July 20, 2022
Has it really only been three weeks since we left the dock? And only just over two weeks since we left the familiar waters of Casco Bay? The experience of time has an amazing way of shifting when you’re living aboard a sailboat and you move from place to place at a pace not much faster than a leisurely bicycle ride. Perhaps it’s the slowing down of doing that changes the experience of time. And yet, there is still plenty of doing on a sailboat—raising and lowering sails; dropping and raising the anchor; plotting a course; raising and lowering the dinghy from the davits; rowing ashore and back; buying, stowing, preparing, eating, and cleaning up from preparing food; discovering and solving boat issues; oh yes, and sailing and motoring. We engage deeply with the environment, perhaps because there’s simply more time to participate in the full experience of it. Not only is the process of being in a place richer, but the process of getting there becomes a big part of what we do. And despite the seeming isolation, we feel intimately connected with the people we meet, albeit for the most part, fleetingly. I believe it’s the slowing down that makes time stretch out like salt water taffy. Whatever the explanation, it feels like we’ve been gone for ages.
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After a week of cruising in Casco Bay with friends while we wait for our new dodger to be delivered and installed, we upgrade our rain gear in Freeport and fortuitously add to the inventory of mostly safety-related boat gadgets at a pre-yard sale yard sale of a lifelong sailor and teacher of women sailors who recently sold her boat—radar reflector, overboard rescue system, emergency boarding ladder, wet suit, anchor webbing. We stock up on groceries, have a farewell dinner with my mother, drop off the car, and head out on July 4. It’s a fitting day given the freedom we immediately feel when we shift from traveling on asphalt ribbons in carbon-powered, steel-encased vehicles, winding past linear structures, in favor of wind-in-the-sails travel, the ever-fluid sea buoying our vessel, and the multi-faceted, organic shapes of nature our guideposts—our Freedom sailboat, NIRVANA.
The dodger installation is worthy of comment. You might remember from our previous episode that ours blew out in a storm in April and after much searching, we finally found someone to take it on, only to have him abandon the project in the middle. His excuse was that it’s too oddball to replicate using the existing pattern, so he gave us back our deposit along with the completed top. Next came the hunt for someone willing to take on a half-completed project. Amazingly, we find a one-man shop in Bath called P&P Canvas, who not only has the time but the inclination to take on a challenge. Not surprising as this eighty-something has spent twenty years building but not quite completing a 32’ steel boat that is now for sale. (If you know of anyone who might be interested, click here.) Just one week later, he drives down to deliver the dodger and comes back the next day to install it. After a couple of hours, his blood sugar is getting low, so we feed him lunch and he leaves his special tool for installing the snaps so we can complete the project ourselves. Now this is our kind of guy, and we are very grateful for his efforts, for the encounter, and for the result. Not only can we now see better through the Strataglass, but we think the grey looks classy and will keep us cooler in the hot sun. Thank you, Paul!
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On our first day “out,” we sail 26 miles from one end of Casco Bay to the other, passing under the Casco Bay bridge from Knight’s Landing one more time, bypassing all the familiar inner islands, and anchoring off Small Point beach on Cape Small new Seguin Lighthouse. This lovely beach is the largest in Maine and is remarkably empty, it being private, which doesn’t stop us from going ashore.
The next day we make an even longer passage of 40 miles, past the familiar waters of Boothbay Harbor, John’s Bay, Pemaquid Point, Muscongus Bay, and up Mussel Ridge Channel to our very special Birch Island, which was our destination two years ago when we went on our first long cruise together in my Sabre 28. We have a wonderful walk ashore, wondering at nature, harvesting sea peas, dancing on the beach, taking a tide pool dip, and remembering the first time we were there while also acknowledging that nothing stays the same.
Good thing because next morning, we discover our anchor has dragged overnight in the high winds—only the second time ever—which wasn’t a problem in itself except that we had also dragged over two lobster pots. This we discover when pulling up the anchor and the two pot lines dip under the water below our chain. After 45 minutes of trying to get ourselves untangled, we decide to launch the dinghy to assist. Unfortunately, the combination of 15 knots of wind and simultaneously trying to keep us off the rocks 100 feet behind causes Will to become untethered from the boat, and he is stranded on shore for about 10 minutes unable to row back. This is when I pull out the VHF radio to call for assistance and get the Coast Guard, who says they’ll divert a boat our way if necessary. Luckily, a lull in the wind allows Will to row back to the boat, at which point the lobster pot miraculously pops out from under our anchor chain and we are free! Freedom comes in many ways aboard sv NIRVANA, and we are glad for yet another learning experience, luckily with a positive outcome.
Safely on our way and to calm our nerves, we decide not to raise the mainsail and find the boat handles quite well in 15 knots on just the tiny camber spar jib. As the wind dies, we finally raise the main as we approach Vinalhaven. We try anchoring among a sea of lobsterpots in the White Islands, but after three attempts and our earlier experience fresh on our minds, we decide instead to continue up Hurricane Sound to the lovely Long Cove, where we pick up a mooring and celebrate another safe passage.
