or blueberries), and these people know which side their bread is buttered on. And Maine's winters are very long. You'll never see bumper stickers here like the one I once saw in New Hampshire ("Summer People Some Are Not), and the only person I've ever encountered in Maine with an attitude was somebody who had moved here recently from Massachusetts!
We were looking for a couple of nice, cold Coronas, and I
knew just the place, so we started up the hill to a little sports
bar nearby. When Al saw they had several pool tables he got all
excited. (He is the product of a mis-spent youth.) We got our
beers and started playing eight-ball. I actually won the first
game when Al "accidentally" scratched the eight. He
toyed with me for a couple more games then, commenting something
to the effect that he'd been nice enough to me, proceeded to
run the table. Now when I think of pool players, I think of Jackie
Gleason, Paul Newman, and Al Cristofori.
The two voyagers clowning around on the bridge.s
boats here, but as Rockport Marine is one of the premier wooden boat shops in the entire country, the harbor has many Concordias and other wonderful wooden pleasure boats, all of which are beautifully-maintained. We found a lovely little restored mahogany Chris/Craft lake boat tied in a slip there, and inside the shed they were just finishing a gorgeous 36-foot cold-molded wood down-east cruising boat. Glass over wood on the outside, she had been finished in deep blue Emeron and gleamed like stained glass. A 24 by 28" four-bladed propeller hung at the end of her keel. (That's right: she pushes 28 inches of water by on every revolution. If my calculations are correct and I remember the gear ratio, at 2500 rpm she could do as much as 37 miles per hour, or about 32 knots.) Inside we could see the wooden construction, most of which was painted white, with the wheelhouse carlins and other trim stained and varnished brightwork. A big, gleaming white 600 horsepower Caterpillar turbocharged diesel engine sat amidships. "How fast will she go?" I asked. "We won't know until she goes in the water this Saturday," was the answer. The price? "Around four-fifty." Oh, well, as the saying goes, "If you have to ask"
We had arrived just at closing time, but the owner very nicely turned on the pumps so we could fill up. Because of our slower speeds through the rivers, I was still unable to calculate an accurate rate of fuel consumption. We got some ice, washed down, and secured the boat in our slip. To keep the stern away from the float, I ran an extra line from the port side as well.
Now we could relax with a "corner" before our dinner reservation at the Sail Loft Restaurant, located adjacent to the marina. I called home to check in (nobody there), before we both sat down to a big plate of steamers followed by a "lobsterman's platter," basically a fisherman's platter with half a steamed lobster. After dinner we chatted with a nice retired couple in a Grand Banks adjacent to us before turning in. It seems no matter how much you think you are used to it, running in the fog is extremely tiring. There is all the extra mental exercise involved in constantly checking your position on the chart against the instruments, plus the continuous peering out into the gloom where you keep imagining you see something that's really not there. It must tire the brain out, as I was exhausted again. The last thing I remember was looking out the porthole at a beautiful full moon. Could this mean no fog tomorrow?
Wednesday morning, July 28th: YES! AT LAST! An absolutely perfect day! Cloudless blue sky; warm sun; no wind; calm, friendly seas. After showering we walked up that agonizingly steep, knee-punishing hill to the Corner Restaurant for sausage and eggs. Under new ownership since our last visit, it still offers the cheerful, friendly atmosphere and good food we remembered. You'll find a mix of visiting yachtsmen and local people here, and everybody including the employees seem to enjoy themselves.
After breakfast I climbed up onto the bridge and removed the cover in order to take advantage of this beautiful weather and the wonderful scenery we would be encountering in the Penobscot Bays and the Fox and Deer Island Thorofares today. Al dutifully undid the lines, removed the fenders, and held the boat away from the float as I put her in gear.
When you do something stupid and embarrassing, it's always nice to have nobody around to see it when it happens. In this case, I had neglected to tell Al about the extra line I'd run from the port cleat aft, and I myself forgot about it. So a moment after I put the boat in gear and that big, powerful Yanmar started pushing MUSCOBE out of the slip, we came to a sudden, screeching, grinding halt when the line paid out! By now it was 8:00, so of course everybody was there on the dock to watch us make a spectacle of ourselves.
The Sampson Braid docking line had been snapped so tight around the cleat on the float that it took us several minutes, using a screw driver as a marlin spike, to free it. To make matters worse, I had nearly pulled MUSCOBE's cleat out of her deck; but that could be made right again with some bigger washers for the nuts underneath. Al apologized profusely, but I explained that such things are ultimately the responsibility of the captain, and besides, I'd never even told him I had put on that line. And so, with our tails between our legs, feeling like a couple of yokels who have no idea of proper boat handling, we slipped out between the moored boats of Rockport Harbor.
Perhaps it was the embarrassment, or maybe I simply didn't feel like talking, but I spent the next twenty minutes or so in silence. Al, on the other hand, was a real chatterbox and didn't even seem to notice that I wasn't answering. "Boy, it's really a beautiful day today!" (Silence) "Yes, Al, it certainly is," he would answer himself. And so it went, as we left a long, blue wake across West Penobscot Bay on our way to the thorofare.
About half-way across we came upon a black Coast Guard buoy tender; she was not under way, nor was she working on a buoy. She just sat there as we passed, and we never did figure out what they were doing. With the water so smooth we saw several dolphins and a few seals. A sailboat motoring across from North Haven toward Camden left a long "V" behind her in the light blue mirror across which we traveled.
The Fox Islands Thorofare was as beautiful as we'd ever seen it as we passed through in the soft morning sunlight. Before we knew it we were leaving Goose Rocks Light behind us and making a course for Western Mark Island on the Deer Island Thorofare. When the visibility is good, this is an easy, well-marked run of just a few miles, and with her new power plant MUSCOBE was across in a matter of fifteen minutes. We slowed to reduce our wake as we approached Billings Marine and the town of Stonington, as a courtesy to the traffic already in the thorofare. There are few things more annoying than to be sipping your morning coffee in the cockpit of your sailboat, when a rude power boat blows by you with a big wake.
