|Bays and Islands
Monday, September 17, 2007
In the morning when Carla boards The Cat, I leave the ferry terminal and pedal the mile or so back into town. By the time I get there, it is eight and The Cat should be pulling away from her dock and heading out into the bay. Down at the harbor, I wait to see her pass between the Porcupine Islands, but she does not make an appearance while I am standing there, and so eventually I head up to the Opera House Internet Cafe on Main Street. Under the hypnotic power of a laptop display screen, the hours roll by and afternoon arrives. Only then do I think of moving on.
My plan is to slip out of harbor with Kobuk in time to round the east end of Mount Desert Isle before sunset. That will put me just a little closer to Castine, the next intended stop down the coast some fifty miles distant. From Bar Harbor it is only a dozen miles or so to Northeast Harbor, and then just a few miles farther on, across the mouth of Soames Inlet, lies Southwest Harbor, a village reputed to be just as pictuesque. Yesterday when I stopped by at the marina in Northeast Harbor, the attendant there told me that it would cost forty dollars to stay the night. He also told me that there is a marina with slips for transients at Southwest Harbor but he didn't know what their fees were. Since it has cost nothing to stay in Bar Harbor, I am prepared to pay a premium to have a slip for one night. This is rich folks' country so in either place the bathrooms should be clean, the shower water hot, and the wifi functional.
With the sun starting to slip off to the west, Kobuk and I depart Bar Harbor and push out against a mild headwind in Frenchman Bay. The rugged shoreline of Mount Desert Isle's national park is off the starboard beam and Cadillac Mt. looms up behind it. There is a paling look to the rich forest, not a change of color so much as a slight bleaching of the leafy green. It is the precursor to fall colors, and on this gloriously cool afternoon, with the sun shining brightly, the feel of fall is unmistakable. As we wear around the southeast bulge of the island and swing towards a more westerly course, there is an improvement of our angle of attack on the wind and waves, making them seem less adversarial. Although at first there were a number of handsome, designer homes along the rocky shore, they soon gave way to a swath of preserved natural beauty--a bed roll of forest rounding up from the rocky shore and sweeping back towards the flanks of Cadillac and its ancilliary peaks.
With our course directly towards the setting sun, we make our approach into Southwest Harbor. We follow a path ephemeral silver glittering on the ever-changing peaks and facets of the myriad wavelets out in front of us. Backlit by the sun, Southwest Harbor is a darkened silhouette that only occasionally offers glimpses of sailboat masts and waterside piers. When we reach port and tie off, the silent hush of serious wealth surrounds us. We are tied at the end of a floating dock that extends impossibly far out into the bay--one of three such docks, all protected by a flat rock reef immediately to seaward. This is the home of Hinckley Boat Yard, and here along this dock is tied a string of their boats, each looking like the nautical equivalent of a cross between muscle car and luxury sedan. They lie at dock utterly complacent in their superiority, and who am I to challenge it? The fees to stay here are the highest Kobuk and I have ever encountered. Let me put it this way: when one of Kobuk's Bar Harbor neighbors chooses to spend the night, the cost is more than $300. I do not consult with Kobuk; I simply pay the price. It is, I suppose, good training for what we might expect when we get to Florida.
Southwest Harbor: 44* 16.421' N / 68819.242' W
Distance: 15 miles
Total Distance: 5,920 miles
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
We have the rarest of things this morning: a light wind out of the northeast. Conditions are perfect for getting on down the coast. I take Kobuk out beyond the ledge that protects Dysart's Great Harbor Marina and then turn things over to the power of the big rotary engine. The speedometer inches higher and higher until we settle in at a cruising speed of 24 miles per hour. The wind and waves are not a significant factor, but there are a number of fishing boats about and they plow up considerable wakes that radiate across the broad waters and approach us from unpredictable directions. The wakes traveling with us do no more than give Kobuk the opportunity to bound from wave to wave in a rollicking way, but the ones coming at us have the potential to put us airborn--and once in the air Kobuk is incapable of a soft landing. I watch carefully for this occasional hazard and throttle back whenever we are threatened, but most of the going is smooth and I revel in the cool air blowing through the cabin with its clamshell top open. The engine drones and Kobuk chews up the miles. This is one of very few times this season that Kobuk has been able to fly, and there have been no other times as calm as this. One hour passes and then part of another with Kobuk doing its ractrack thing--darting from one waypoint to the next. We enter Eggemoggin Reach, a long stretch of open water running between the mainland and Deer Isle. Deep within the Reach there is a reference on the nautical chart of something having to do with the Torrey Canyon. This oil tanker disaster happened on the other side of the Atlantic, however, so I do not understand the nature of the reference. It is enough, though, to keep me alert as we power up towards the suspension bridge that connects the island with the mainland.
Tomorrow, my friend Dick Gardner will arrive by bus in Rockport to join Kobuk for the two-day cruise down to Portland. Since Rockport seemed too far away to make in one day from Southwest Harbor, I planned on breaking the journey in Castine. But now, with so much of the trip accomplished so quickly, I decide on a change of plan. Kobuk and I will spend the afternoon motoring across Penobscot Bay and put up in Camden for the night, leaving only about seven miles to Rockport. Dick's bus will arrive in late afternoon, so that will allow for a leisurely morning in one of the more famous towns of the Maine coast.
