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.

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