The Maine Event

We started our day in Plymouth very early to catch the tide and come up with the wind.  That we did.

Waving at Boston as we slipped north, we eased into the island complex around Marblehead and into Beverly, MA.

A small, 3 generation marina, the Beverly Port Marina, became our temporary home.  In the evening, the 91 year old grandfather, Jim, was chopping wood out front of the chandlery.  For real.  Adequate facilities gave us the crucial opportunity to SHOWER.  This was a very big deal being as though we hadn’t showered in a week.  Swimming in salt water takes care of the muck, but leaves behind a salty residue.  It’s not entirely unpleasant and we didn’t smell bad (at least to each other), but it doesn’t get rid of oils in hair, creating lanky protodreds on Dena and a ratty beard on James.

I (James) pulled out all the cleaning supplies and went to work on de-salting the boat.  This was a project that I very much got into.  On my hands and knees, I scrubbed with a hand-brush from stem to stern for 2 1/2 hours in the 90 degree Beverly heat.  In the end, the boat was Bristol and the water tanks were full and ready for the next leg in our adventure.

I (Dena) pulled entertainment off the internet and charted out/planned out the next phase of our travels.  We had debated heading straight to Portland and I planned out a few options – hit or miss New Hampshire was the question.  We’d heard from some friends living there that the coast was rugged and the entrance bars have to be timed absolutely perfectly – also that they’re not really worth it.

Dinner at the Anchor Restaurant consisted of real New England clam chowder (in New England!), a 1lb lobster served with roasted garlic potatoes for $8.95 (really!), and a baked and breaded, lemony haddock with mashed potatoes and cole slaw for  about the same price.  That’s a somewhat smaller lobster than the fancy places give, but what a deal.

And the next day, we walked.

Knowing that we’d cover more than 5 miles, we took our time.  The first stop after crossing the bridge into Salem was Nautical Traders, a new-and-used chandlery that is literally run by a mom and a pop.  We saw some intriguing pieces there – like shelves full of bronze stuffing boxes, packing boxes, rudder post boxes, etc, etc.  Also, a whisker pole, which we’ve needed since the previous owner of our boat refused to give us the one that was supposed to come with it.

Then we zigged toward the water and, what do you know?  We found a replica of the old square-rigger Friendship.

Being a slow weekday and a work day for their volunteers, they allowed us access to the ship without making us pay.  We got more cool stories from the workers than we would have from a tour guide.  They were all very impressed that we’d sailed there in a 32′, 50 year old boat…by the way, about 5 times older than the ship you see above.

The rigging is kevlar so that it won’t stretch and doesn’t need tarring, but in the traditional configuration, it’s a match to the original.

This ship was one of 5 tall ships that were invited to the War of 1812 reenactment in Baltimore this year, but because of dry-rot issues, they had to decline in favor of spending the entire season working on her. Something about using American White Oak, a wood that has to be well-brined.  Easy to do at sea, not so easy to keep up with in port.

From there, we hit a used book store.  Loved the smell and piles of books, less excited by the airport bookstore selection.  Then through Salem to Marblehead.

In direct contrast to the walk we did two days before, this walk was solemn, quiet.  We spoke less and about more generic topics.  It was, nonetheless, beautiful.  Especially once we reached the Marblehead Rail Trail, which cuts through the peninsula and got us most of the way to our destination.

That destination was West Marine.  Ugh.  But there was shopping to do and as much as we’d like to support the locals, we could spend $200 on chain at WM but we couldn’t eke out the $400-$500 for the same amount of chain at a local store.  Not everyone gets as good a deal – it’s all about that employee discount.