Moving out into Penobscot Bay, there are two schooners running westward with all sails set. They are far off, so distant as to be dark silhouettes near the ocean's horizon. They seem to move in a stately fashion, pushed by the wind but unpreturbed by the waves. Already today, while cruising at high speed, I sighted two other distant schooners looking similarly unruffled and equally decked out with all available canvas. They are a source of consolation to one who yearns for the elegance and beauty of Maine's nautical past.
As the afternoon wears on, the Penobscot crossing develops the usual perverse characteristics: lumpy seas and rising adverse winds (that now have shifted). Kobuk has handled this sort of things many times before, however, so we bounce and bump our way along until eventually entering the shelter of Camden Harbor. Here at last we have moved out of the realm of the fisherman and into the domain of the pleasure boater. The harbors of Mount Dessert Isle hinted at the shift, but now the signs are unmistakable: fishing boats are few whereas lavish cruising sailboats and monstrous cruising powerboats fill the floating docks. The boat traffic is phenominally great from my point of view, but when I talk with the harbormaster he tells me that the peak season is well past. He thinks I am fortunate to have arrived at such a quiet time.
While preparing Kobuk for the evening, a small, dapper man of my age, sporting a big smile and a bald pate, comes down the ramp to take a closer look at this mini-cruiser. He strikes up a conversation by asking countless questions about Kobuk and me. I answer them as best I can and then try to turn the conversation by asking him if he lives in town. No, he doesn't; he lives in New Hampshire. I express surprise and tell him that I grew up next to Newfound Lake in New Hampshire. His eyes widen and he asks if I know a woman who has lived there for some time, a woman named Audrey. "Audrey Dunklee?" I ask him. "Yes," he says, and then explains that they both do patrolling on lakes--He patrols on Sunapee while Audrey patrols on Newfound. How curious that I should meet someone who is friends with a woman who I knew as a youth, a woman whose uncle (in his mid 90's) was my father's best friend, a woman whose brother was a classmate of mine in school. Both Audrey and her brother Johnny live in homes built on land that was purchased from my parents.
Camden Harbor: 44* 12.598' N / 69* 03.784' W
Distance: 50 miles
Total Distance: 5,970 miles
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
I'm getting tired of talking about how nice all these little port towns are so I fear Camden is going to have to suffer for my dark mood. Everything is nice enough here--what with the compact little harbor and the town center tucked up a block away on a hillside, like a mother hen watching her brood--but it is more than a little distressing that the harbor isn't very well protected. Off to the south there is an open exposure to Penobscot Bay and the Gulf of Maine farther on, so a south wind could make things uncomfortable. It would have to be from that singular point of the compass for the arc of exposure cannot be more than about fifteen degrees, but the wind must come from there sometimes and when it does Camden is a ripe target. I don't know: maybe there is something about the shape of the shoreline or the depth of the bottom that somehow disarms any advancing waves, but it is disconcerting whenever you can see the ocean's horizon from the supposed protection of a harbor. That having been said, I do have to admit that Kobuk's stay here during predominantly southwest winds has not been in the least uncomfortable.
Maybe my dark mood was brought on by the near mishap I had when ferrying gas from the station a few blocks away. The station is a short distance up a steep hill, and this is ideal since the pedal up with empty jerry cans is not too arduous while the run back with them full can be done with no work at all. I took it all for granted, though. I allowed myself to think I have mastered the art and presumed the coast back to Kobuk could be done without thinking about it. But here's the problem with this. The best technique for keeping the jerry cans from swinging and causing the bike to wobble is to put the left hand on the actual jerry can hanging from that side of the handle bar while leaving the right hand free to steer the bike and to apply the rear brake if necessary. I started off from the garage too absentmindedly and found my right hand on the handlebar out at its end, too far out to reach the brake lever. The steep hillside descent down to Kobuk made me immediately aware of my error and in a rush to make an adjustment I released the jerry can in my left hand and applied the front brake--not a wise thing to do when you are running downhill with two fifty pound weights dangling up over your front wheel. I didn't crash, but it was a near thing and only managed to save the situation by dismounting and stumbling to a stop while straddling the bike. It's a good thing Bike Friday has something of a "girl's bike" configuration. Duly chastened, I was much more cautious thereafter.
A south-jutting peninsula is all that separates Camden from the little harbor of Rockport, a run-around of only a few miles. Since I am to meet Dick in Rockport late this afternoon, I set out for our rendezvous in the early afternoon and spend an uncomfortable hour plugging into the gusts and stuff so typical of strengthening afternoon breezes. When I run down into the Rockport bay I realize how premature I was to criticize the exposed nature of the Camden Harbor: Rockport's is far worse. Coming up to a floating dock here is rather like being set on a lee shore, and with all the anchored boats bouncing and bobbing around as if at a carnival, Kobuk has little choice but to join the festivities. I constantly worry that the frenetic motion will kick the fenders up out of their slots between Kobuk's topsides and the edge of the floating dock, but there is nothing to be done about it except keep watch. Eventually, I do manage to move over to a less exposed dock space, but in the process the jet drive picks up floating debris that quickly collects in this dead-end basin whenever the wind is making a direct assault. Without adequate power for maneuvering, I manage to crunch Kobuk's stern against the cross-dock at the end of our slip. It knocks the Yamaha and Remote Troll out of kilter and I wonder if it now is going to have to be repaired. But, nope, the controls still manage it fine and no harm has been done.