We looked for seals on the many ledges through here but saw none. Perhaps the sun was not high enough for them to enjoy it yet, or else they were still fishing for breakfast. Just east of the town we passed little Grog Island with its magnificent modern, glass-faced home. I remarked for the umteenth time that this is one of my two very favorite islands. Whoever owns it seems to have done everything right: The house sits on the granite ledges facing east, so they can enjoy the sunrise; they have a sturdy little dock out front, and a couple of moorings nearby. Behind the house is a nice wooded area, and the middle of the little island seems to have a clearing or meadow surrounded by the trees. What a wonderful place to be able to spend your summers!
Leaving the Deer Island Thorofare at Eastern Mark Island, we entered Jericho Bay and made a course for the nun that marks the entrance to the Casco Passage. This passage, and the York Narrows just south of it, allow transit between Jericho and Blue Hill Bays just north of Swan's Island. At high tide it looks like a broad expanse of open water, but low water reveals numerous nasty rocks and ledges between the two passages. It can get rather interesting trying to navigate through here in heavy fog, because the radar doesn't distinguish between the many navigation buoys, the rocks, and other traffic, including the lobstermen, who scurry around seemingly oblivious to the fog.
I say lobster men here, but it seems I'm going to have to change my terminology. We discovered two women driving lobster boats on this cruise. I say, "Why not? And good for you." But what do we call you? Lobsterpersons? Lobsterwomen? Lobsterettes? (Oops! Sorry, it's my chauvinistic side coming through. This is going to take some getting used to.)
Here too, you'll find wonderful Buckle Island just adjacent to Swan's. This wonderful little place is very much worth the effort to stop and anchor for a while in Buckle Cove. Take your dinghy ashore. The fragrance of the conifers is like a tonic, and the paths around the island will surprise you with scenic vistas as good as any you can find on the entire coast. One minute you'll be walking through a silent spruce cathedral Then suddenly you'll amble out onto a deserted beach, with the clang of a distant bell buoy somewhere, and muttering of a lobster boat working in the distance.
Unfortunately, we didn't have time to stop on this particular morning, which brings me to a point I'd like to make about cruising: I tend to be a rather analytical person. I plan our cruises meticulously all winter, arranging each stop at an appropriate distance, based upon MUSCOBE's range and speed, to allow a pleasant interval of steaming but also allowing time to explore and enjoy our destination. This year, however, because I wasn't certain how much we'd take advantage of our new speed capability, I was much more flexible in our itinerary. In addition, Al had chastised me for being too rigid in our plans: "Joel, you're in so much of a hurry to get to Cockleberry Cove by 3 PM that you miss half the stuff along the way. Take some time to enjoy the trip, and stop to smell the roses. Smell Maine, Joel!"
I say this now, because I failed to take his very good advice this particular morning. I was in a hurry to get to Corea, so the people at Young Brothers could see MUSCOBE's new power plant. We could stop at Buckle Cove on the way back. What happened, however, is that we never got to see Buckle Cove, because the weather changed our plans for the return trip. So, while we did play it sort of loose for most of the trip, we should have stopped to enjoy Buckle Island today. We were on vacation, so what's the hurry?
As beautiful as it was up on the bridge, I began to get cold as we started across Blue Hill Bay. At Bass Harbor Bar I started to shiver under my wool CPO shirt, so I gave in and retreated to the warmth and comfort of the wheelhouse.
There is no better part of Maine than where we were now. A few miles behind us lay the scenic Fox Islands and Deer Island Thorofares, Merchants Row and Isle Au Haut. To the northwest was Eggomoggin Reach, Buck's Harbor and Castine. Just ahead lay Mt. Desert Island and all its wonders, including Acadia National Park and Somes Sound; and to our South lay Swan's and Long Islands, with Frenchboro and other anchorages and vistas too numerous to mention.
We were approaching what is generally the terminus for the majority of cruising boats. Once past Mt. Desert, you are really "Down East," where amenities like "yachtsmen's showers" cease, and you often have to obtain your fuel by getting a truck to come to the dock. Here too, one encounters the foggiest part of the Maine coastline, and only the hardiest and most experienced cruise here. But, as with many things in life, those that are the most difficult to come by often turn out to be the finest.
This morning we were headed for the place of MUSCOBE'S birth: Young Brothers & Co., Inc. in Corea, Maine. And so, instead of turning "left" at Long Ledge we continued eastward, leaving the Cranberry Isles to our north, and we made a course for Schoodic Point. Visibility was now quite good and, as it turned out, this would be the best weather we were to have. A few miles into Frenchman's Bay I tried calling Colby Young on NANA MARIE, to see if we could rendezvous with him. When he answered our call, we found that we'd passed him ten miles back, however, so we continued on.
Passing between Schoodic Point and Schoodic Island, one comes to a can and a nun marking the channel just north of the island. The nun forces you to turn away from a nasty bunch of rocks, Schoodic Ledge, but today it was nowhere to be seen. I turned east again once we made the can and began maneuvering between the many lobster buoys in the area. There are two dangers between here and Corea Harbor: Big and Little Black Ledges. Big Black ledge is a rock that always shows, but Little Black covers over at high tide, and I've had some nervous moments hoping I was well clear of it on the few occasions I've come through here in dense fog. Today our visibility was good, however, and we were easily able to pick out the surf crashing on the ledge as we left it well to port.
Corea Harbor is beautiful in its quaint simplicity. But it is tricky to enter if you don't have "local knowledge." There are several rocks and ledges which cover over at high water, and I can't ever seem to remember exactly where they are. Sure enough, I quickly found one dead ahead of us, marked by a curl on the surface as the swells passed over it. I knew that rock was there; it just wasn't quite where it was supposed to be. Moving across the cove, we kept to the east side and pulled up to the Lobstermen's Co-op for fuel at 11:30, where we were greeted by our old friend, Dwight.
Pulling up for fuel at the co-op is a bit different from tying up at a marina. First, you absolutely must defer to the fishing boats. They are working, getting their own fuel and unloading their catch. They are always friendly and courteous, but the last thing they want to do at the end of their day is to sit around waiting while some yacht takes up float space. Secondly, there are lobster cars everywhere, and in some places the floats themselves are lobster crates. And if you're not wearing boots, you're going to get your feet wet (as Al found out when he stepped onto the "float" to tie us up.)
