Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Pine Tree State--Yep, There's Plenty of Them--and Other Observations on Maine

Maine: it must be a fad. No fewer than nine of my friends vacationed in the Pine Tree state this summer or fall. 

But how many of them sailed?

Having finally emerged from the slump I descended into when I dropped my camera into the drink from a dock on Swan's Island, while--or maybe because--my friends were negotiating to buy lobsters at the other end of the dock, intending to boil them alive (it's enough to upset any self-respecting vegetarian), I would like to share with those of you who are NOT vacationing in Maine a few additional observations from my sailing trip in September.  
Here is Larry choosing his 1-pound dinner while I troll through the bottom mud with a 20-foot boathook, fishing for a 1/2-pound Olympus.
Lobster boats (photos are at the bottom of the ocean) and sleek sailing sloops (photos below) dot every harbor. The surprisingly clean, well-kept, and freshly painted lobster boats (alas, no photos) surprised me--quite a change from the usual dirty working boats in most fishing harbors of the world. The lobster industry is flourishing because the lobster population is exploding, apparently because the lobsters' predators (big fish) have been fished out. The prosperity is reflected in the quality and high level of maintenance of the homes in the fishing villages--again, quite unusual.

Eleven-foot tides require docks that float up and down with the water level.  Boaters tie up to these, and long ramps that connect the floating docks with the upper shore creak and groan as they adjust, their slope ranging from almost level at high tide to steep angles at low tide.
Every few mornings in September, dense fog rolls in (apparently more frequently in August), reducing boaters' visibility to a few hundreds yards or less. Many of the navigation buoys rely on bells clanking in the fog. Lighthouses employ fog horns. For us, iPad-based marine navigation and a robust radar helped reduce the anxiety of sailing in the fog.
On the rocky coasts (when visible), rows of stately pines reach for the clouds. Despite the thriving tourist trade and the usual profusion of expensive new mansions along many sections of the waterfront, there is still plenty of heavily wooded coastline in Maine.
Lighthouse photo by Larry Catlett
Farther inland, rock and pine dominate the windswept landscapes.  

In contrast to the natural beauty, Mainers love profusions of flowers, in parks, gardens, and window boxes. May they enjoy these bursts of beauty before the winter snows set in.
In even greater contrast to natural beauty--everywhere in the world--are the scourges of Tourist Central, such as the ones in the town of Bar Harbor, gateway to Acadia National Park.
Hanging out in a tourist town has one big advantage, however--restaurants. A break from primitive cooking on a crowded boat. And in Maine, a chance to lose one's self in the culinary ecstasy of wild blueberry ice cream and blueberry pie. Here we are rushing intently off to town to take advantage of those delectable delights, probably for the fourth or fifth time.

Final observations: in Maine or elsewhere, sailing wouldn't be the same without settling back on our cockpit settees at sunset, to enjoy the subtle layers of color in the sky above, on the water's surface, and in the rum cocktail balanced on my lap.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Sailors Spinning Yarns on the Coast of Maine

Thursday, Sept. 8 -- Having survived a few setbacks (final tally: five mechanics in five days), we were finally back to cruising the coast of Maine by Day 8 of our 10 days on board. Just enough time to enjoy a few cruising adventures!

Fittingly, we hosted the author of the book "Penelope: Down East" on board our charter boat, Kachina.
Bill Cheney is an "old salt" with many years of exciting adventures sailing his single-masted, 22-foot sailboat--without an engine.

On Day 2 of our charter, Pope had been reading to us, from Penelope, a description of where to find oysters near Pulpit Harbor, where we were stuck with a defunct GPS, waiting for mechanic #1. Fortunately the dinghy was afloat and the outboard running well (never a sure thing; the dinghy attached to our initial charter boat, Edna, was a sorry substitute for a seaworthy vessel). So a shore party consisting of Pope and Larry was dispatched with godspeed to the town dock, which was actually out in the middle of nowhere--no town to be seen--to walk a mile along a deserted country road to the home of Adam and Mickey Campbell and their self-service oyster stand. Our first encounter with Cheney's haunts.
Our second encounter had occurred a few days later, while we were fixing the boat, waiting for the boat to be fixed, negotiating how to get the boat fixed, encountering more problems to fix, and so on. How fitting that all of our problems involved mechanical and electrical devices that Cheney eschews. When we mentioned to him our boat breakdowns and the long waits for mechanics, he chuckled and said something like: "I usually don't have any business with mechanics and boatyards; don't need them." He sails without the diesels and outboards that keep marine mechanics' kids in college.