Dick Gardner is a friend from the teenage years, a school mate who I did not see for over thirty years. Then last fall I stopped by his home in New Hampshire and we reestablished our long-dormant connection. We quickly returned to our old ways of discussing abstract questions of little relevance to anybody's lives, and it was then that we knew that the basis of our relationship was still intact. We agreed then that Dick would come over and spend a short while on Kobuk when she got to the Maine coast and, in spite of the way these sorts of intentions so often come to naught, the idea is now turning into a reality. On the way back from the bus station, with Dick on foot and me acting as his porter (well, I do have the bicycle), we discuss the plan for the evening. We have been thinking of carrying on up the coast a few more miles to Rockland because Dick's brother, Jim (who I also knew in school) has his Bristol 42 anchored there and we could join him and his wife for the evening. The rough waters have intimidated me, however, and I am beginning to waver. By the time Dick and I have gotten organized (and the jet drive has been cleared!) there will only be about an hour left until dark, and the waters seem rather rough for Mazda power. In the end, though, we take the bit in our teeth. It's a questionable decision, but I rationalize it away by persuading myself that we will return to Rockport if things look too bad.
As soon as we get out on the water it becomes obvious that a more casual approach to cruising will prevail now that there are two of us to make mistakes. Dick takes over the navigating duties by trying to keep track of our location on a miniaturized nautical chart. It is so much reduced that even a young person viewing it in good light probably would have to use a magnifying glass to make out features, buoys, etc. Here we are, bouncing over waves at around 15-20 mile per hour, in the fading light of day, and Dick is having a few problems. All the way there, we respectfully disagree about where we are, and right in the middle of our low grade dispute the long Rockland breakwater suddenly materializes off to starboard. Fortunate are we that it found us for I fear that Dick and I might not have found it before the onset of night. We cruise around the breakwater and begin looking for a black hull--that being the color of Jim's boat, Dick assures me. A great black hull looms in the distance near the breakwater, and I wonder aloud if that could be it. Big mistake. When we get near, it materializes as a derelict, live-aboard hull of enormous size, looking like the Flying Dutchman after the passage of many years. Dick derides my lack of critical judgment and directs me over to Valkyrie which is anchored not far away. In the dying light, Jim and Judy help us raft up.
Rockland Anchorage: 44* 06.764' N / 69* 05.299' W
Distance: 14 miles
Total Distance: 5,984 miles
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Jim and Judy were very gracious hosts last night, feeding us and quenching our raging thirst and providing us with a rafted anchorage. We kept them up rather later than I suspect they are accustomed to, but the discussion was worth it, I think. We solved all the problems with America's system of higher education and even got a good start on reviving the national infrastructure by diverting funds from the ongoing war effort (and also raising taxes, I'm afraid). All in all, we were very productive.
Jim and Judy have this curious habit of getting started early in the morning, so Dick and I made a point of rising at an unnatural hour and saying our goodbyes. Jim and Judy set off for points east, but we slunk into harbor and tied off at the town dock--ostensibly to get Internet work done but really to start the day at a more civilized pace. We took breakfast in a main street restaurant and then wandered around for a little while searching for Coleman fuel. By the time we had ourselves readied for action, the day was well along. We want to get to Boothbay Harbor by the end of the day but that's no problem: we'll just crank up the Mazda for a little while.
Dick tends the electronic chart on the laptop while I steer the boat and monitor the Garmin GPS. It seems the two of us have been Shanghaied by Cap'n Navigator, that nifty software given to me by a man named Jim back in Yarmouth. We have it rigged up so that Kobuk is a little moving boat on a sea of various blue shades, with islands and the coast in black and tan. Kobuk projects a red line out her bow and we can at all times see in perfect detail exactly where we are headed. This is a chart plotter, a commonality in the modern boating world but something of a novelty for the two of us. My old, simple Garmin cannot present detailed charts on its gray tone screen. I used to wonder how early navigators managed before the advent of GPS; now I begin to wonder whether I can do without a proper chart plotter. If Columbus had had one he probably would have spent his time diddling below deck--and certainly wouldn't have been searching for new worlds.
Wind and sea stay light enough for us to escape from Penobscot Bay but then the waves begin to build and we switch over to the Yamaha for the rest of the day. The slower speed is a good thing, actually, since Muscongus Bay, the next one along, offers little in the way of unobstructed waters. Small islands and rocky outcrops slip by on both sides until at last we clear Pemaquid Point and begin to approach Boothbay Harbor. We find when we arrive that there are in fact two Boothbays. The first is the town itself situated next to a sheltered bay within the bay on the east side. The church spire, the traffic on the streets, the waterfront buildings--all this viewed through the veil of countless boats anchored near shore--testify to the urban character of this Boothbay. The second one, however, is farther in and over on the western side. Here, a different bay within the bay provides a more bucolic setting with scattered houses along the shore, moored boats fewer in number, and a single yacht club. We tie off at the club to inquire about a mooring for the night, and discover that up to the clubhouse there is a party going on. Nothing raucous, mind you--just a distinguished set of society sophisticates sipping cocktails and talking about things important. We must crash this party in order to find a club official with the authority to say yes or no to our appeal for permission to stay overnight. A man named Jim is brought over to us and with him we make arrangements to take up one of the moorings for the night.