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After our somewhat harrowing experience at Birch Island, we stay put in Long Cove for five days! And what a delightful place it is, this cove where Margaret Wise Brown wrote Goodnight Moon. For a couple of days, we are the only ones there, aside from a couple of lobstermen. We explore the only two visible properties, one surrounded on three sides by water with a house and boat houses that look like they haven’t been lived in for decades, which we dub Tasha’s World (with apologies to Andrew Wyeth). The other is at the opposite extreme, very intentionally architected, including the grounds but subtly so, with a long private drive flanked by dazzling green ferns leading to a huge “gentleman’s farm,” which is run by a woman whom we meet on the road. So much for stereotypes!
Over the course of our stay, we become the “commodores” of the cove, inviting new arrivals onto the several moorings and visiting each in turn. On a Concordia yawl, we meet a couple we’d met last summer on Mt Desert. On a Morris 36, we spend a couple hours talking with a wonderful couple who had just sold his business, quit her job, and sold their house and car to live aboard full time. After some perfunctory remarks, we discover that they’re quite spiritual about their decision, and like us, they’re not trying to “escape” as much as seek out and explore inward, using a boat as a vehicle to get back to nature and ourselves. We find we have a lot in common around our appreciation of the sublime beauty and tranquility we experience on the sea and the remote locations on land. And yet, we’re all interested in engaging with people and the world in meaningful ways as well, which are not always what one might consider “worldy.” While there are indeed outrageous socio-political doings going on around us, our gifts appear to be more interpersonal and spiritual in nature, rather than political—communing with trees or appreciating the ever-changing ripples on the water—and becoming an “influencer” by sharing that experience with others. For example, it turns out Chris is an author who writes amusing and poignant articles for boating magazines, I choose to share this blog and photos with those who care to read it, and Will has a gift for engaging with locals and learning how they live, think, and thrive as one way of shedding habitual ways of thinking. We may not be reading the news and wringing our hands daily with the rest of the world, but we are living satisfying lives and sharing our contentment with others.
But the highlight of Long Cove is surely foraging for clams, mussels, and lobster. The first day we arrive, we see a guy ashore clamming, so we row over to investigate, bucket and large screwdriver in hand to try our luck. Monty, a third-generation clam digger from Rockland is big fella with a sleeveless shirt, bandana, hip waders, and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. It’s positively elegant watching this large-bellied man bend over at the waist and dig into the mud with his custom-made clam rake, flip the mud, and pluck out a few giant clams with each flip, tossing them into his clam hod. We chat him up and he tells us all about clamming and how he can make $1000 a day digging. After he’s taken his fill, he leaves us a few, and Will finds another dozen on his own. We stray over to the seaweed covered rock and discover dozens of mussels, which are much easier picking, so we end up with a huge bucketful, which we gorge on for supper. Next day, we find another spot across the cove and gather another bucketful, which we marinate and eat for days.
One day we decide to clean out our rope inventory in the lazarette when along comes a young lobsterman in a small boat. We hail him over and ask whether he has any use for our used lines and he said sure, so we toss him the bag and spend some time chatting about lobstering on Vinalhaven, at which point Will asks, “Do you have any three-foot lobster traps?” “Sure,” Blake said, “My grandfather used to fish those small traps and I’ve got a ton of them.” So we make a date for the next day for him to bring us a trap. At the end of the day, as promised, Blake shows up with a trap, which Will hauls on board, along with two fresh pogies for bait.
We invite Blake aboard and learn that when he was 21, he and his dad jumped from their burning lobster boat—in winter—and swam 45 minutes to reach the shore. It starts to rain and Blake sits outside not bothering much about it as we huddle under the dodger. Like a lot of fishermen, he’s unassuming, genuine, and interested enough in people to instantly engage and share completely when asked about his life. His intimate knowledge of the area makes him so at peace that he exudes contentment, which feels like a stark contrast to so many people who spend their lives struggling to find meaning. If your daily practice is like a meditation—setting and hauling traps—and joy is found in simple pleasures, then there is no struggle and meaning is superfluous.
That night, Will lowers the lobster trap off the side of the boat and in the morning, hauls up a bunch of crabs, which he fishes out with tongs and tosses overboard. The next day, he sets the trap again and that evening hauls up two small lobsters, one a keeper. He lops off the tail, pulls off the inside cartilage, and throws it on the grill with some olive oil while I boil up the body and claws, and we feast on our own fresh lobster! Next night, he tries again and this time hauls up three keepers, including one good-sized bug. Thing is, we had just bought four lobsters from a young fisherman so now we’ve got seven, which we keep in a bucket of water to cook up the next night.
Next day, we learn there’s a schooner race out of Rockland, so we follow the 14 boats around the course and have lots of great opportunities to see these magnificent vessels up close and personal.
After five days, we finally decide to depart Long Cove. Just as we’re getting ready to go, the owners of the mooring we’d been on pull up in their fancy motorboat. We graciously depart, thanking them for the use of their mooring. I will note this is only the second time the owner of a mooring we’ve been on has shown up so we had to leave. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect!