In the old days it would have taken half a day to go from Rockport to Corea. This morning it took only 3.7 hours, during which we burned forty gallons. This was MUSCOBE's first solid, uninterrupted run at her new cruising speed, and it calculated out to 10.8 gallons per hour. I had assumed 55 gallons of usable fuel with the old engine, but with the bow raised higher with the new engine, I decided to err on the side of caution and assume four hours usable on each tank. With her new cruising speed of 18-20 knots, this means a range of 144 to 160 miles at that speed. Interestingly, if we assume eight gph and 5 _ hr. on each tank, should we slow to 15 knots, the range only increases to 165 miles.
As we finished refueling, NANA MARIE slipped in and tied up ahead of us at the float. Colby must have really put the petal to the metal to catch up with us this fast. We then idled over to the Young Brothers float. It was good to be back in Corea Harbor, where I had spent many days during MUSCOBE's construction. The little harbor is very well protected, and the shore is mostly granite, with piers extending out on pilings and covered with lobster pots and buoys of many colors. It's a real working harbor with, I'd say, thirty or forty boats. And while there are no facilities for cruising yachts, it's charm and beauty make it well worth going there.
Vid Young, Colby's brother, was out to lunch when we walked up to the shop but we chatted with Harold Hammond, the manager, and looked at Vid's new 40-footah, which was still under construction. A new 1000 horsepower Mack V-8 diesel had just been installed. Even with the engine and main bulkhead relatively far forward, as is the custom with working lobster boats, the trunk cabin was enormous! With plenty of head room and her beam of nearly fourteen feet, I began to envision a very livable MUSCOBE V, which would be quite comfortable down in Florida or the Bahamas during the winters of my retirement. And there was still plenty of room for a nice big wheelhouse and open cockpit aft. "I have got to get me one of these," I said to Al.
And so, a new dream begins
When Vid returned, we went back to the boat for a little test ride with the new Yanmar. Young Brothers thinks very highly of this engine, but so far they haven't been able to convince anybody to put one in any of their boats. Both Vid and Harold were quite impressed with the quality of the installation, and when Vid turned up the rpms they commented on the lack of vibration, indicating a very good job of aligning the shaft. "This is the way this boat was meant to go," Harold commented after taking the wheel and bringing her up to speed. Upon returning to the harbor, Harold expertly located the small hydraulic leak that had been plaguing us.
I then chastised both Harold and Vid for "moving" so many of the rocks in the cove from where I had remembered them. They gave me instructions on how to leave (always stay to the east side of the harbor, and favor the islands). Then, winking, Harold handed me a set of stainless steel washers with which to refasten the cleat we had pulled in Rockport. We said our good-byes and went on our way, waving to the numerous fishermen now washing down in the cove and waiting their turn at the co-op floats.
Vid had said it was perfectly all right to go between Big and Little Black Rocks, but they look so formidable I simply didn't have the courage even though the chart agreed with him, and so I went around them both. Upon returning to Schoodic Ledge we found the missing nun. It must have been leaking, as it was nearly submerged, with only about ten inches or so sticking out of the water.
Rounding Schoodic Point we saw hundreds of tourists sitting on the rocks, watching the boats go by and the surf crash on the rocks in this part of Acadia National Park. We waved to the crew of a very pretty little lobster cruiser headed into Winter Harbor. This harbor is not highly recommended in "the book," but it looked very pleasant from where we were.
Heading northwest up Frenchmen's Bay, we put Egg Rock behind us and soon slipped behind the breakwater on Bald Porcupine Island, and into beautiful Bar Harbor. The town is named for the "bar" that forms at low water between the mainland and Bar Island, which has stranded many an unsuspecting tourist and even some cars who stayed on the island a bit too long before the return of the tide.
We tied up at the town landing at 2:30, where the Assistant
Harbormaster said we could spend the night for a dollar a foot.
As it was a little rocky-and-rolly, I moved the boat to the innermost
float to get as far away from all the traffic as possible.
Tied up at Bar Harbor Town Float.
over the country, and people were walking everywhere. Beautiful yachts, windjammers, and lobster boats sat gracefully on moorings in the harbor, and two big, rusty steel draggers were tied to the end of the pier.
Al had never seen any of the park, nor had he been to the top of Cadillac Mountain, so when we learned that a tour bus went up there at 3:00, we walked up to Testa's to buy tickets and have a Corona while we waited. As we sat at the bar the driver, Tom, came in for a Coke and a short rest. At 2:45 I went out to the "bus," which was one of those trolley-types, leaving Al and Tom chatting together.
A minute or two later Al came out, strutted up into the bus like a man with a purpose, and said, "Hi, folks! My name is Al! Is everybody ready?" Assuming he was our driver, everyone answered in unison, "YES!" "Okay, then," he said. "First I've got to collect a couple of bucks from everybody," at which they all reached for their wallets and took out the money.
He finally admitted that he was just another tourist, which was good for a laugh, and soon our real driver came aboard. He turned out to be a rather colorful third-generation resident whose grandfather, working for the WPA, had helped construct the carriage roads and bridges throughout the park. As such he was able to tell us great deal about the area. As we drove up the mountain we crossed many of those beautiful, arched granite bridges and were treated to some spectacular views. At one point we could see both of the new, extremely fast catamaran ferries as they approached on their return from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.
At the top of the mountain, in the place where the morning sun first touches North America, we walked out onto the rocks and were treated to the majestic view of Frenchman's Bay, looking across Bar and the Porcupine Islands toward the Schoodic Peninsula. Though I'd been here many times, I was still impressed by the spectacle of it all, and wondered at the awesome forces it must have taken to deposit all that granite surrounding us.
Back down at sea level, when we returned at 4:30, it was still very hot. Fortunately, the walk back to the dock was all downhill, and we were soon sitting comfortably in MUSCOBE's cockpit enjoying a corner, as we watched all the activities going on around us and up at the beautiful old hotel next to the town landing.