Really, Dick and I are not suitably attired for this evening's event. Most people are well dressed and smell good. This is really not of much concern to me, but Dick clearly feels uncomfortable with our ragged appearance. It makes me realize the degree to which I have become accustomed to rambling around the country with no regard for the local dress code. Perhaps if Dick were cruising for weeks on end instead of just a few days his sense of social decorum would be less finely tuned. Then again, perhaps not.
Rather than immediately heading out to our mooring for the night, Dick and I spend a bit of time sitting on Kobuk, tied to the dock. We have not been there for very long at all when an undersized young man with a sort of perky strut shows up from the fisheries office to ask us a few questions. Although he is nice enough, it is clear from his tone that he suspects us of something. As soon as he sees our setup, however, he softens and confesses that he had come across the bay to see us because when we entered the harbor we looked to him like an urchin boat. I was mystified by this, completely baffled as to what he meant. Then it became clear that he meant it literally: he thought we were a boat that had been out illegally harvesting sea urchins. These spiny creatures are a delicacy in Japan and a few years ago the local waters were stripped clean of them. A law was passed to prohibit their being taken, but evidently they command such a price that poaching is a problem. I rather like the idea of being a poacher, although the prospect of being caught red-handed is not very appealing. Anyway, I guess small boats are quite suitable for the job and one like Kobuk with its sheltering cabin and canvaswork all around would be good for such clandestine activity.
After sunset, Dick and I motor out to pick up a mooring. The plan is to get ourselves dinner on board, but somehow we get distracted by the Captain--Captain Morgan, that is--and dinner becomes inconsequential for both of us. Our conversation becomes ever more animated even as my recollection of it becomes less clear. The potent combination of a day on the water and spiced rum without dinner puts us in the mood for sleep, but only after the Captain with his foot on the barrel is standing in pretty shallow stuff. Dick may be a single malt snob, but surprisingly that does not seem to have dulled his capacity to enjoy less sophisticated stuff. As the saying in the song goes: "After you've been having steak for a long time / Beans, beans taste fine. / And you've been tasting Champagne and brandy / You're gonna love that cherry sweet wine." I really don't think Dick is just being polite.
Boothbay Anchorage: 43* 50.779' N / 69* 38.529' W
Distance: 47 miles
Total Distance: 6,031 miles
Friday, September 21, 2007
Yesterday, Dick had an opportunity to experience first hand the pleasure of steering with the Remote Troll. The little toggle switch that pivots the outboard panel is compact and conceptually simple. The idea of steering with just a push of the finger--well, it's a great idea in theory. We all are attracted to simple theories--even those of us with few intellectual interests--because a theory makes sense of the world. But what do you do when the reality doesn't fit? One should toss the theory, surely, but often we choose not to. We stick with it and try to force reality to cooperate. That is what happens with the Remote Troll. In many, many circumstances it just doesn't do a very good job of directing the boat, but, hey, all it requires is a push of the button on one side or the other so like trained rats we keep pushing the button and waiting for the reward. It is a psychologist's experiment; the button works just often enough to keep us on the hook. I have lived through my struggles with the remote troll and now there is a sort of wary truce between us, one grounded in distrust but honored out of necessity.
Dick, however, was new to the struggle and he kept taking for granted that the button would work. This naivete was natural and would not be overcome in just a day or two. We ultimately found Boothbay Harbor, and that was all that mattered.
But today I have in mind a different form of torture for Mr. Gardner: steering the jet drive. The Remote Troll may be the mule on board, but the jet drive is the greased pig. In a most willful and undomesticated manner, it sends Kobuk slithering and slipping this way and that. The slower you go, the worse it gets. All the steering in the world doesn't help. The closer you come to corralling it, the more frantically it struggles to elude you. The only thing missing is the squeals. When you are first learning to cope with this devil, you feel far worse than you would if you had no steering at all. In that situation you would at least know your inertial trajectory, and could thus write your will with fair assurance of the timing and location of your destiny with doom. No, the jet drive is less predictable than that: when you make a course "correction,", the response may be (1) nothing, (2) an exaggeration of the former deviation from course, (3) a cooperative response delayed longer than a teenager asked to clean her room, or (4) a proper correction taken to a seemingly unstoppable extreme. It is also possible, but highly unlikely, that the boat will head where you intend to aim it. The uncertainty of all this is profoundly disturbing and whenever another boat approaches within a hundred yards, you feel like standing up and shouting across the waters, "Stay away! Stay away!" Your behavior would seem absolutely mad to the skipper in the other boat, but as Emily says, "Much madness is divinest sense to a discerning eye".
Dick finds it no easier to manage the main engine steering than I did when I started out, and I derive a certain pleasure from this. Why is it that we take delight in applying a mean-spirited torture to our friends that we would never consider imposing on those who mean nothing to us? I presume, of course, that it isn't just me.
