Thursday, July 24, 2014

Casco Bay Cruise to Visit the Retirement Zen Master

AHOY Intrepid Reader and welcome to another installment of Amateur Style sailing in beautiful Maine!  Sea Pearl 21 SCOUT and I have just returned from a three day Trip of Awesome, doing some motoring and some rowing and some sailing, and we even met an interesting oldster who just oozes wisdom and panache!  HooooRAY sailing!

As usual here is a chart of our journeys--

Day 1- Royal River to Goslings
Day 2- Goslings to Whaleboat via Potts Harbor
Day 3- Whaleboat to Royal River

Black = Iron Mizzen to Goslings in the fog, Day 1
Red = sailing (tacking not necessarily shown)
Yellow = rowing

After a big slow front passed with its giant embedded thunderstorms (microburst in York, ME) I drove in the rain following the trailing edge to the Royal River in Yarmouth for a three day cruise in Casco Bay. I had caught rumors from a colleague that there is something of a Retirement Zen Master summering in Harpswell, and I was hoping to pay him a visit.  Scout and I were mission ready!

The first day was drizzly, foggy, and windless.  I used to be a rowing hero, but I've had some thinking as of late.  Shane St. Clair, the original owner of Scout (Voyage Through America), often wrote that when the wind was dead on the nose or there was no wind on his Eastern-US circumnavigation he would fire up his Iron Mizzen and head forth.  I've got the damn thing, so yes, yes I'm going to use it and not feel guilty!  I don't rely on it for emergency aid, I see it as a tool that may/may not be available.  If there's no wind and I want to go somewhere, Iron Mizzen comes alive. VroomVroom.

Iron Mizzen in action! My world surrounded by fog

With little visibility due to dense fog I had to break out the dead reckoning navigation techniques using time, chart, and compass.  In lieu of a straight-edge, I used a piece of trusty dockline to estimate my route and magnetic bearing and we slowly made our away across Casco Bay to The Goslings. There are some reefs that extend north of Little French Island, and I was certain that I had passed the last of them and was about to turn for the Goslings when I noticed what looked like a log looming ahead.  It was a big log, and a noisy log, and it was moving.  A quick grab to the binos revealed that nope, that was no log, but seals resting on rocks that were just inches below the surface... I would have run Scout straight up on the rocks without the seal-indicators.

French and Little French Island materialize in an unexpected window through the fog.
We were on target, on time.

PHEW Rock-indicating-seals!
Note shoaling fish and birds scooping them up to the left of seals.  

Soon thereafter we arrived at The Goslings, again on time.  I initially got a little confused by a Blue Heron that I mistook for a man (fog illusion) and almost ran Scout up on a shoal, but we bore off and soon were on the beach at this very popular island destination. This is not my first time to the Goslings.  Believe or not, Intrepid Reader, but Scout and I do not blog every day/trip that we go a sailin'.  I came here last year and spent a luxurious fall evening in the anchorage, by myself.

Goslings, Fall 2013

Once anchored, I set up shop for some dinner! I was hungry and thirsty and my primal needs had to be satisfied!  It seemed the fog was in for the night, but I was certain any rain had now passed.  OF COURSE in the middle of cooking dinner, it began to rain.  I rapidly set up my tarp/awning with the aid of bungee cords.  In the frenzy to maintain some amount of dryness in the cockpit (where I would be sleeping) I watched with frustrated awe as one bungee, stretched to the limit, slipped and sailed silently over the bow in a parabolic arc and into the mist and the murky waters beyond.  So it goes.

Foggy Sunset, surrounded by salmon hue

My tarp set up, in lieu of the pop-up cabin.
Check out those awesome new floorboards!

The book I am reading on board, which was entirely fitting to the locale and my activities.

THIS is living.


