There’s something about marine bioluminescence that triggers a primeval response in me. I don’t know if it’s my genetic code recognizing fellow primordial soupmates, or the feeling that this tiny planet we call home is significantly more amazing to me as each day passes. Maybe it’s a little of both as I recognize where I came from a couple billion years ago, and how special this blue ball really is. This blue, watery ball, that spins through the blackness of space as I sailed my versatile Goat Island Skiff, “I am Zinea, Pterodactylus” in Casco Bay through the blackness of that moonless night. Oh, what freedom to sail my own boat that I built through New England bioluminescent waters with one of my best friends on our epic and long awaited VisionQuest/ManQuest2010!
The trip was months in the planning, and due to a spinal disc injury and my first choice crewmember skunking out at the last minute, the trip was delayed by months. It originally was going to be a cruise from Portland to Bar Harbor in conjunction with the Texas 200, but alas, it had been reduced to a four day route around Casco Bay in early September. I’ll take it, anyway!
We left South Portland late on a gusty day full of promise and optimism and promptly hit a piling just a few yards from the dock and ripped the lug sail on my Goat. I looked at the rip, looked at the swells, looked at Jason, my trusty neophyte sailor friend, set my jaw and set forth! They invented duct tape for a reason.
Upon reaching the island of our intent, we found it crowded to the gills with the last of the Labor Day weekend revelers. The beach was packed, and since Jason and I were looking for the ability to contemplate and conjure visions on what to do with the rest of our miserable lives, solitude was paramount, at least on the first night. With the sun setting, we donned headlamps, set up a white signaling light, and promptly almost cut off a ferry that was going much faster than I anticipated. I have a sneaky suspicion the skipper sped up when he saw us making across the channel, but we passed with more than enough room and no one was obliged to change course. Into the twilight we continued north to the next island, Bangs.
Into the darkening night we quietly sped on gentle seas and a consistent breeze. With both of us sitting on the rail we moved right along. It was high tide, and I knew of the mussel farm and the sharks teeth rocks that hover about two hundred yards off the island, and these were passed on our way to the north end camp. We slipped by the campsite and saw a couple enjoying a romantic fire, though they never saw or heard us. A quick 180 was executed and back to the middle Bangs campsite. This is when we noticed the bioluminescence. In the moonless night, our wake glittered and sparkled and our rudder stock glowed a quiet blue. Jason was beside himself and I was mesmerized as I watched this phenomenon that I had only read about in sea going tales. I felt so free at that moment, free of work, free of my back injury, free of my problems, free like a boy in his boat sailing into a mysterious wonderful universe!
I then found myself freely sailing through the air since the boat came to a sudden and complete stop with a heartstopping crunch. I was pitched into the forward section of the boat head first and the mainsheet got wrapped around my leg. The boat started to go over on its side and Jason and I scrambled for the windward rail. I went grabbing for the mainsheet and dumped the 105 square feet of lug power, and Zinea promptly went over onto the starboard side where Jason was sitting. The gunwale dipped and water starting coming through the inwale. I had a vision of Spanish castaways swimming at night to a deserted island with the wreck of a boat- my boat- left to die on the rocks as we pushed flotsam ahead of us. All I could think was: I hope we can get a fire started. Fortunately, my vision was not to pass, and the boat came back upright as we flung ourselves over the daggerboard trunk. I directed Jason to drop the sail and he dutifully uncleated the halyard. An advantage of the balanced lug is that it strikes in but a moment, and the yard came down with a solid whack on my shoulder from fifteen feet above.
It was now time to assess the situation. We were a good cold swim from the island, stuck fast on rocks that were just submerged below the high water line. I tried to get off the boat to lessen the load and the crunching noises only to find no place to put my feet. These rocks rise vertically off the bottom and we were perched on top of a pinnacle like a hapless woman in a King Kong movie. Working quickly and quietly Jason and I grabbed oars and in concert slowly nudged Zinea off the rocks and into clearer water. My heart rate was somewhere north of bursting, and once clear I shakily rowed her to the nearby campsite. Unperturbed and unconcerned of the water sloshing in the bottom of the boat that may be coming from a breached hull, Jason exclaimed at the wonder of the bioluminescence that swirled around the oars and quickly we were again entranced with its siren song.
And all was well! Once at camp the boat passed a thorough inspection that revealed no damage! My sail was carefully duct taped, and we toasted our luck, toasted our boat, toasted our futures, and drank copious amounts of rum. We had been shocked right out of our terrestrial lives and into our own maritime adventure! Secretly, I kicked myself for the several tactical errors I made that almost threatened to swamp the entire expedition. I was lucky, and I take full responsibility for my foolishness.
The next morning dawned clear and bright! We sailed out to the direction of the Atlantic and perused our Maine Island Trail guidebook for suggestions. Dead ahead lay Eagle Island, home of one of the more daring adventurers, Admiral Robert Peary, conqueror of the North Pole. How could we resist such an alluring place? With a steady breeze out of the southeast, we made excellent time to Eagle Island and scouted out the scene. There was a beach, but the tide was going out and who knows what rocks lay under the water. There was a small dock, but it was busy with tenders going back and forth between boats at the temporary moorings of this state park. With no tender ourselves, we had no choice. A Maine state park volunteer hailed us by voice as we approached and told us to swing behind the dock next to the ramp. With the wind and waves picking up, I swung the bow between the island and unknown underwater obstacles and the dock, keeping it tight and fast. The Goat spins on a dime, and I pushed the tiller over and swung her in between a few other tenders. Jason grabbed the dock as we snugged up to it, and we tied up. The volunteer congratulated us on executing a flawless docking maneuver. I regret that I forget his name, but he owns a Rob Roy 23 and has written about it too, apparently. I felt pretty good to be getting compliments from another old salt, though I couldn’t shake the midnight collision just hours prior.