He knows our mechanic #2, however, quite well. In the book, he explains: "Should you be having problems with your boat, a call to the delightfully old-fashioned Brown's Boatyard in the nearby town of North Haven will bring help.... If you are lucky, help will come in the form of Foy Brown himself. Master boatbuilder, master mechanic, raconteur, and one of the great characters on the Maine coast...If you appreciate sly, understated Maine humor of the kind that was more prevalent a few decades ago, you are likely to be royally entertained. Meanwhile, whatever your problem, Foy will fix it, and the price will be right."

The only lightheartedness aboard our boat during our long waits for repairs were references to the goofy redneck humor in the Men from Maine videos from Boston radio. Though we weren't feeling particularly lucky while stranded in Pulpit Harbor a second day with a second problem--a dead battery--we were nonetheless pleased that help came in the form of Foy Brown himself. He not only diagnosed our alternator failure and loaned us a spare starter battery and jumper cables, starting the process of getting our boat problems solved; he also entertained us with wisdom and humor, slyly razzing passing lobstermen in his strong mid-Maine dialect.
Our third encounter with Penelope's world was meeting Cheney himself. Our first stop after mechanics #1, 2, and 3 fixed the GPS, alternator, and bilge pump and refilled the natural gas for the galley stove (#4 and #5 were only supervising...) was Swan's Island, where crew members Larry and Joanne promptly bought a bucket of  live lobsters to grill on board.
Swan's Island, a quiet, sparsely populated home to a few lobstermen and summer residents, has few activities to keep visitors occupied. We checked them out.
Pope remembered reading about the location of the author's home at the tip of City Point in Burnt Coat Harbor, Swan's Island. Sighting the low catboat Penelope with binoculars, Pope motored our dinghy to shore to knock on his door. Cheney promised to visit our vessel.
The next day, an apparition appeared in the dense fog--a grizzled seaman rowing a small dinghy. (Note: no engine.) Climbing aboard, he regaled us with stories--yarns?--about boating here and there and encountering people, places, storms, and rocks. Such as the story about the time Cheney and a sailor named George--who happens to be Pope's distant cousin--sailed a section of the May River, in the Low Country of South Carolina, that showed up as high and dry on marine charts. They had relied on local knowledge; always valuable on a boat. Of course, Pope responded with a few yarns of his own.

Later, we encountered in person one of the local landmarks on Swan's Island pictured in Cheney's book: an artsy mailbox reflecting the ubiquitous Maine crustacean.
As for the many harbors and gunkholes Cheney recommends exploring in mid-coast Maine--Sawyer's Cove, Spectacle Island, WoodenBoat--they will have to wait for another year, another trip to Maine, and a more seaworthy boat than Edna or Kachina.
I know what boat Pope will suggest: our own boat, Echo II.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Three Mechanics in Three Days: Lady Luck Turns Her Back

On Friday the sky clouded--literally AND figuratively. We had spent a lovely evening on our beautiful new charter boat, except for one thing. The GPS, essential to navigation, had problems. One more gentle plea to the mostly-agreeable marina staff: help!

Help was promised in the form of a Raymarine repairman, motoring 30 miles down from Belfast the following morning to Pulpit Harbor, the picturesque cove where we spent a peaceful night. After two reprieves in two days from potential calamities, I held my breath as we awaited his arrival. Was my good fortune destined to continue for one more day? Would Lady Luck stay at my side?

No. She turned her back and walked away.

For four hours Friday morning, we scanned the mouth of the harbor for a vessel speeding our way, waving from our bow to every boat that passed within 500 yards, just in case he was aboard. But they were all lobster boats.

Meanwhile, we noticed the boat batteries seemed to be discharging. Decided to start the engine and charge them up. Uh oh! Starting battery was dead! And just enough juice left in the house battery to start the engine. (Sailors will understand why this induced a certain amount of anxiety in our crew.) Yikes. Could this be true -- TWO electrical problems on our beautiful new charter boat? Was I being abandoned by Lady Luck?

Oh, what are these for? Trying to diagnose the problem by ourselves--ha ha!

Finally, a small motorboat passed in the distance, turned and doubled back. Hallelujah!

"If you hadn't waved, I would have passed right on by," said our new best friend, Kim the repairman. We were very, very happy to see Kim. He methodically worked his way through our electrical system, fixing a blown fuse and broken connection to the GPS, and then tracing our battery problem to a bilge pump that was stuck "on," apparently drawing down the battery power.
Mechanic #1, Kim, tracing the wiring into hidden corners (that's the quarter berth bunk Pope and I are sleeping on, by the way--tight quarters; don't hit your head!)

