The Lighthouse Keeper of Seguin Island

Aug 26, 2015 by James in James' Blog


We sailed our home into the snug harbor of Seguin Island, made fast to the last of the moorings, and rowed in to the rocky beach that was midway through the rising tide.


We’d read in our cruising guide that the island was home to one of the last manned lighthouses in the U.S. so we had to (at the very least) check it out.

After making landfall (which is always a big deal when we’ve been underway for a while, being as though “Terra Firma” is rather hard to deal with after being on a small, constantly moving sailboat for more than a few days) we made our psych-adjustments and headed inland towards the lighthouse beaming at the top of the island.

The trail leading up to the actual lighthouse station was a perfectly manicured 4 foot strip of soft mowed lawn that winds its way up to the station house. Everything on the grounds seemed to be as well kept as that trail. The station was perfectly painted, all the grounds were mowed with quite a few trails leading away off down to the cliffs all around the island.

Looking back at our boat on the mooring in the snug harbor was awesome!


We were met at the top of the trail by Larry, one of the two volunteer summer lighthouse keepers. Him, his wife T’Ann and the (unofficial) lighthouse mascot, Bandit the oddly dignified chihuahua.

As it turns out the lighthouse is only “manned” during the summer months, and only on a volunteer basis. The Coast Guard maintains the light and the horn, but the rest of the island belongs to a non-profit org called Friends of Seguin.

T’Ann was the daughter of a former Seguin lighthouse keeper from the days when the Coast Guard staffed the island, and she longed to return to the lush, green island. And that she did, after Larry retired from his 30 years of hard work on the burnt infertile plains of Aurora, Texas.

We talked to Larry for about an hour (T’Ann was taking a well deserved day off) about the colorful history of the light station, the light and of course the last First Order Fresnel lens still working in Maine. It was a fascinating conversation.


Right before we took off for the trails, Larry told us they were playing host to a class of photographers that were staying the night on the island, “so don’t be surprised if one or two of them ask you to pose for that perfect sunset picture!”


Just as we made our way back to the lighthouse, a young man by the name of Peter introduced himself to us and told us he was in a bit of a pickle. “You see”, Pete said. “I rented this authentic lighthouse keepers uniform in hopes that one of the keepers would don the outfit and pose for us but T’Ann is off today and Larry says there is no way that outfit would fit him so I was wondering…” (he grinned)

Before he could get the words out of his mouth Dena and I looked at each other, cracked up, looked back at Pete and said… “Oh Yeah!”


Pete told us that there was no hurry, that they wouldn’t even want to start until after the sun went down so go ahead and enjoy the island and they’d let us know when they were ready for me to get dressed.


There’s a beautiful wrought iron spiral staircase leading up to the First Order Fresnel lens which is 9 feet high and 6 feet in diameter with a single 1000 watt incandescent light bulb posted in the middle of the lens. With over 300 hand cut angles in the lens, it bends and distorts the light from that little bulb so much that a ship can view the light from over 24 miles away on a clear night!

The sun went down and Pete appeared with a grin… “Ready?” he asked.

I went upstairs in the living quarters of the station and there on a hook was (what seemed to be) my (somewhat) spooky destiny… (umm, ok that’s pretty cheesy!)

But when I stepped out of the station house with the Lighthouse Keeper’s uniform on, there was an audible gasp from the waiting students and they quite literally picked up their gear and ran toward me like a rabid gaggle of paparazzi.


The group wouldn’t let me move for a good 10 minutes as they shot hundreds of pictures of me with a wide assortment of my well-practiced 50 yard stares.

Next it was up the spiral…


…And in the house where the great First Order Lens was waiting.


It is against the policy of the Friends of Seguin Lighthouse Association to allow anyone to actually go into the Fresnel lens but I WAS THE LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER! What were they going to do?


It was an awesome feeling being in that incredibly historical place with the light so perfect and the stars and that wonderful view of the Kennebec River delta spread out before me and all the ghosts of keepers past coursing through that lens. I somehow felt as if I deserved to be there, as if no one else in our time could stand there in that tower, next to that unbelievable lens with more appreciation than the old man that wore that uniform that night!


After very reluctantly stripping the uniform and putting it back on the hanger, Larry caught me as I was walking out the door and told me that the uniform probably would have fit him just fine, but “there’s nothing more terrifying than having a camera pointed in my face. Thank you,” he said, and we descended the 1306 foot long trestle rail built in the 1890’s, back to the boat.

All photos of the Lighthouse Keeper by Peter Lerro, 2015

Thanks Pete!


Smooth Sailing Is Hard to Write

Aug 26, 2015 by Dena in Dena's Blog Posts, James' Blog, Life Under Sail


We just recently saw ourselves in a distorted mirror. I (James) was talking to my friend and woodworking client, Don, who expressed his understanding, based on our blog posts, that we were miserable. From pulling the engine cabling into the transmission, to running out of fuel, to the toerail breaking, to boats bumping us in the night, he thought we were “living in hell”.


No, Don. Not at all. It dawned on me that what we write in the blog are the mishaps because they bring contrast to the beauty of what we do. They provide the spice in what otherwise would be a fairly monotonous tale. Not boring to live, but with enough repetition that it’s hard to find new ways of expressing the beauty.