After a while Al said, "I'm starving! Let's eat." And I agreed, so we walked into town. There were still people everywhere and all the restaurants had waiting lines, but we found a place where we could eat at the bar without waiting, and we both had twin lobster dinners. Afterward, I went back to the boat to do some housekeeping while Al walked around enjoying the sights and sounds of town. After an ice cream, he sat and "people-watched" before turning in.
We awoke the next morning to surprise, surprise! more fog. There wasn't much activity going on in the harbor (apparently those windjammer passengers like to sleep late). We never had found where the showers were located, so we opted to postpone both showers and breakfast. The harbor was very still as we ghosted past the tour boats and windjammers. The sun was making a valiant attempt to shine through, illuminating the scene in an eerie, enchanting manner. Patches of mist stretched across the water, through which we could just see the beautiful "cottages" along the shore. The only movement, outside ourselves, was a lone lobsterman working his traps inside the breakwater extending from Bald Porcupine Island. It was extraordinarily beautiful, and we stayed at idle speed for some time taking it all in.
Once past the breakwater, however, we were completely engulfed and the scenery disappeared, forcing us to rely on the radar and GPS. I was truly disappointed at this, as I wanted Al to be able to enjoy the sight of the breath-taking granite cliffs that make up this eastern shore of Mt. Desert Island. And the Thrumcap, Old Whale Ledge, Old Soaker, Otter Cliff: the only sign we had of these spectacular landmarks was what our electronic navigation aids showed us.
Working our way southward along the shore, from buoy to buoy and landmark to landmark, we kept hoping that it might indeed "burn off by ten," as the saying goes. But we remained in a total, gray void. Our only evidence of the presence of the nearby land was a solid mass of green on the right side of the radar screen.
As we began to turn more to the west around the southeastern edge of the island the radar targeted the green can marking the rock at Otter Point, and I made a course to leave it just to starboard. Slowing down as we neared it, I reduced the range of the radar to _ mile. Closer it came. "Keep your eyes peeled," I told Al. It's out there at about ten o'clock. I was beginning to suspect that it was approaching a bit faster than it should be, when I looked out and saw our "can": not thirty yards to starboard, a wide crest of white foam marking the flat bow of a big barge bearing right down on us!
MUSCOBE's big rudder threw her stern around as I added power
and turned to starboard to avoid the collision. We looked up
into the eyes of a young man staring down at us from inside the
pilot house as the barge passed by us and quickly disappeared
into the gloom. Fortunately, everybody did exactly as prescribed
by the rules of the road: he maintained course and speed and
we got out of his way, so a potential calamity was avoided. For
a split second I had considered turning to port to avoid him,
but something in the dark recesses of my memory told me that
the burdened vessel should always turn to starboard in
these situations, and so before my brain could calculate or reason
which direction was most advantageous, instinct had me turning
the wheel to the right.
The author piloting through a fog.
day in paradise, and we'd hardly had a glimpse of any of it! "I've had it," I told Al. "We're going to Northeast Harbor and sit this one out."
A bit further on the radar showed several targets coming out of Seal Harbor, as some boats made their way out. "Let's go in and look around," I said. "We can check this out as a potential future layover." By now the sun was trying to burn through again. As we cautiously inched our way in toward the can at the mouth of the harbor I was understandably gun-shy at this point we could just make out those other boats through the murk as they passed by us to starboard.
Seal Harbor is a delightful little cove, with a few working fishing boats and a good selection of the beautiful "lobster cruisers" so plentiful in this area. The Rockerfeller family pier and boathouse are on one side of the harbor, and the yacht club and town pier are at the opposite side. As I understand it, the little yacht club is very nice, and there's a takeout restaurant nearby. Another eating place is located up the road a half mile or so. Aside from its southerly exposure, this seems like a nice place to visit, though it's probably overshadowed by nearby Northeast and Southwest Harbors.
After a circle around the cove, we plunged back into the fog and worked our way the remaining distance to Northeast Harbor. Tuning in the harbormaster on the VHF, we listened as several people were told there were no slips available for tomorrow Friday night. However, when we called and requested a one-night stay, we were pleased to learn that they had one available for the night. As I have already said in reference to Camden, I must reiterate how accommodating these people are to transient yachts. In all the years I've been listening and talking with the harbormaster here in Northeast Harbor one of the busiest places on the coast of Maine they have always been pleasant and courteous, bending over backwards to please everybody and make them feel welcome.
At 9:30 (was it only an hour and a half ago that we left Bar Harbor?) we were directed to a slip between MAUREEN III, a Hinkley Talaria, and PAINTED LADY, the beautiful red yawl we had been alongside last year. Nobody was aboard either boat, but MUSCOBE looked pretty good nestled in between what must easily be more than a million dollars worth of yachting hardware.
Inside the harbor it was warm with hardly a trace of fog, but from the distant horns and whistles we knew it must still be thick outside. We settled up at the harbormaster's office, chatting for a while with these very pleasant people. The harbormaster himself had retired from the Coast Guard some time ago. He had operated an ice breaker in the Kennebec River, among other places, and had some interesting yarns to spin about his experiences.
We then walked up the hill into town to The Colonel's Deli, which the locals had highly recommended for breakfast (they were right). We had a couple of delicious omelets and homemade toast, washed down with orange juice and coffee.
By now Al decided we had been at sea too long and needed some
exercise, so we went off to find a place where we could rent
bikes. I was secretly hoping he wouldn't find one, but he soon
discovered one up the street. A few minutes later we were pedaling
off toward Somes Sound on a couple of mountain bikes, armed with
a makeshift map of the area, including Acadia National Park.
Mounted up at Northeast Harbor Bike Shop.
a rest, while I decided whether to continue on or turn back (Al had the map). Soon, however, I heard a yell and looked back to find him huffing and puffing his way up the hill to where I was sitting.
We were looking for the Giant Slide, a trail that leads through the park and eventually back toward town. Al had obtained two sets of directions on how to find it, but at this point we were more than a little lost. I grabbed the map and insisted that it was "just down the road to the left" while he argued that we could pick it up if we went right until we found a rest area and parking lot leading into the park. Fortunately, at this point a municipal worker stopped and showed us the way (left).