There is peace on the ocean today. Light winds merely ruffle the surface and the sun pours down abundantly through the humid and haze-laden air. Once out in the open where there is room to maneuver, Dick handles the helm with more attentiveness than is healthy, but we make progress and the miles slip below the hull. After reaching Casco Bay, we shift to the Yamaha and cruise more slowly through the fleet of islands anchored there. Hours pass and we become hypnotized by the placid conditions.
One of the secret pleasures of cruising is the way it so readily induces altered states of consciousness. On land, the only reliable routes to worlds unconstrained by the facts around us are drugs and alcohol, but at sea such liberated states of mind are commonplace and do not require substance abuse. Dreams are more frequent and more vivid. Visions and hallucinations are regular occurrences: a black speck near the horizon becomes a steaming freighter or a rocky reef or a stately schooner--only to disappear entirely some time later. At first, these "merely imaginary" events disturb the practical mind, but with time they come to be accepted as natural. I remember last summer cruising across the Mississagi Channel on Lake Huron with a nonexistent suspension bridge distant off the starboard beam. It was there for over an hour as I motored between the two islands and the clarity of its intricate cabling made its presence a comforting sign that I was not alone in the vast world.
Years ago, when I was working on White Eagle, making passage from Auckland to Papeete, the skeleton crew of four was divided into two watches that alternated at the helm for four hour periods at night and six hour periods during the day. I was paired with Jill, but Daphne was teamed with Mike who had been hired just to make this long crossing. In the middle of the tropical night with stars swirling overhead and friendly seas slapping the side of the hull, Daphne came up into the cockpit to join Jill and me an hour before her watch was to start. This was surprising because after so many days at sea the demanding watch schedule had made us all so sleep deprived that whenever off watch we were deep in slumber. Nevertheless, Daphne was alert and bright and helped Jill and me make it through that final hour. The three of us sat in the cockpit talking quietly about life aboard the boat when out of the blue Daphne asked "Were's Ray?" Ray was the former captain of White Eagle and Daphne worked under him. When Jill and I asked Daphne questions about what she meant, it finally became clear that she was asleep, and we had to shepherd her down below and put her back to bed, only to awaken her moments later for her own upcoming watch.
I should not wish to leave the impression, however, that sleepwalking is a uniquely maritime behavior. When Dick and I were teenagers in school together many years ago, we had a mutual friend who told us of a most disturbing incident. He had gone to stay overnight with the family of his girlfriend and had been consigned to the guest bedroom. In the middle of the night he had had to go to the bathroom. He got up and took his usual route down the hall to relieve himself and then went back to bed. In the morning, with everyone gathered for breakfast, the girlfriend's mother opened the linen cupboard and discovered to her dismay dampened and discolored bedclothes on a shelf there. Our friend was terribly diswrought at what he had done, but of course he did not confess. If you ask him, Dick will confirm this story.
For our final approach to Portland, we have decided to thread our way between Long and Peaks Islands and then turn sharp left to keep the Diamond Islands on our right. As we close in on the first of these narrow passages, a white duvet comes racing in from out at sea and cuts our visibility to less than a quarter mile. We have done our homework, though: electronic navigation takes us through the channels uneventfully and by the time we make Portland Harbor the fog has lifted enough for us to make out the dockside arrangements. We opt to tie up at a floating dock outside the DiMello's Marina, one that does not appear to be part of their rental inventory and yet can only be accessed via a coded entry gate. When we walk out to the gate and hesitate by it, trying to figure out how we will get back in, a stranger on a nearby boat yells over to us that the code is "2769*." With that useful piece of information, Dick takes me off to a nearby tavern to have a beer. Then, he is on his way home and I am left on my own in the Portland fog.
Portland (DiMello's): 43* 39.261' N / 70* 14.962' W
Distance: 38 miles
Total Distance: 6,069 miles
Saturday, September 22, 2007
It was a restless night for both Kobuk and me. She suffered from a broadside exposure to the open harbor where ships passing in the night sent out silent wave trains to rock her and wallop her against the side of the dock. I suffered from a stuffy head and nasal passages that alternated between clogged and semi-cleared, depending on which side was down. And all the while the clammy fog curled around us to make the atmosphere Londonesque. In the gray light of morning, sleep becomes elusive and I find myself getting up, and bundling up, and going out to walk the cobbled streets of old Portland town. When at last a few establishments open their doors, I slip into an Internet cafe and lay claim to the best table in the house--a small, round table in a bay window overlooking the street and with an electrical outlet down near floor level. Looking as bad as I feel, I remain there, hour after hour, trying to sort out a problem at work. By mid-afternoon, the pieces begin to come together and not long before dinner time I close up my laptop and say goodbye to the staff who by now must be wondering whether the revenues from coffee refills could ever cover the opportunity cost of a constantly occupied table in a prime location.