We found out a long time ago that photos are faster, easier, and more effective at communicating the experiences of watching the sun set, of staring at our dinghy as it wags behind us like a tail, of sitting and watching the world of other boats come and go around us. Words are powerful tools, but bringing them to bear on largely non-verbal, maybe even pre-verbal, experiences of the senses is hard work.


When you’re living your dreams, even in very moments of the mishaps, it’s absolutely beautiful.


Widget Reticulation

Aug 17, 2015 by James in Dena's Blog Posts, James' Blog

Here we are, Mount Desert Island. I (Dena) am mildly irritated by the name, because Desert is pronounced in a French style (dessert) but then why wouldn’t it be Mont? I feel tricked.


Really, it’s just that I’ve been saying it wrong and I have an aversion to exhibiting my ignorance.

So we snapped! popped! the toerail and tossed off the jib sheet and pulled the jib in and tacked under main and finally anchored in Somes Harbor. Quite a lovely place, and plenty of people know about it. We knew a blow was coming through and we dropped the anchor in 20′ at low water and the tide is almost 12′ so 7-to-1 at 32′ is 224′ and we rounded up to 230′ of chain and rope rode.

No one else used that math.

We ended up surrounded by boats, an ever-changing group, mostly anchored with about 100′ of chain. This means that any good blow pulls that chain off the bottom, creating a broader and broader angle all the way to the anchor, which is designed to break out of the bottom when the angle gets too broad.

The first night we were in Somes Harbor, a boat dragged its anchor. The guy pulled it up and put it back down, way too close to us for comfort, but dragged it again until the boat behind us pulled out their air horn and blew it at him over and over.

By the way – full dark. Yep. No fun.

As he pulled up next to us again, he was screaming his frustration in blue language. While that sort of thing doesn’t offend me like it does some, it also fails to instill confidence in the coping mechanisms of the screamer.

While I (James) was laughing my fucking ass off.  The dude was in a Huntajeaunabenelina with a brand new Rocna anchor (supposedly “Next-Gen” and fool-proof) that was so obviously too small for the size of boat that he had. And really, the only problem was that he didn’t have enough chain out.

When he settled back again, still dumping his chain in one go and then dragging it across the bottom, the entire anchorage decided we’d all just go to bed and hope it all worked out.

The other thing that happens when we have 230′ out and the boats around us have 100′ is that they underestimate how far we will travel when the wind changes. We move (potentially) in a circle with a radius of 230′. For the most part, similar types of boats will move the same direction at the same time because they’re under the same forces, so we don’t necessarily need the entire circle to be clear.

A boat showed up and anchored pretty near us, so we rowed over and told them in a friendly way that we had more than twice the scope they did (twice as much chain and rope out). They were just relieved we weren’t saying get the hell out of there (the first boat there has the right of stay) and promised to keep an eye out. The next morning, with no wind to push us all the same direction, we drifted very near their bow, but they were leaving anyway so we all decided to say fuck it.

The next evening, though, another boat showed up and anchored very near us. I mean they put their anchor within 50′ of ours. Pushing it, for serious.

Sure enough, when I (Dena) needed to pee in the night, I was sleepily puzzled by the streetlight that shone in our forepeak porthole. After flushing (pretty phosphorescence), I was awake enough to realize that we were in the middle of a very dark harbor with no streetlights and that there was a problem.

I looked out the side portlight and didn’t see the boat that worried me. Then I went back to the forepeak and, lo and behold, there was a bright bright light right over our bow.

“Shit. They’re right on top of us.”

James jumped up and we struggled into clothing and James beat me and I jumped into the cockpit as James rushed to the bow. Their dinghy was millimeters from our boat and James didn’t even have to lean over to push their davits to separate the boats while as gently as possible trying to wake them up…

“Hello, good morning your boat is about to fucking hit another boat!”

The windless night promised to bring us back together, so I (James) jumped into Tinker and rowed us out of harms way, meaning we tied the dink to the big boat and I rowed us away. I mean it’s great to be half awake rowing in a little boat with our 15 ton home bearing down on top of me in the middle of the fucking night. No really, it was great, kind of like riding a bike in the rain blowing by a thick angry traffic jam. When we anchor, we not only “over scope” we put the hook on the bottom, we pay out 2-to-1 and then backdown on it until it sets and then we back away while putting out more chain until we have our “comfort-scope” payed out, 5-to-1 at least but a good night’s sleep is usually achieved at a minimum of 7-to-1 (that means 7 feet of chain to every one foot of depth AT HIGH TIDE people not at low tide with another 12 feet of depth coming within the next 6 hours, come on, people!). And check this out – we’ve never seen anyone else do this in 16 years! We’ve only slipped once, and that was in 40 knot winds…sustained, with gusts even higher.

So I rowed us away from the sleepy but by then awake-and-in-their-cockpit other boat.

It wasn’t that big of a deal really, just another one of those moments of sheer terror that we have been writing about so much of lately.

Of course, we got no pictures of it. Imagine this, but in the dark and with the boats tied together.