We have a great sail up the west coast of Vinalhaven, match racing the Mary Day schooner as we round the tip of North Haven and down the east coast. We tuck into the Little Thoroughfare between Stimpson and Burnt Islands, keeping company with the Mercantile schooner, which pulls in just after we do. We row ashore and hike around this wonderful public preserve, then cook up the seven lobsters and feast on at least three of them. The rest we save for lobster pasta, which we eat for the next two nights. (Sautee red onion, red pepper, sundried tomatoes, and fresh tomatoes in olive oil, add lobster meat, and serve over pasta.)
The winds are reported to be very high the next day—up to 30 knots—so we motor three short miles to Perry Creek, a very protected harbor where we spent five days last summer. Predictably, it’s jam packed with boats sheltering from the high winds. Luckily, we find a mooring deep in the harbor where we sit tight most of the day, listening to music, making soup, and taking apart the autopilot, which has not been behaving very well. On a wonderful hike along the creek, we encounter Paul, another sailor in the harbor, who engages us in a long conversation, and we invite him over to see our boat and we spend another hour talking about many things boat and land related. I have never seen a happier man, out for a week alone on his sailboat, hiking the trails, and engaging authentically. Is it the sailing lifestyle that brings out these qualities in the people we meet?
No wind the next morning, so we motor into the Fox Island Thoroughfare to North Haven for a quick stop at JO Brown boatyard in search of our friend Foy, who recued us last year by fixing our starter motor. We only see him at a distance as he ferries people across the thoroughfare by boat. We continue around to the east side of Vinalhaven, circumnavigating the island, and end up at the western entrance to The Reach, yet another thoroughfare which proves to be extremely rolly when the ferry boats steam past. Nonetheless, it was a sweet anchorage and home to the Atlantic Cup challenge.
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Now we’re on our way to Rockland to meet up with Will’s friend Ben, who is coming aboard for a couple nights after four days on the American Eagle schooner. We arrive at the town dock to discover the farmer’s market is underway, so we stock up on local produce. Ben takes Will in his car to do some provisioning as our larder is quite bare while I wash down the boat, which makes me happy. Repeatedly hauling a muddy lobster trap on board and lopping off lobster tails makes for a very messy boat. Sailboats and lobster traps don’t exactly go together, and mostly the trap lives in the dinghy, but Will persists and for the nonce, I remain tolerant of this noble experiment. Our friend Sandy is on a mooring on the other side of the harbor, so we motor over and pick up a mooring next to her, and she and Guy come over with oysters to share a meal onboard our boat. Will spends the morning cutting the lobster trap down to about half its size so it’s not quite so unmanageable, which also makes me happy.
Ben comes aboard in time for an afternoon departure, back across Penobscot Bay, back through the Fox Island Thoroughfare, and into Seal Bay on the east coast. We spend a delightful evening listening to Ben play the harmonica, and playing and DJing music. We row around this lovely bay with small islands covered in seals at low tide and get underway in the afternoon for our second circumnavigation of Vinalhaven.
We stop at Brimstone, a desolate island off the south east coast of Vinalhaven with a rocky beach full of smooth polished stones and a wonderful view from the top. Although hard to reach, it’s well worth the visit. (Ben gets credit for some of these great pictures.)
We continue on to Hurricane Island for the night and have a great time ashore the next day, walking the trails on this former quarry island turned outdoor science and leadership center and former home to Hurricane Island Outward Bound School (HIOBS). Among the many interesting people we meet Pete Willauer, who founded HIOBS back in 1964 and happens to be on the island for a visit and who was a good friend and colleague of my uncle Roland, who died last year. It is a very special encounter indeed as he reminisces about times with Roland. We also run into Kip and Corkie, whom we met last year on Hurricane Island, this time on their Freedom 38, which it turns out they bought after coming aboard our boat last year and being inspired to buy one of their own. You just never know who you are going to influence in this life! (Thanks again for capturing the moment, Ben.)
We motor back across to Rockland in the fog to deliver Ben, sending him off with the Full Nirvana Treatment—a loaf of our homemade bread—before taking off for more distant shores. Will goes ashore to do some more provisioning while I wrestle with my need for understanding, clarity, and predictability when it comes to the tides, which causes some consternation between us. After a long conversation with Garmin, the makers of our navigation app, I am enlightened by my lack of enlightenment. While I want to rely on the numbers, it’s actually not all that precise so best to use your judgement and remain vigilant. Yet another example where an over-reliance on technology is ill-advised. That said, when we take off that afternoon in thick fog, following the plotted course and compass bearing are the only thing that keep me from sailing in circles. Technology does have its place; the trick, of course, is maintaining the right balance and having a healthy respect for its pitfalls and limitations.
Amazingly, as we approach Pulpit Harbor on the north side of North Haven, out of the thick fog emerges a sailboat, which turns out to be none other than another Freedom 38! We radio across the fog and agree to meet up that evening in the harbor. We don our rain gear and row over for a delightful evening talking all things Freedom. We are a dedicated bunch, we Freedom lovers!
And now it’s time to depart North Haven to head down east toward Deer Island and Mt Desert, but that’s the next episode…
One thought on “NIRVANA S3:E2”
What a fantastic journey, beautiful writing and excelent photography. Bravo.