|Up the Coast to Maine
by June McMains
published in the Downeast Coastal Press, October 1, 2002
When we reached Cherryfield for the summer this year, summer was nearly over. That's because we came from Florida in a 44 foot High Star, a twin engine trawler type boat that cruised at about 18 miles an hour. We were living out one of my husband's dreams-to go all the way up the East Coast on the water. He fulfilled his dream in 30 days, but in many respects it was a nightmare. In a weak moment that I regretted almost immediately, I agreed to be First Mate, and felt committed to see it through.
My retrospective boils down to the following few blunt statements, but I kept a log detailing my feelings throughout the trip.
The entire log is accessible at: www.sunriseline.com/north2002
Here is the final lap.
Day 30, July 13, Boothbay Harbor to Winter Harbor
We got off early from Booth Bay Harbor as we were anxious to get home. We could hardly squeeze between the lobster pots which are hard to keep track of and seemed to appear in our path at the last second. We had a couple of near misses and had to veer sharply. The sky was bright with more clouds than blue, with a lot of wind. It took effort to stay in our seats, and we bounced up and down in the navy sea.
Once out of the harbor, we passed a dozen small evergreen islands, billowy rocks like big puffy pillows piled on shore. Islands continued to appear, green mounds in the distance, but rarely a boat. It was cold on the upper helm, and we were wearing our jackets. As I worked, my Swedish weaving warmed my legs.
Mid morning, Wren decided on a shortcut. Historically this has always added a minimum of 3 hours to any trip on land. We headed almost due east. We passed Isle au Haut and hundreds of small birds skittered over the water, black bodies and white wings like grindings of salt and pepper. It got colder and rougher as we progressed. By eleven I had a second jacket on and was huddled under my weaving, which was sticky with salt spray. I worried all morning about having to drive the boat in this weather, but I knew it was imminent after all the coffee Wren had drunk at breakfast.
See that ripple in front of the island ahead. Just steer for that.
As soon as he left, both the island and the ripple disappeared. I couldn't keep the compass setting at all in the rough water. He took forever. I decided no liquids for lunch.
When we reached the mountains, the sea began to smooth out. A chain of humps, links in a monster dragon, was barely visible in the haze, Cadillac Mountain, the largest hump. My no-liquids plan failed. Wren left me at the wheel while he went to the engine room to move levers. This time I was faced with circumventing lobster pots, and there was no room for error. People who can't hold a compass point in the ocean should not navigate near lobster pots. One zig instead of a zag and we could have a line wound around us turning us into a lettuce dryer that spins with a winding cord. Wren arrived back in the nick of time.
At the last minute we had been advised not to moor our boat in Milbridge, 3 miles from home as the water is very shallow at low tide. So we headed for Winter Harbor at the end of the Schoodic Peninsula. Wren insisted on a detour to the point first. As we changed direction, the wind picked up and we were back in heavy seas. On shore the volcanic rock deposits bring tourists from all over the country. From the water they just looked like a dirty excavation site. Wren insisted on taking pictures anyhow, his body and camera facing the stern as we approached a mass of lobster pots rising on the peaks of waves. A few seconds of frantic steering and he got us headed back for home.
Winter Harbor was blustery, filled with lobster pots but there was no sign of a dock. We eventually spotted our Suburban on land, leading us to the right spot. The harbor master helped us tie up, thank goodness, as I suddenly forgot everything I had learned in 30 days and was wildly flinging ropes into the water. Both the dock and the boat were flailing around in the wind. We tried to pack up inside as we rocked violently from side to side, and finally managed to partially unload, then secure the boat to its mooring. As we drove home, I relaxed with the thought the trip was finally over.
Well, maybe not. The very next day, we realized that our most important possessions were still on board, so we drove the 25 miles to Winter Harbor with two empty suitcases. Our dingy had several inches of water in it-cold water-53 degrees to be exact. We climbed in and water sloshed through our shoes and up our ankles. I sat poised on the side to avoid swimming in the bottom. Wren took off and revved the motor sending us speeding ahead. I was clutching the suitcases and rising into the air.
We found our possessions, I cleaned the fridge, and we tried to bale out the dinghy. But as much water as we poured overboard, more somehow seeped in. Giving up, we plunged the two heavy suitcases into the wet bottom, and I sat on top of them as we undulated over someone's wake, bobbing up and down the waves. We reached the dock, but had trouble with the rest of the process. The little boat kept swinging around in the breeze, and Wren couldn't raise the engine out of the water. For awhile I was on shore with the gas, the suitcases, and a small bit of rope, and Wren was twirling around in the harbor. The Zodiac worked much better in Florida.
It took two more attempts to unload the rest of the boat. By the next try, it was clear that the dingy had a leak so we prepared to be wet, but when we got to our mooring, there was a lobster pot all tangled around us. After all our narrow misses navigating around them at sea, some lobsterman has placed his pot right next to us and the wind had entwined them together. Wren couldn't get them apart, so we filled up two suitcases and again took them back in the water logged dingy.
The Sunrise Line spent eight weeks in Winter Harbor. We found an experienced captain to take her back to Florida. Not until the day before her return, did we venture out, grabbing our only chance to explore the Maine coast. We were just too tired before that.
Our one excursion took place on a flawless morning in early September. Leaving the harbor, nothing looked as it had when we arrived in July. The blue sky was translucent, white clouds puffed up like plastic pool toys above us. The blinding sun coated the water with a sugar glaze, hiding the lobster buoys. As we headed south, Cadillac Mountain meandered on our right in dips and peaks covered in a green and beige paisley print. Schoodic Point's true beauty emerged as we passed, pink granite boulders, like mammoth glistening gemstones or a lost city rising from the water. In the distance rows of overlapping pines stood guard perched on granite towers, their watch stations, as smoky mountain peaks softened the space around them. We headed toward Petit Manan Island. Lobster boats were out working their traps, gulls fluttering behind them like a string of burgees. Occasionally, we saw seaweed floating on the water, rubbery taupe monsters with a hundred thumbs.
We never set foot on Petit Manan as we had to turn around to return the boat for provisioning for the trip South. On the way back, Wren saw a whale surface three times, hump rising out of the water. I missed it totally. We handed the Sunrise Line over to the capable new captain who would return it to Florida in the time it took us to go half way. To my surprise, I wished a boat ride had gone on longer, that we could have had more opportunities to explore Maine.