Without my reading glasses I was unable to see how close together
on the map the contour lines were at the Giant Slide. We were
soon pushing our bikes up a steep, winding path through the woods,
bouncing them over roots, rocks, and logs. I was quickly exhausted,
both from the exertion and the heat, but whenever I stopped to
rest the mosquitoes would find me. Al had fortuitously bought
us each a little bottle of spring water before leaving, for which
I was now eternally grateful. But I cursed him anyway for his
bike ride idea, for dragging me way out here in the boonies,
and for putting me through the agony of climbing this goddamn
mountain we now seemed to be on.
On the trail with Somes Sound in the background.
disappeared around a bend into the trees. "Come on, buddy!" he said again enthusiastically. "The hill probably ends right around the corner, and we can coast all the way back into town."
And so we pedaled up the hill and around the bend. And up
another hill and around another bend. And yet another, and another,
and another At one point I passed him when he got off to push
his bike, and I struggled on until I saw a rock in the shape
of a recliner upon which I could lie down. At least we were high
enough now where there was a slight breeze which kept the mosquitoes
at bay. I took another swig of my now precious water and collapsed,
gasping, onto the rock where Al caught up with me a few minutes
later. As he pedaled past me I looked beyond him, up still another
long grade, and gasped, "Al, when we get back to the MUSCOBE,
I'm going to find out once and for all if I can BEAT YOU UP!"
Sealegs are different from real legs.
brakes, unsure of my traction in the loose linpack. A minute or so later I caught up with him where he had stopped at a bend in the road and taken out his camera.
"Joel, stop!" he yelled. "I want to take a picture." Without even slowing down, I muttered several expletives at him and roared past. Gradually the coolness of the breeze on my face and body refreshed me, and the agony from the miles of pumping began to ease out of my legs and back.
The trail ended at one of the stone gate houses on the park border. Route 193 ran straight into town from there, but it had no room for bicycles and was very busy, so we picked another, quieter trail. Unfortunately, this dead-ended in a little cemetery, so we were forced to backtrack and take our chances on the highway, grateful at least, that it was all down hill the rest of the way.
A short time later, two utterly exhausted, sweaty, travelers turned their bikes back in at the Northeast Harbor Bike Shop. "Joel," gasped Al as he settled our account. "Go next door and get me water. Right now!"
As we walked back down to the boat and approached the field and tennis courts near the marina, Al told me, "You know, you did pretty well today for an old goat who's so out of shape."
That was all I needed: Looking across the 100-or-so yards of the grassy field I said to him, "Oh, yeah? Well this old out-of-shape goat can beat your butt to the other side of that field." Al, who is a ferocious competitor, needed no further urging and instantly we were off, running full-tilt. Half-way across we were neck-and-neck, when we must have realized just how silly we must have looked: two fat old men, doing a very poor simulation of a sprint, grunting and groaning their way over the grass toward the marina. At this point we both started laughing at ourselves, and by the time we got to the other side we were making so much noise that a dog started chasing us, which made us laugh all the harder, until I just fell down in hysterics, with Al standing over me clutching at his sides.
Old men or no, we were pretty proud of ourselves "If you didn't have a heart attack today, buddy," Al told me, "you're never going to have one." Then he added, under his breath, "You'll probably die of a stroke, from stress, though."
We were now very ready for those famous Northeast Harbor "4-minute showers." I say "4-minute" because here in the "Yachtsmen's Building" they have machines in the showers into which you insert four quarters, for a minute of water each. Now, I like to take long showers, but I also don't like to throw my money away. So I was all done shampooing, washing, and rinsing off in about three minutes, with a minute to spare to stand under the cold water when I finished. Al put in another set of quarters, just so he could stand under the cool water an extra four minutes.
Afterwards, walking back to the boat, I was reminded of my one pet-peeve about this terrific marina: they allow all the boats to tie up in their slips bow-in. This is fine, but many of them have pulpits, on which are mounted large plow anchors, and these extend out into the walkway. Several times in the past I had turned to look at who I was with, only to be nearly bonked in the head by one of these. This could be especially hazardous to some poor soul coming back from town late at night with a couple of "corners" under his belt. I mentioned this to the harbormaster and suggested it might be a good idea to require boats with pulpits to tie up stern-to, but I don't think it went over well. I also reported the waterlogged nun at Schoodic Ledge to him, so he could notify the Coast Guard.
Refreshed after our terrific (but brief) showers, we enjoyed a "corner" in MUSCOBE's cockpit. WE listened to some Sarah Brightman for a while, and then I told Al I had a special treat for him. Digging down into my box of cassette tapes, I pulled out a copy of a Thanksgiving day radio show that had been recorded at Marblehead's local station, WESX, in 1953. Featured on this program were my Dad (age 37; I was ten), his friend Tom Hussey, the voice of the Red Sox in those days and, accompanying them on the piano, Edith Mehaffey. I grew up in a home filled with music: classical records and the voices of both my parents and their many friends. This wasn't just singing old songs around the piano. Many of these people, including my mother and father, were trained professionals. I took all this for granted until I was much older, and now with Dad gone I hadn't heard his voice or listened to this tape for many years. The quality of the recording isn't up to par with today's technology, but there was no mistaking the tremendous talent in these voices. Tom's rich bass immediately brought back a flood of memories of growing up in the 1950's. Then my father's tenor rang out, crystal clear, with the words to The Old Gray Mare, a song I'd heard him sing a thousand times, and my vision blurred with tears, which ran unashamedly down my face.
I had never before played that tape for anyone outside my family. Al, the quintessential Italian, immediately sensed this and appreciated the gesture. Soon we were both all choked up, as we shared stories about our Dads. People nearby probably wondered about the music coming from MUSCOBE's cockpit, and the intense conversation going on between the two figures sitting there listening to it, but we didn't care.
Gradually, the boats and the harbor began to take on an amber hue as the sun crept down behind our backs. Suddenly hungry, we walked back into town to The Colonel's, where Al announced to the hostess, "Could you please notify the colonel that Commander Cristofori has arrived for dinner? After a delicious meal, I browsed through the gallery of a local artist and bought a nice print of a fisherman's shanty for my living room back home.