By the time I drag myself away from Common Grounds, I am faint with hunger and shaky with caffeine. Not much farther along Exchange Street is an Indian restaurant where I decide to take an early supper. Empty of customers when I go in and take a seat, the waiter who comes to my table treats me as if my arrival is an irksome interruption. What I am interrupting I cannot say for he stands like a dark statue at the far end of the dining area and becomes a living, moving creature only slowly and very reluctantly. After taking my order he returns to what must be his imagined pedestal at the back of the room and never moves until my food is ready to be delivered. Once he has brought my meal, however, he does not go back to his usual place. Instead, he becomes a fixture next to a nearby table where, in frozen immobility he can gaze on me as I down my food. I am too hungry to care, and the ample portions of rice and buttered chicken and raita and nan pass down my gullet with what must seem to him colossal impertinence. In fact, I eat too fast and too much, and spend all evening burping and swallowing down acidic eruptions that occasionally try to make their way up towards my taste buds.
This is the second time I have hit Portland on a weekend, actually. When I returned to Yarmouth a few weeks ago I had to stay over on a Friday night in order to make the necessary connection between an incoming airline flight and an outgoing run of The Cat to Yarmouth. That experience taught me that it is unwise to overnight in this city without a boat. When my flight landed, I called around to try to get a hotel room and the least expensive single room I could find was going to cost $159 plus tax. Fortunately, it was a warm night and I was able to sleep under a tree in an unlit corner of a public park. To make that a little less difficult, I stayed up late and sampled the Portland nightlife in its old section of town. I learned then that Portland is world class in this regard, and last night confirmed the fact. Down by the harbor where restored brick buildings testify to the commercial prosperity of an earlier time and occasional brick streets lend them a patina of authenticity, the contemporary establishments are boutique shops, upscale restaurants, and bars--lots of bars.
On weekend nights, young people swarm the place. Live music from many different sources can be heard street side and the sidewalks are awash with guys and gals working their way from place to place, boisterous and carousing in their manner. Cops are out in force to keep the heavy drinkers in line, and there is a surprising level of familiarity between them and partying public. Some bars have a sports bar orientation and the one that I choose to enter--Fore Play--has televisions showing baseball and football games. Most of the televisions are tuned to baseball, however, since this is September, Portland is Red Sox country, and the Yankees have recently demolished the large lead that the Sox had had in their league. What used to be a fourteen game lead is now down to a game and a half, and the Yankees keep on winning.
Tonight the Sox are playing the hapless Devil Rays and seem to have the game well in hand until the seventh inning when the Rays get two men on base and their star hitter strokes his second home run of the night. Suddenly the Sox are behind and the ghost of the Yankees assails them once again. It is too much for some ardent Red Sox fans who cannot stand the tension and opt to leave for some place without a television. This is the classic Red Sox curse, one that the Sox of earlier years would never have been able to overcome. But winning that one World Series a few years ago--that one breakthrough--has at least diminished the power of that curse. In the top of the ninth, the Sox rebound. They score three runs and win the game.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
The fog has lifted and the forecast for the next few days anticipates high pressure with clear skies and light breezes. After going ashore to take care of practical matters, I return to Kobuk in mid-morning and cast off for Kennebunkport some thirty miles down the coast. I have with me a book by Roger Duncan and John Ware entitled A Cruising Guide to the New England Coast, and in it they discuss the attributes of this particular harbor. Evidently, the Kennebunkport "harbor" is really nothing more than the last mile or so of the Kennebeck River before it empties into a small embayment of the Bigelow Bight. The river is small and narrow and the channel is adequately deep only because it has been dredged. Private docks and commercial marinas line the sides of the river channel and any space not occupied by them is taken up by permanent moorings. Evidently, boat space is hard to come by anywhere between the entry breakwater and the impassable bridge that marks the head of navigation. This particular cruising guide has been around since the 1930's and my edition of it came out seventeen years ago. As bad as the situation was then, it must be far worse now, but being the optimist that I am and having developed an awful lot of confidence in Kobuk's ability to find and fit into space unusable by any other boats, I carry on towards our intended destination unconcerned.
On the run down the coast, Kobuk strikes across the large bay in which Old Orchard Beach is located. As a very young child my parents took me there one time. I have vague memories of the experience, but I was so young that they may be nothing more than memories of what my parents told me. In any event, it strikes me as somehow satisfying that now, after the better part of a lifetime, I should look landward onto that beach and see a place where, in a sense, I started out.
In addition to it being a weekend, it is a lovely day for boating. The mild breeze is perfect for full sails and the gentle seas are fine fun of small powerboats. There are, however, few to be seen until the breakwater entrance to Kennebunkport hoves into view a few miles off. Passing Porpoise Point, traffic picks up and by the time Kobuk reaches the breakwater it is clear that what lies beyond is a hive whose entrance is the strategic bottleneck for lots of coming and going. The cruising guide forewarns of strong tidal currents, but after the Bay of Fundy are not so intimidating and I carry on using the little Yamaha only. Once inside, the intensive use of space becomes very clear. Every conceivable nook and cranny of the waterway has been converted to parking spaces for boats, boats so numerous that even on this fall day the place looks full.