Though we joked about splitting the chain between our backpacks and walking home chained together, 90′ of chain is 100 pounds…and we called a cab.  The rope rode and whisker pole, we did buy from Nautical Traders, and the woman running the shop gave James a ride home with the load.  One chain/rope splice and a bunch of length markings later, we loaded it all into the chain locker and – gasp – the bow didn’t come down a bit!  We really thought that would do it!  Our painted waterline is about 4″ above where the water touches the boat.  This isn’t true on the stern – just the bow.  Putting more weight in the bow should bring us down in the water, giving us a longer waterline, which increases our maximum hull speed through the water.  It didn’t work.  We needed the chain anyway, for anchoring in rocky, deep, narrow coves in Maine and beyond.

Over the course of the day, we settled into the idea of heading straight for Portland next.  Bye-bye, New Hampshire.

The next morning, Friday, we did some chores and took care of odds and ends with no real goal in mind.  We had a bit of a decision-making deadline, though.  Portland should be a 24 hour sail for us with decent but not full boost from the wind.  The forecasts called for 5-10 knots from the S and SW, putting the wind behind us.  We’d need to leave around noon if we were going to go, so that we had a lot of sunlight whether we were early, on time, or late.

As noon approached, we both started cleaning up our projects and messes.  The boat came back together so neatly and quickly that we shrugged at each other and started the engine.  By 2:15, we had hoisted sail and finished the engine for good for the rest of the trip.

Coming around Cape Ann put us dead down-wind and I (Dena) tested out our new whisker pole.  There’s a latch that attaches to the jib sheet and a couple lines to hold the end of the pole up and forward.  The other end of the pole attaches to a fitting on the front of the mast.  Once that was all set up, I pulled the jib out to 100%, snugging the back corner of the sail up near the outer end of the pole.  This gives the sail a structure, holding it out into the wind and letting it fill and create a lot of power.  The main sail is doing the same thing but on the other side of the boat.  This is called wing-on-wing and it creates a giant kite effect.

Boy, did it ever work!  We were going 6.2-7.4 knots with an ever-increasing following sea.

By the time 6pm rolled around, we came to a shelf in the Atlantic bottom contour.  The sea swells changed direction and turned choppy.  For these conditions, we were going too fast so we had to strike that rig and reef the main.

In our West Coast sea adventures, we used the navy schedule of 4 hours on and 4 hours off, trading watches.  Since beginning this trip, we’ve split the daylight portions into 2 hour shifts so we can get out of the sun regularly.  This has worked out really well.  The shifts aren’t as long and it’s not as lonely.  You would think, being on a 32′ boat we’d be crowded into one another but when we’re doing watches, we’re doing them alone.

So we tried something new on this overnight trip.  We did the period of time between 6pm and 6am as 3 hours shifts.  This is a pretty good 2-hour sleep period with an hour for wind-down and dress-up.  It worked out pretty well.  Three hours feels dramatically shorter than 4, and dramatically longer than 2.

My (James’) 6-9 watch consisted of nothing more than a beautiful sunset and a downwind run.  As I closed on the Isles of Shoals, I was obliged to alter course to a broad reach against the following sea.  That just beat the hell out of us until we gybed, pulled in sail, and close-hauled into the waves.  We were hauling ass, the boat was performing beautifully, and the rig was at ease.  The only problem is that beating is wet.  It’s a violent meeting of boat and wave, creating constant spray, but a more predictable point of sail.

I (Dena) made mac-n-cheese and then tried to sleep, but that broad reach on the following seas was tough.  The beat was better, but it was still too early for my body-clock to send me to sleep.  When I took over at 9pm, we gybed again and immediately felt the benefit of having passed another undersea ledge.  The waves were now heading us in approximately the right direction and I hunkered down for my shift.

The first dark hour went by quickly, since I was messing with radar settings and dimming the chartplotter screen at the same pace that the light died in the sky above.  By 10, my only clues about any boats around were their navigation lights and the radar returns.  The dark was profound and I couldn’t always tell where water ended and sky began.  In order to check the sail trim, I was forced to shine a headlamp onto the sail.  It hit me that most of my night sailing had been done with the moon in the sky, providing relief from the stark blackness of the universe.  Then I absorbed the stars.