Back at the marina we chatted again with the harbormaster before retiring to MUSCOBE to watch the boats coming and going on this beautiful afternoon in this, one of our favorite locations. Of course, as I write this, I'm beginning to realize that these places, like my own kids, are all my favorites. I have always said that, whichever of my three children I happen to be with, it is he or she who is my favorite at that moment. And so it is with Maine. Whatever harbor or anchorage we seem to be at, this is our favorite. This is paradise. This is the legendary Cockleberry Cove, the best of all. That is part of the wonder and delight of cruising the Maine Coast. May it ever be so.
Our plan for the next morning was to work our way up Somes Sound, which we hadn't done for a few years. But with the sunrise came you guessed it more fog, so we took our showers and walked back up to the Colonel's for a leisurely breakfast. At 9:30 we said goodbye to the harbormaster and told him he could sell our slip. After a brief stop at Clifton Dock to top off our fuel, we left the harbor and disappeared into the gloom.
Working our way around Long Ledge and the south side of Mt. Desert we gingerly approached Bass Harbor Bar, where the radar showed a lone fisherman flitting around working his traps. All we saw of him was a faint gray shape off to starboard as we passed. At the Casco Passage nature cooperated by increasing the visibility to seventy-five yards or so, thus enabling us to proceed through without having to break out the Mylanta.
The remainder of the morning we passed steaming along under what aircraft pilots call "instrument flight rules." Cruising at fifteen knots in the open spaces, we slowed down as we approached navigation marks (most of which were surrounded by secondary targets which turned out to be other boats doing the same thing.) We hardly even saw any of Stonington and the Deer Island Thorofare.
At one point, just east of the Fox Islands Thorofare, the radar turned up two solid blips "approaching" us from dead ahead. When I slowed down, the distance to the target remained constant, indicating that they must be moving in the same direction we were, and so it turned out. Increasing our speed somewhat I altered course to leave them to starboard. Soon, two big windjammers under power ghosted out of the fog. Leaving them behind, I had to slow down again near Goose Rocks Light to get my bearings, and I hoped they wouldn't run back up on us. I'd heard too many stories about people rear-ending other boats in the fog.
Once past the light and around Widow Island the visibility opened up and the sun shown through. I'd had enough for a while, so we pulled into J.O. Brown's for fuel and ice, and walked across the street for coffee and an ice cream. When I think of North Haven I picture a nearly deserted, quaint little town out of the past, much like you'd see on the Waltons. But on this Friday afternoon at 1:00 the place was full of tourists! And it was hot! We couldn't wait to get back to the solitude (if there's any solitude while running with a Yanmar diesel) of the boat.
As we left the thorofare I was kept busy differentiating between the numerous radar targets. "Okay, that's the spindle off Dogfish Island, and this must be the beacon on Drunkard Ledge. So that must be the red and white bell we want. But which one of those blips is the can just east of it?" Throughout all this, of course, we had to keep our eyes ahead of the boat to avoid snagging one of the ever-present lobster buoys.
"And what's this big target at eleven o'clock, moving from left to right across our course? Well, he can bear off; we have the right of way..." But he didn't give way, and our positions relative to each other soon clearly put us on a collision course, so to my annoyance I had to stop. An old-fashioned yacht, perhaps sixty feet in length, plowed across our bow in the general direction of Camden. A vessel of this size was very probably operated by a professional captain who clearly should have known better.
"Al, we're not going to be able to take in the scenery along the shore and the islands, so I'm going outside. We'll make for the gong to the east of Andrews Island and stay outside of everything except Metinic and Monhegan Islands."
"Okay," he said. "You know, Joel, when you write the MUSCOBE Chronicles this year it'll be really easy: 'Yes, on July 24th we passed Marblehead Light at 8:30 AM Nine days later, on August 2nd, we saw Marblehead Light again'"
As the afternoon wore on the sun began to make an appearance, an undefined disc shining faintly overhead through the haze, casting a yellow glow on everything, including the water.. As things brightened up a bit in the smooth seas, the visibility improved enough to allow us to relax somewhat. By 4:30 we were inside Fisherman's Island, and a few minutes later we pulled into Carousel Marina for fuel before slipping across the harbor to the solitude of the Boothbay Harbor Yacht Club.
The attendant at the dock, Sean Walker, gave us a mooring right off the float. It had been a long day, made more tiring by the stress of navigating through thick fog for nearly eight hours. But we were soon ensconced in the cushions of the comfortable clubhouse furniture, enjoying a well-earned "corner." This was followed by an absolutely delicious dinner. We started with an appetizer consisting of some sort of soft, flaky pastry with lobster inside, followed by a big steak. I told Al that if we had fog tomorrow, we'd just sit here and take it easy for a day. The Corinthian Yacht Club cruise was having their first-night cocktail party over at Carousel tomorrow, and I thought it would be fun to visit with them a while anyway. We were in bed before the launch closed down at 8 PM.
The next morning, Saturday, July 31st, we awoke, looked out the ports, and simply laughed (what else could we do) at the thick fog around us. "Okay," I said. "Let's call a cab into town. We'll have breakfast at the Ebb Tide and take the ferry to Monhegan." Al, who always goes along good-naturedly with anything I seem to suggest, agreed.
Shortly after 10:30 we were just another pair of tourists, seated aft aboard BALMY DAYS, as she headed out of the harbor into the obscurity beyond. Our skipper was a young man with a 100-ton license, and I was grateful to let somebody else do the driving in the fog for a change. But I soon grew restless, and before long I was up in the wheelhouse, peering over the captain's shoulder at the radar and other instruments. Chatting with him helped wile away the hour and a half it took to get to Monhegan. By the time we arrived the fog had burned off, allowing us the first brilliant sunshine and bright blue seas we had experienced for some time.