Admiral Peary’s Eagle Island is a great spot to have a picnic, and the house museum was fascinating too, if you’re into history and polar adventure.
The sea and the poles are all intertwined with history, so it’s hard to be a sailor and not be interesting in polar exploration, so I’m sure most Duckworks readers will enjoy this island. We were eating our daily ration of PB+J when another gentleman approached and complimented us on our docking maneuver. “Most people are like morons out there, don’t know what they’re doing,” he said as he spit some chew out and eyed us and the Goat appreciatively. “You guys rolled in here like maniacs and layed her right up on the dock. That was some nice work, you really know what you’re doing.” I don’t take compliments well so I hurriedly stuffed more PB+J in my mouth while Jason looked at me in a new light. Then, another gentleman approached. “Is that your white boat down there, the small one?” I replied in the affirmative. “I saw you guys last night pass by Long Island. I figured either you guys were in a lot of trouble or you knew what you were doing. I turned on the VHF and didn’t hear anything, so you must know what you’re doing!” I again stammered out some sort of thanks, and Jason was positively glowing at this point. Deep down I was hugely embarrassed about the fiasco from the night before, but I dared not open my mouth about the incident.
After lunch we sallied forth and blasted out of the Eagle Island dock, sailing between the rocks at full low tide and a large boat tide up to the end of the floating dock. We squeezed past and close hauled we beat for Jewell Island. With the aforementioned southeast wind, the fetch provided some great swells and we soared up their faces and over the crests and down the backsides as they marched towards Maine and we set out towards the Atlantic. We flew during the entire sail, hiked out over the rail and with the wind and sun in our faces, soaring over the water. We knew that this, this glorious exhilarating moment was that moment, that feeling, that indescribable feeling of total freedom.
Islands and rocks surged in and out of view, and with Jason at the chart, we navigated our way between them and pulled into a small harbor on the ocean side of Jewell Island, right next to the Punchbowl, the largest tidepool in Maine. Dodging boats, swimming children, dogs, and miscellaneous oars we crunched up on the beach and jumped out. There were several parties enjoying a beautiful sunny Labor Day, with fires and feasts and festivities. Jason and I skulked around looking for a campsite, and since it was Monday night we found a recently vacated one. A local fisherman (by occupation) out with his family put together a most stupendous meal of fresh mussels just harvested from the Punchbowl and cooked in their own juices over an open fire. It was a divine moment—sitting in the sun, on a sandy beach, looking East over the Atlantic, and eating mussels culled and cooked within 5 yards of where they had lived, given to us in a spirit of sharing. This is what it’s all about!
That evening found us almost alone on Jewell Island. We spent the next two days exploring the island and it’s old World War II military installations and observation towers, cruising to nearby Cliff Island for sandwiches at Pearl’s Market and Cafe, drinking rum around some roaring campfires, and discussing dreams and visions for the future. We snorkeled in the Punchbowl, watched deer, and did a fair amount of bird watching. We looked for weird animals in the mud and sand and under rocks. I gently ran down the beach, the first time in months I could move faster than a walk without pain. We watched a spectacular sunset full of fire. The stars were out in their full, with no moon. We watched Jupiter and the Galilean Moons through Jason’s binoculars, and mused at the distant Andromeda Galaxy whose fuzziness floated overhead. This time was idyllic, relaxing, and meditative. Just what the doctor ordered.
Like all good things, this time on this rocky island must too, come to an end. On the fourth day we rose to find the sky gray, with fog on the horizon, some spitting rain, and a rising wind. The tide was up in Cocktail Cove, a serene harbor with campsites on cliffs above the water. Cocktail Cove was our last anchorage for the trip on the inland side of Jewell Island, and the waves were rolling in from the south-west through a breach that fills in at high tide. After packing our belongings we made our way down the cliff to the water, and I hauled the Goat into shore on her haul out. I clumsily clambered aboard and Jason tossed me dry bags and buckets from his precarious perch on the spray soaked rocks. The boat would rise and fall in the three foot waves which crashed around Jason. After the last item was thrown aboard he too climbed over the transom with the land-based anchor. I don’t remember how we did this without going for a swim, swamping the boat, or losing our possessions, it was straight out of a rum-running-escape-from-Prison Island movie. In a word, it was dramatic. Once we collected the haul-out anchor we raised sail and sped out of the cove, past a German sailing vessel also anchored for the night and we headed into Casco Bay, Portland bound. Our last day was a slog back home, with high winds and seas until we got into the inner portions of the Bay, where the front passed and we were calmed for a bit, but at least now we were in warm sun. After a bit the wind picked back up and we scooted right into the dock and past the notorious piling that ate my sail, and “I am Zinea, Pterodactylus” was soon back on her trailer and VisionQuest/ManQuest2010 was complete.
I’m not sure if I found a totem, solution, or idea on how to steer my life from this point on, but one thing is clear: More small boat sailing, cruising, and adventuring is a must. So to us in the wintery Northern Hemisphere, do not despair! Winter will wane, summer will wax and we will be out there again soon! Get thy ships ready, skippers, and let’s make some stories!