The next morning I was up and at 'em, and I rowed north to meet this mythical character, Skipper ManJohn: The Retirement Zen Master.  I rowed for exercise, fuel conservation and a touch of suffering since the current was against me and my boat is 21' long. Suffering can be good for some mind clearing, especially for us spoiled western types who really have nothing to complain about.  Complaining example: My Shaw&Tenney oars are 9' long, and I would like 9'6" oars.  They are just a tad too short for the rowing I like to do.  Regardless, north we went, along with a little bit of power sailing, I kept the mizzen sail up and sheeted in to capture a bit of morning breeze coming off the land, at the very least to neutralize some of the current.

I didn't really know where to find ManJohn, I just had some vague instructions to look in a certain spot in Harpswell, behind a rock, with the big pine tree, and the seal will bark 3 times.  I was certain I'd find him as his magnetism is legendary, I could sense that Scout was drawn to him. Hugging the shore, I came upon two senior types who looked on with alarm as I rowed over the rocky shallows (I saw starfish!).  Suddenly, a primal cry from the woods:

"Halloooo CallSign!"

He found ME, before I found HIM. The powers are strong in ManJohn.

Scout and ManJohn's Mason 44. Proof!

ManJohn Fact: Skipper ManJohn holds court and you will listen

Before I knew it I was whisked away into a small cabin in the woods right out of 1948.  ManJohn graciously offered to make me breakfast.

"We don't have any coffee, but there's coffee on the boat." His eyes (that have seen around the world) squinted at me from under their bushy brows.  "Row me to the boat if you want coffee." It was a dare.  A manly dare. I contemplated doing this as I FORGOT my coffee at home (horrors!) but suddenly as he saw the resolve in my eyes, "No, forget it, we have orange juice." and ManJohn leapt into the kitchen.  I pass the first test.

On the menu was omelets and home fries. "Dammit, we don't have any bread" he mumbled as he pulled ingredients out of the fridge.  I asked if I could help and ManJohn replied, "No, I got this." He immediately proceeded to throw together eggs and ingredients in a bowl and whisk.  Suddenly: "Here cut these potatoes for the home fries," as he pointed to some potatoes in a colander.  I started cutting and he unceremoniously dropped a full bag of potatoes in front of me.  "Cut these too," and then, "and these," as a second bag materialized.  This is how ManJohn makes breakfast-- through delegation.  Toast appeared like magic, even though there was not supposed to be any bread.  "Butter the toast," he commanded and I did as obliged.  The whirlwind in the kitchen spun out to the deck and breakfast began-- Omelet with olives and cheese, home fries with onions, toast and butter.  A breakfast fit for a king.  Fit for a sailor.  Fit for... ManJohn. I pass the second test.

ManJohn Fact: Scout tied up to Skipper ManJohn's Mason 44 makes Scout look small

After breakfast Skipper ManJohn commandeered Scout as tender and we put-putted out to his Mason 44, an ocean going cruiser that he has recently purchased after his retirement.  We tied up and he showed me around the palatial accommodations.  50hp diesel engine, generator, A/C (yup), pressure water, refrigerator, you name it, this Mason has it.

We spent some time gabbing sitting on the rail of his boat while he ran the generator.  He waxed poetic about his youth, well spent on a Greenwich 24 (later the Cape Dory 25).

"It was just me, my boat and my dog..." he pauses, "no money, no problems, living on the boat and eating mackerel and clams that I dug myself.  I brought that boat through so much weather when I probably should have remained ashore, but she saw me through." He pauses remembering past times.  I brought up yesterday's foggy travels and navigating by dockline as I had no straight-edge to plot my course.

"Yeah, I've used line before." He fixes me with his gaze, thinking of the past. Long pause.  "Hell-- I've used seaweed." His scowl is on me.  Line? PSSHHH. Seaweed. Seaweed is the navigation tool of choice for Skipper ManJohn.

ManJohn Fact: Singing to your sails increases their productivity and lifespan.