Monhegan is an interesting place with a long history. The "harbor" is formed by the area between Monhegan and smaller Manana Island. Because of the many underwater cables and foul bottom, anchoring is not recommended. Even if you can use one of the permanent moorings there you're apt to spend the night rolling around. A lone pier extends out, with a ramp that is raised or lowered to accommodate the height of the deck, and to let vehicles come and go. Quite a few unregistered, dilapidated old trucks can be seen rattling around over the island's dirt roads. Next to the dock is a store built on pilings, and we noticed a soil pipe running alongside and down onto the rocks. We hoped it wasn't actively used.
There are about twelve full-time fishermen here, who keep their traps within a self-imposed boundary around the island which has traditionally been respected by lobstermen from outside. The fishing season runs from December to June, interestingly, but these limits have made for a healthy lobster catch here. In recent years, some fishermen from Friendship started putting traps around the island, which caused considerable dispute. After numerous confrontations, cutting of gear, and many threats, some involving firearms, the state stepped in to mediate. Today things are pretty much back to normal.
During the summer months just about everybody, including the fishermen, work in the thriving tourist trade. There's a hotel, a couple of restaurants, a market and a few shops and art galleries. We stopped at one, where I bought a "Monhegan" T-shirt. But the real charm of Monhegan is in walking the numerous trails around the island. Al and I ambled through the little village and headed for one of these. As I have often said, there is a certain feeling, a special charm, one feels when on an island, and we could sense it immediately as we walked out through the beach roses. Scattered here and there were weathered, gray cabins. Some were surrounded by piles of lobster gear; others were rentals or occupied by artists.
Eventually we came to the southern extremity of the island, where the remains of a large steel dragger lay on her side among the boulders about 75 yards up from the shore. The entire starboard side of the vessel was gone, and much of what remained had been rolled into twisted masses of brown-rusted steel. A wooden cross had been erected among the rocks nearby, to which someone had attached a weathered life ring. I was reminded of the chorus of the Navy Hymn, in which we implore the Lord to protect "those in peril, on the sea." I involuntarily shuddered as I imagined the forces that had dumped this ship so high above the water, and wreaked such devastation on her hull. I could picture those poor fishermen as they tried to set an anchor, restart the engine, scurrying across the decks through green water, snow and spray, and glancing back over their shoulders toward the boom and crash of giant breakers, waiting, waiting...
As we walked around these ledges I noticed many grasshoppers. They had adapted a very fine camouflage which made them almost invisible until you nearly stepped on them. Then they would fly up and move away, with their wings making a peculiar snapping sound. I'd never heard this before, and I wondered if these insects were peculiar to this island alone.
The trail we were on led around the entire circumference of the island which was quite a hike, and one I had no interest in after our recent biking escapade. Besides, we had to be back before the boat left at 2:30. Looking at a map, we saw a trail we could follow that cut across past the lighthouse and museum, so we pressed on. What the map didn't show was the hills. The trail was a narrow, well-trod footpath, with many roots and obstacles. And it went up and down and all over the place, but around each corner, especially as we climbed higher, we were greeted with more and more spectacular scenery. At one point the cliffs below us dropped more than a hundred feet to where the blue rollers were crashing up in sensational displays of white foam. To our left off in the distance, framed by some wind-scarred spruces, we could see even more spectacular 160-foot cliffs.
I had no intention of climbing those, so we started looking for our "left turn" toward the lighthouse and the town. We soon found it, but it still involved a long upward climb, as the lighthouse is located in the center of the island on one of its highest hills. The actual lighthouse is constructed of curved granite blocks. As we approached it, I walked up to an artist who was painting it. He had only just completed the lighthouse itself, and it was a beautiful impression, extremely accurate in detail, yet with enough creativity to make it immediately recognizable as art, and not a photograph.
After a brief walk through the museum, which contained photos and artifacts relating the history of the island, we started back to the pier. By now it was quite hot, and my calves complained unmercifully as we stumped down the hill to the village. Dusty, sweaty, and tired, we bought a drink at the "market," and I retrieved the shirt I had bought. Then we settled in on the porch of a local restaurant, where I had some absolutely delicious lobster stew and Al had a grilled chicken sandwich before we headed back to rendezvous with BALMY DAYS. Some local kids were jumping off the pier as we waited for the boat, and Al and I kept eyeing that soil pipe, wondering
Back in Boothbay Harbor after a very pleasant ride, we hailed our taxi again to get back to the club. The Corinthian cruise, as I've already said, was at Carousel; the Quincy Yacht Club was at Boothbay Harbor Marina, and upon our return we learned that the Manchester Yacht Club cruise was arriving here at the BHYC. As such, the two showers were in constant use, so I had to settle for washing my dusty feet and a half bath at the float. By 6:00 we had made ourselves presentable and took the taxi back to Carousel.
When we arrived, the Corinthian cruise's first-night cocktail party was in full swing, and we were soon chatting with many of my Marblehead friends. Al, who has always chided me about yacht club rules and etiquette, was introduced to our commodore and, looking down at his hand as he shook it said, "Wow! Do you have a ring or something I'm supposed to kiss?"
After about an hour they called a meeting to review their cruising plans, so we exited and walked across the pedestrian bridge to town. We decided to take a night off from gourmet dining and had a pizza instead, people-watching as we ate it. Then we went to a local pub for an after-dinner "corner." Exhausted from our hike around Monhegan, I wanted to get back aboard MUSCOBE before launch service shut down, so I soon left Al wandering around Boothbay Harbor.
I was tucked in my bunk and just nodding off when I heard familiar laughter coming from somewhere outside. Those of you who have rubber inflatable dinghies can appreciate that there is a certain method involved in getting in and out of them, as well as rowing them. Light and slippery, without any skeg to steady them, just getting into one can be an adventure. Upon his return Al, who has not yet mastered the technique, had decided to use the club's inflatable. As he stepped down into it, the dinghy took off like a shingle, nearly dumping him into the water. After rowing around in circles for a bit, he managed to get out around the floats and headed in MUSCOBE's direction, laughing at himself all the way. Transferring himself from the inflatable into MUSCOBE's cockpit was equally precarious, but he somehow managed it without further incident. The wind howled all night and I slept fitfully, hoping it would moderate by morning.