We motor up to the head of navigation searching for a place to tie off and make inquiries. Both banks of the river are nearly continuous warrens of floating docks. The occasional stretch of unobstructed shoreline contains instead manorial homes with floating docks that are clearly in the private domain. Finally, up near the bridge, a yacht facility on the port side looks to have space available and I tie off to inquire. A brusque, angular man comes out to meet me and is quick to let me know that, no, this is not a public facility and there is no dock space available. When I ask where I might try, he directs me to Chick's Marina located on the other side a short ways downstream. When Kobuk and I reach Chick's Marina, I tie her at the far end of the gas dock and walk towards the main building on shore. Immediately, a short, broad woman comes down the stairs and onto the dock to meet me, looking more as if she intends to block my going ashore than help me with some boating need. It is quite clear that she is keeping an eye on the place, but she turns out to be very nice and when I ask if there might be a transient slip for the night she tells me that there is. I ask the price and she asks the length of my boat. "Twenty feet," I tell her. She pauses momentarily, evidently to do a mental calculation, and then says that the cost will be $120. She is quite patient during the fifteen to twenty seconds it takes me to recover from the shock, and even helps me out a little by suggesting another possibility and also by letting me use her bathroom free of charge.
It turns out that here suggested marina has no space and when I tie Kobuk at a floating dock next to a restaurant in order to go in and have dinner I get shooed away from there as well. The situation is getting serious for there are no other protected harbors nearby and night is not far away. I motor down towards the entry breakwater looking for a possible place to anchor, and eventually end up tieing to a floating dock that is part of The River Club, a facility that the cruising guide says is a private club that discourages visitors. Even so, I give it a try. I track down the manager named Joe Brooks and he explains that the club does not have arrangements for visitors. When I tell him that Kobuk is only twenty feet long and can float in a foot of water, he relents and lets me remain tied to The River Club dock for the night.
The River Club, Kennebunkport: 43* 21.041' N / 70* 28.401' W
Distance: 35 miles
Total Distance: 6, 104 miles
Monday, September 24, 2007
Prudence dictates that gas for Kobuk would be a good idea before setting out today. I had planned to buy gas in Portland, but there were no gas stations nearby. I finally succumbed to the temptation to purchase at a marine dock there, but then when I stopped by to check the price the mark-up was excessive: whereas gas station gas was going for less than $2.90 per gallon, the marinas wanted $3.60. We had sufficient gas to get to Kennebunkport so the project was postponed in the hope of finding a nearby gas station in this small town. There is a convenience store gas pump in the center of town, up by the bridge, so in the early morning when the dew is still on the grass and the sun is slanting golden rays I cycle up there to make a purchase. Pedaling back with two filled, red jerry cans hanging from the handlebars of the undersized, green Bike Friday is a sight that gives pause to passing motorists. Somehow, drivers are much more respectful when they see that a collision might do more than merely dent the fender.
It is fortunate that I could get gas roadside since the price here on the water is $4.05 per gallon. Considering the number of power boats in this cramped haven and the stupendous amounts of gas that a power boat uses, I should think it would be worth somebody's while to contract a mini-tanker (something in the 150' range, say), fill its compartments with gas and diesel fuel purchased at highway prices, run up into here and take a mooring for a week, and sell at discount. The ship could be equipped with a special, melodic horn that is sounded periodically to announce the opportunity to buy cheap--rather like the itinerant Good Humor ice cream truck.
With Kobuk prepped for departure at an early enough hour that dew was still on the forward deck, I attempted to step from it to the dock when my food slipped off and I fell between the boat and the dock, one leg going into the water and the rest of me flopping face down on the dock. Hand, groin, and knee ended up bruised--but especially the knee. I lay there for a few minutes trying to get my breath back and dreaming of my youth. Then finally I dragged myself aboard Kobuk and staggered around for a few minutes. Nothing was broken and a swollen knee would end up being the only battle scar so I cast off from the dock, pushed Kobuk out into the open water and carefully stepped aboard at the last second. One interesting discovery came out of this. I felt too beat up to remove the rear canvas, something I always do in order to see the Yamaha if I want when I am steering it. I learned that (1) in mild conditions I really don't need to see it, and (2) when the canvas is on the sound of the engine--already quite tolerably quiet--is muted even more.
Getting in to Portsmouth requires entry into the Piscataqua River, broad at is mouth, but really very small as far as drainage basins go. Even so, when the tide is ebbing--as it is when we enter--it is one of the wildest stretches of navigable water to be found. There is a tremendous current against us. Foam and flotsam fly past and standing waves crop up all over the place. There is a public dock and city park near the downtown, but the main stream of the river runs right next to it and entry into the floating dock area has to be done by carrying heavy throttle until a mere boat length from the outer dock and then cutting power abruptly as the strength of the river current loses its grip. I take an empty spot just as another boat runs up into a space slightly farther downstream. I walk over to talk to the two men on board about the procedure here for using the facilities, and the owner of the boat enters into a critical monologue having to do with the harbormaster. The harbormaster is never around, evidently, and only makes a circuit in the early morning to put an envelope on each boat with a bill inside and directions to leave payment in the envelope up in the little harbormaster's shed. There are only two other boats in the harbor although the park itself seems to get a fair amount of use. It looks quite respectable, but as my informant explains, that is because a wealthy woman who owned a lot of land here left in a trust charged with converting it to this sort of use. She was scandalized by the opium dens and whorehouses and the like that used to be in this area and so she was set upon improving the neighborhood. I am not too sure how reliable my source of all this colorful information may be, but he is fun to listen to.