"Sometimes, I think I'd like to go back to my Greenwich 24.  She was so simple.  Life was good..." he pauses again and looks down the length of the Mason 44.  "But I love this boat!" His eyes light up as he affectionately pets the gunwale and gushes, "I love you baby, don't you worry, I won't get rid of you." Skipper ManJohn made kissy faces to the gunwale.

We sit there bobbing for a while and he looks at me and the fire is lit behind his eyes, the fire of freedom and the sea and the love of a good boat.  "I love this.  I love this.  This is my boat, out here, no worries, no one bugging me, life is good." He pauses again,"It's like I'm a king and this is my private island..."

 He fixes me with his long stare, his eyes narrowing.

"Now get the hell off my island."

Scout and I shove off, southward bound for lobster rolls and a night on Whaleboat.

ManJohn Fact: ManJohn is the boss.

Enjoying a growing sea breeze after a hot still morning is a special pleasure reserved for sailors.  Scout and I bounded south with the current, against the wind.  I took my time, taking her off the wind to let her gallop and we just moved.  Scout was happy and striving forward the water gurgling around the leeboard and our flags flying high. This was some sailing!

Bastille Day? How about Bastille Week!

Our destination was Erica's Seafood in Harpswell, which is one of my most favorite lobster shacks in Maine. I strongly recommend the Lobster Roll, two for $20 done in the no-nonsense Maine way with minimal crap and maximum lobster. BYOB.  Cash only.

Don't get confused or lulled into going to the big restaurant next-door that is named after an aquatic mammal that on TV has been called Flipper. They have been known to give small-boat sailors anger-driven tirades for using the overnight parking that they advertise, even after said sailors paid for it.  Don't ask how I know, just trust me on this one. Flipper be full of crazy.  ERICA's-- Go there.

Scout and I sailed up to the dock.  Use the north/south side of the dock, the front is used for working boats.  For tourists there's no much like a boat sailing into a congested harbor and nosing up to the dock, and for me the skipper, nothing as satisfying.  I hopped out of Scout in all my sailor glory and got my dinner.

One roll down, one roll to go.

After dinner we scooted out to Whaleboat and I sailed Scout right into the little protected harbor, threading needles around the rocks and I stopped her right where I envisioned that morning.  It was a perfect bit of sailing. Whaleboat is  WOW.  Carefully managed by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, it is a beautiful spot for a day trip, picnic, or overnight.  I first came here last year with Cap'n Jon, IAZP, and Two-Hearted.

The evening was spent stargazing, observing hummingbird hawk-moths and lightning bugs, and slapping mosquitoes.  Soon, sleep took me by the shoulders,  and shook vigorously.  Various odd island dreams washed over my mind.  One of these dreams involved someone calling my name, and this mixed with the sound of waves splashing on the shore entered my psyche in a horror, in a way only a small boat sailor on and island can experience... my boat was obviously being pounded on the rocks and a passer-by was calling my name to warn me of my impeding starvation on an island!  I blew out of the tent to find Skipper ManJohn motoring by Whaleboat at 4:50am in his Mason 44 yelling my name. He was heading to Bar Harbor.  I waved back in groggy stupification, took careful notice Scout's masts happily bobbing at anchor, and collapsed back into bed.  I pass the third test and ManJohn is pleased.

In for the night.  Eagle Island (Does the Intrepid Reader remember?) is in the distance on the right.
Milkweed smells shockingly good

The Blue Hour descends


I spent the rest of the day returning to the ramp, and I perfected my shallow sailing technique.  Sea Pearl 21's can sail on water that is but ankle-deep (I tested this) and it's incredible to watch the shells zoom by.  To work upwind, I drop a few inches of leeboard and roll the Scout on her ear, which allows the leeboard to bite.  I must have made an impressive sight returning to the Royal River, passing standing shore birds, out of channel, across the mud flats.  Remember this when you see a Sea Pearl: Shallow Draft. Follow at Own Risk.

Until next time, Intrepid Reader, don't forget your seaweed.