It didn't. Our plan for this day, Sunday, was to head for our last stop at the Wentworth Marina in Little Harbor on New Castle Island. When we awoke to still more pea soup, with a forecast of 25 knot winds and 4-5 foot seas, we were completely demoralized and simply decided to tough it out and head straight for Marblehead.
We brought MUSCOBE into the float early, to take advantage of the deserted yacht club and enjoy leisurely showers, and then went over to the town landing to have breakfast at the Ebb Tide. By 8:00 we were idling out of the harbor through the mist.
It was a gloomy, gray damp morning. Light rain was falling as we motored down between Squirrel and Southport Islands, MUSCOBE rose and fell on the increasing swells, the spray flying up and onto the windshields. Rounding the Cuckholds into Sheepscot Bay, we met the full force of the weather. The seas were indeed five feet if not more and we plowed through them at an uncomfortable angle which threw us around considerably. Visibility was poor, and as I struggled to check the chart, put in succeeding waypoints, avoid lobster pots, and keep an eye out the window and on the radar for traffic, I felt that uneasy knot forming as my stomach tried to push my heart up into my throat.
The Sisters appeared out of the murk to starboard, clearly marked by the mountains of white foam they were throwing up as the rollers crashed over them. As soon as we left them behind, the angry black teeth of the Seguin Ledges appeared, also threatening us with nasty-looking white billows. Seguin Island itself appeared next as a mere gray form to the south, before it, too, disappeared. Next came the shore of Cape Small to starboard, with long white stretches of menacing white froth. My eyes were constantly drawn toward those huge combers, and I was humbled as I thought again of the bones of that unfortunate trawler rusting away on the boulders of Monhegan Island. The "mighty MUSCOBE" seemed frightfully small just then.
Passing inside Fuller's Rock, we were given a momentary respite from the seas. Then the land disappeared from view altogether, and I was spared the discomfort of watching those awful waves. Before long a small sailboat appeared far ahead, and as we drew closer could see her crew huddled miserably in the cockpit in their foul weather gear, under reefed main and no jib. Compared to those poor souls we were in the lap of luxury.
Once away from the coast and into deeper water, the going became easier. The rain stopped, and soon the sun began to shine through the haze, improving the visibility to about a mile. To ease the monotony, I followed an arc parallel to the coast formed by a series of waypoint buoys I had selected years ago. Al and I passed the hours quietly, as we usually do on this last day of our annual excursion. After the months of planning, discussing, and anticipating the trip there isn't a whole lot to say on the day it all ends.
Just north of the Isles of Shoals we sighted Mike Mentuck's ELIZABETH M from the Boston Yacht Club in Marblehead. I waved, but they apparently didn't recognize us. We have passed between these islands many times on our way to and from Maine but never stopped. So today I slowed and followed the shoreline over into Gosport Harbor, in the triangle formed by Smuttynose, Cedar, and Appledore Islands. By now the sun was burning brightly and it was quite hot in the shelter of the cove. Quite a few boats are moored there, and several daytrippers from Portsmouth were anchored on this quiet Sunday afternoon.
A few minutes later we put White Island Light behind us, as I tuned the GPS to steer us for the red bell guarding the entrance to the Annisquam Canal, eighteen miles SSW. The machine told us our time on this leg would be only fifty-six minutes at our new cruising speed of nineteen knots.
Though it was sunny and warm, the visibility was still somewhat limited in haze. After about forty five minutes, with Al taking his turn at the wheel, I spotted the blue shore of Cape Ann ahead. But something wasn't quite right: the land should be extended more to our left (east), but it seemed to end abruptly directly in front of us. Looking more closely, I could make out the twin light towers on Thatcher's Island, which should not be visible from our position.
Checking the lat/lon coordinates of our waypoint in the machine against the chart, I discovered I had incorrectly transposed two of the numbers. This put our "waypoint" outside Rockport Harbor and would have carried MUSCOBE right over the submerged breakwater north of Straitsmouth Island. The chart shows four feet at mean low water there, and it was about an hour before high tide. So we would have passed harmlessly over it, even if I'd been so stupid as not to recognize this flagrant error. But it made me realize how things can suddenly go wrong in fog, in unfamiliar waters, just by a "simple mistake." There are thousands of ships' bones resting on the bottom in testimony to that. Pretty unnerving.
Slowing to pass through the shallows between Straitsmouth and the mainland, we followed in the wake of a commercial dragger, out enjoying the afternoon with his family, his dog, and a gang of kids. Now that we were nearly home, ironically we were able at last to enjoy the scenery as we traveled around the beautiful rose-colored granite shore of Cape Ann. Today it truly was, as Nat "King" Cole used to sing, a "lazy, hazy, crazy day of summer." Pleasure boats were everywhere, and where we passed beaches they were covered with mobs of people packed together like sardines.
Even with the bad start we had gotten off to this morning, MUSCOBE got us back into Marblehead at 3:30 PM, condensing what used to be a nine hour trip into seven and one-half. A blast of warm air assaulted us as we entered the harbor, and by the time we pulled up to the fuel dock at the BYC we were sweating bullets. MUSCOBE slurped a mere sixty-nine gallons of diesel fuel before her tanks were full again.
Then, speaking of slurping, Al and I idled across to the Corinthian, brought his stuff up to his car, and hit the porch for a "corner." By now the Sunday afternoon cookout was in progress, so we enjoyed a huge serving of BBQ ribs, corn on the cob, and salad.
And then, suddenly, the cruise was over. MUSCOBE had brought us through unscathed again. She still had a few kinks to work out with regard to her new powerplant, but she had once again lived up to her well-earned designations: "mighty" and "trusty".
And so, yet another chapter in the MUSCOBE Chronicles comes to a close. As I write this another summer has drawn to an end. The ragweed has come and gone, and the leaves are slipping down each morning like huge, colored snowflakes. Two of my children are off to college, and we are half-way through the college football season. Orion is firmly established in the southern sky, a true harbinger of the winter to come. And so, before long, out will come the charts and "the book." And the planning of the next of MUSCOBE's adventures along the wonderful coast of Maine will begin again in earnest.
Long may they last.