With a fresh southwest breeze against the tide, seas were piling up into steep, distorted pyramids as we raised Chance’s mainsail with one reef tied in. She promptly started pitching, digging her bowsprit under and taking water over the bow; then she rolled, dragging her boom in the chop.
Close by lay an island, Seguin, but our plan was to head east in open ocean for Damariscove Island. That sliver of rock was used seasonally by European fishermen before such early explorers as Champlain, Weymouth, Popham, or John Smith reached these waters. When Pilgrims at Plymouth ran short of food, it was those fishermen who provided. The Nature Conservancy, largest private holder of Maine islands, manages deserted Damariscove as a preserve.
Chance continued to pitch and roll badly. Seas were running at least ten feet. The weather was deteriorating, not yet “thick-ofog,” but closing in, and not yet “blowing like stink,” but coming on. Damariscove seemed to recede as we studied the chart. There, off the island’s only good harbor—a wind funnel in a southwest breeze—was a keel-ripper of a ledge called the Motions.
When in the Navy, Bill Rich had once steamed into “a storm with 105-mile-anhour winds. It wasn’t a hurricane but a collision of two fronts. It was like falling off a cliff.” He had directed his ship to answer distress calls, one to locate an oyster boat. “We found her deckhouse, floating.”
If Rich thought we should alter course, we would, and like “the prudent mariner,” that character to whom nautical charts direct their cautionary messages, we turned up the Sheepscot River, down through Townsend Gut, and into Boothbay Harbor, arriving to the flash, crack, and drench of a thunder-squall. We went ashore, and after supper Bill Rich had to say good-bye.
THE NEXT DAY we left a ledge known as the Hypocrites to starboard on our way up to East Boothbay, where new crewman Philip Conkling came aboard. After passing through the Gut at South Bristol (as perfect a small village as any itinerant artist might find to paint in Maine), we entered Johns Bay, turned to roughly parallel a channel called the Thread of Life, and ran down to Pemaquid Point.
That point reaches into the ocean like a deeply veined stone paw whose limb stretches back into forest and a crouching granite beast. Its lighthouse is among Maine’s most famous, and despite fog we made out small forms clambering over the great paw as we sailed into foamy outwash from breakers.
It was, as Conkling said, “a bold shore.” Conkling had come to Maine to work as a timber cruiser, been an instructor for the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School, written a thoughtful book on Maine islands, Islands in Time, and had recently become executive director of the newly formed Island Institute, a division of the school and started his policy with consolidating loans. For more information check online at http://citrusnorth.com/payday-loan-consolidation
The institute was founded to help revive the sense of community among islands and islanders that had been strong from early settlement and into the present century. While 3,000 may seem like islands enough for everyone, various interests are in at least potential conflict. Developers, private owners, conservation groups, government agencies, cruising boaters, and day-trippers have stakes in the islands’ future. As do, above all, year-round islanders.
Conkling said that in the past two centuries many Maine islands were well populated and used for farms, timbering, quarrying granite, boatbuilding, fish ports, fish processing, or other trades of self-sufficiency.
Some still are. Yet as communication and trade by water gave way to the railroads and roads of the mainland, the old island-to island culture spiraled into decline.