What a relief. This seemed to be my third lucky break in three days--a licensed and skilled electrician who knew his way around a vessel. He had worked on America's Cup boats! By late afternoon, we were confident our problems were over. Kim was confident--good to go in the morning. To celebrate--and compensate for missing a day of sailing--we hailed the nearby lobster boats and tracked down some soft-shelled lobster for the hungry and frustrated crew.
Lobstermen deliver their catch first to "floats," or rafts, where they store equipment and measure and divide the day's allotment
 Second mate Joanne and third mate Larry dig into freshly harvested lobster tail: "When in Rome...!"
Alas, we had celebrated too soon. Next morning, the engine didn't start. Something was clearly defunct. We were still stuck in Pulpit Harbor, though we tried to look on the bright side--another sunset in a beautiful place, on our beautiful boat. My good fortune had not completely abandoned me. Yet.
Sunset in Cabot Cove, Pulpit Harbor

Another call needed to our home marina: send help! However, Pulpit Harbor is off the beaten path from radio towers. Not easy to get service on our Colorado-and-Washington-based cell phones out there in the wilds of lobster country. 
Larry seeking a cell tower while our skipper, Dave, despairs over the missed days of sailing, the difficulty of making a phone call, and all the mechanics on board!

This time, our savior was a local lobster-boat mechanic named Foy. True to his reputation as the skipper of a frequently-broken-down old boat, Pope was clearly living up to his pattern of getting to know all the local mechanics wherever he goes sailing.
Mechanic #2, Foy: Hmm, where oh where do I look to solve this latest problem?

Foy jumped the battery and gave us his dire prognosis: probably a defunct alternator. He loaned us a jumper battery, which would give us a good shot at starting the engine--once. Get to a full-service marina, he advised. Meanwhile, on HIS cell phone, he transmitted a precise and thorough description to his friends at the local alternator-parts stores: "Um, It seems to be one of those German or Swedish ones; it's smaller than other alternators, and has a bunch more wires on it." (Note: I am NOT making this up; I wrote it down.)
Foy delivers his sad news to skipper Dave and the crew

And thus we moved the boat to a bigger town, seeking to find Foy's alternator-parts friends. We made it to Journey's End Marina in Rockland, Maine; such a fitting name, yet how depressing! Why choose that name for a boatyard that aims to get you back on the water again? Hmm. We WERE already on Day 4 of our 10-day "sailing" adventure.
Here we are, at Journey's End...Marina, that is!

There we were, on Saturday afternoon of Labor Day weekend, still only 10 miles from our starting point, with mechanic #3 on board, holed up in a Rockland harbor that we barely reached, on a dead battery and with no alternator, with a jumper battery on board from #2 mechanic, who diagnosed the alternator, shortly after mechanic #1 fixed the GPS. On a holiday weekend in a region of small towns, marine parts stores were closed up tight. 

Ed was a jolly mechanic, who sang along while Dave and I practiced Bob Dylan songs on our banjo and guitar. He did his best to jury-rig the alternator, but was unable to perform miracles on our maybe-German-or-Swedish alternator; we are stuck in Rockland until Tuesday when the shops re-open.
Mechanic #3, Ed, tried his best to get us back on the water today!

Our fortune has degenerated from good to mediocre, it's true. Lady Luck may have turned her back on us, but all is not lost! Rockland is a decent-sized tourist town with a homespun brewery and cafes serving up lobster, steamed clams, and mac 'n' cheese.

Best of all, it boasts lots of marine service shops that can bail us out of our fix two days from now, after Labor Day weekend. That will be Day 6 of our 10-day "sailing" adventure. Maybe our luck will turn again, like the ever-changing tides. You never know.

Meanwhile, we wait. We eat. We drink. We read. 
 Mark and Pope are so anxious about the waiting they can't sit still
We explore the town. We eat and drink some more. Sometimes we drink too much and sing silly songs. The waiting can be excruciating!
To kill time, entertain myself, and hopefully provide promising options for our anxious and despairing crew, I am combing the area, seeking other means of unusual yet potentially useful transportation to explore the coast of Maine. Stay tuned.
Windjammers dock here in Rockland
Tugboat for sale
It can carry four crew members from Point A to Point B
It can carry two crew members from point A to point B; with the rowboat pictured above, the two together can accommodate our whole crew!