It is one of life's small ironies that although I grew up in New Hampshire I never happened to visit the town of Portsmouth. I didn't think I was missing much, but now that I am here I can see that it holds its own as a New England port town. Small places like Bar Harbor and Camden certainly are prettier, but Portsmouth is not at all bad. One way in which it is unusual, however, is that it really looks more like a river town. It lies on the south side of the Piscataqua--across from Kittery, Maine--and three or four miles of islands and peninsulas screen off the ocean from view. The waterfront is not its strong point, but when you strike inland a few blocks and get to the city center, it has a delightful confusion of byways and alleys with plenty of handsome old buildings strung along the three different streets that twist their way in towards a central node. And at the heart is a proud
Congregational church of meritorious design, much larger than any other building and yet not separate from them. The merchants in downtown Portsmouth have cooperated to create a wifi hotspot accessible the better part of a block away from this focus point and this has contributed greatly, I think, to the liveliness of the town center.
Prescott Park, Portsmouth, NH: 43* 04.684 N / 70* 45.119' W
Distance: 29 miles
Total Distance: 6,133 miles
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
It is late morning and I am out here in the middle of the Piscataqua waiting for that ferocious current to sweep Kobuk out to sea. But the tide is still coming in. I checked the time for high tide and it ought to have passed already; that was the reason for leaving late. Well, perhaps I misread the tide information--got the wrong day, or failed to factor daylight savings time, or got some other thing wrong. Anyway, the solution to getting out of here is obvious enough: do it under inboard power. I make the switch over and run up to speed. The big yellow Mazda drones deeply in the background; the jet drive whines harshly; the banks of the Piscataqua slip quickly to stern and the old lighthouse at the Portsmouth harbor entrance slides by on the port beam. Now we are out in open water and can get a sense for what will be possible today.
The idea is to get to Gloucester, Massachusetts. From where we are now, the coast runs south and then curls gradually around to the east before exploding in a rocky projection of capes and small cliffs--a promontory known as Cape Ann. Gloucester is located around on the other side of Cape Ann--its south side--but there is an estuary and a canal that cut through, making it possible to avoid rounding the cape. From here to the entrance into the canal is only about twenty five miles if we take a direct route across the bay, but I don't like the looks of the conditions for doing the sprint. Right now, everything is in place: a wind coming up from the south is soft enough that the Mazda could make us skitter across the tops of the chattery surface, but if the wind increases--and it usually does start to around this time of day--the waves will get too big for Kobuk to charge against and we will be reduced to many hours of slogging along with the little Yamaha, smacking waves and bouncing all over the place. It seems better to follow the coast, a route that will add some distance, but will have us heading ever more eastward as the day progresses. That way, if the south wind picks up we will eventually have the protection of a windward shore and what waves we have to deal can be taken at a slant.
The coast is changing its character. Up in Nova Scotia and Maine, rocks were everywhere--sometimes bedrock in layers charging up out of the water in a forceful leap, sometimes just piles of shattered boulders. But always it was rocks. Beach sand, if it existed, must have been hidden behind some fog bank or tucked away in some inaccessible inlet. At least Kobuk and I never saw much. There had been plenty of sand up in the Gulf of St. Lawrence--all along the New Brunswick coast and around Prince Edward Island--but once out on the easterly side facing the Atlantic stretches of sand became very rare. South out of Portsmouth, however, more or less at the New Hampshire-Massachusetts line, the rock bound coast gives way to long sweeps of sandy beach that become more and more extensive until finally running up against the geology of Cape Ann. Right at that boundary, the estuary leading to the canal takes us inland. We have rolling upland to port and marshy lowland to starboard. On the Cape Ann side, houses of great distinction ornament the waterfront, looking out across the estuary and at the grass-laden tidal zone on the other side.
Instead of carrying on all the way through the canal to get to Gloucester, I decide instead to tuck up into a little arm of water on the Cape Ann Side. Gentle hills slope down into a tidal inlet. The many yachts moored in the inlet are watched over by the hillside homes that peer through the forest all about. It is a settlement called Annisquam and when I tie off at a public dock there, the Indian summer heat is so relaxing that I lie down in the back of Kobuk and take a nap.
Before dark, I arise and take a bike ride. I make it into Gloucester, which is only a few miles away, and it is a different world from Annisquam. Gloucester is a small city that has all the variety of neighborhoods that one would expect in a town that tries to combine fishing and tourism. The two Gloucesters coexist uneasily, but with no evident signs of naked conflict. The biggest attraction is the waterfront where every available inch of shoreline is put to maritime use. We don't find city parks here. What we find are docks next to docks--just as in a large city--and a cluster of fish-related shore activities supporting the large fleet of working fishing boats. Tourists looking at all this cannot help but feel as if they are being a little impolite to stare at other people simply making a living. On shore, the waterfront is not much to look at, but the main street of Gloucester, set one block back from the waterfront, is reshaping itself into a collection of nicely restored buildings in which there are shops catering to the out-of-towners.
When I get back to Annisquam, the evening is far advanced. The stars are out and the moon is nearly full. The lacquered look of moonlight--on the water, on the boats, and on the scattered homes--is like a benediction securing peace and tranquility for this idyllic place. I lay me down in the back of Kobuk and sleep like a child.
Annisquam: 42* 39.173' N / 70* 40.562' W
Distance: 35 miles
Total Distance: 6,168 miles