Too hypnotic for my own good.

The phosphorescent creatures of the ocean provided my only sense of the shape of the waves.  For the first time in my life, I understood what could inspire a person to paint on black velvet, though no one would ever believe the intensity of those greens and blues.

Music from one ear-bud helped me stay awake and alert while leaving the other ear free to listen to the water, the sails, the wind, and the VHF radio.  Three hours can be a very long time.

And then the dog-watch.

The Milky Way is so appropriately named, but on land, even in the country, you really can’t see how unbelievably cluttered our universe is.  Without a moon in the sky, the only light you get is from billions of miles away.  It’s no help.  It’s this murky abyss that isn’t bright enough to see your own hand by, but at the same time is so much light that it demands your attention.

I (James) didn’t see one shooting star.  Just the universe.

I was feeling very poetic as the horn of the moon came out of the ocean.  It was heralded by a bright, fabulous green flash that shocked my vision – the green flash that is usually seen during sunset or sunrise.  The  moon was refracted in the atmosphere like the sun, shooting green first, then the crescent rising red out of the sea.

After that, my vision was completely useless.  Every time time I looked at the chartplotter and radar, I saw distorted, multidimensional meaningless blobs.  Best not to look over there.  Looking up into the sky, again, universe.  No good.  The moon was nice, but even that became a blurred mass after a while.  All I could do was stare at the phosphorescence disturbed by the bow wave.  On the starboard side, the phosphorescence seemed to come out of the reflections of the green running light but when I looked to the port side, the red light seemed to be pushing them out of a direct contrast, red to green.

At 2:45am, the alarm on my (Dena’s) phone went off.  I was only partly asleep, though I had caught some solid in there somewhere.  Rotating out of the v-berth, I moved with elderly care to the settee.  On with my sweat pants, my smart wool undershirt, a t-shirt, my coastal-weight bibs, a hoodie, and a foul weather coat.  With 5 minutes to spare, I pulled my hat over my hair and grabbed my gloves.

Joining James in the cockpit, we shared a shift-change kiss and he disappeared like he was tired or something.  The dark was alleviated by the moon, which was pulling Jupiter and Venus along behind as she crossed the sky.  I could see the basic shape of the waves and a bit of the sailing rig.  Settling in for the show, I kept alert by teasing out the slow changes that accompanied the dawn.

It started with a band of lighter darkness in the sky, then shifted to a bit of clarity in my vision of the boat around me.  By the time I could pick out the beginnings of color in the sky, I felt the world brightening.  A compact band of the visible spectrum unrolled with ponderous slowness, each color taking up more and more space as the sun neared the horizon.  By the time the sun rose, violet had been pushed back to the opposite horizon.  Red gripped the sky while it could, but blue was the dominant color already above my head.

After the sun came up, Maine rose before our eyes.  Before we knew it, we had the hook down in Seal Cove on the lee side of Great Diamond Island.



  1. And this is where it becomes clear how alien your world really is. Subject position of a biped with lungs, of course, I’m in an alien world to sister whale.
    You live inside a carefully engineered air bubble. A vessel where movement is constant, multi-directional and only moderately predictable. Where the vast empty darkness swallows your little spaceship, a shroud of blackness so deep it has a texture. The lights, the lights, all spilled out like grains of salt above and below and beyond, beautiful, cold. Where the only solid thing is your tiny boat, your profound trust in one another, and your resolve to carry on.
    I feel sad today, so the darkness seems extra dark and the sea extra treacherous. I’m relieved by the transcendence of your rainbow dawn.
    How do you two experience the sea, I wonder. As a collection of depth markings and chop forecasts? As a nature preserve with geographical features and wildlife? As a powerful being with distinctive character and capricious moods? As a setting to your own story, your adventures enacted as players in front of this backdrop?
    Or, as I suspect, some of each and something else entirely?

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