PEAKS ISLAND VEGETABLE DELIVERY

I am writing to follow up on our previous March post; A Letter to the Islands.  Here in the city of Portland we are happily settling into spring weather.  Yard period has begun and Frances will be sailing in June.  I am pleased to say that we have managed to find success in our vegetable delivery project, and that we will be offering our service to Peaks Island residents this summer. 

Summer farm shares may now be purchased through Cultivating Community's website cultivatingcommunity.org

I encourage you to do so as soon as possible as they have received a tremendous amount of interest this spring.  I am pleased for them, and excited for us!

We will be able to offer this service for summer shares only.  July 5 - August 29.  When registering choose the pick up location for Peaks Island.  Deliveries will be on Wednesday afternoons between 1 and 2PM.  In purchasing a share it must be understood that receiving the delivery will be necessary.  Frances will be docking at the Trefethen in Diamond Pass.

On a final note, I wanted to relay that this delivery has no charge.  This is a project that myself and my crew want to take on in an effort to contribute something to our community.  Frances would have been a cargo vessel in her day.  I think it quite practical that she, and we, connect to our roots a bit.

Thank you for the continued support. 
 

  Back to port, Frances

 

Back to port, Frances

PASSAGEMAKING

by Kelly Shetron

The boat comes out of the water, lifted from above. Airborne but steady, she is cradled by slings, wheeled forward from water to land by the lift that hoists her. Her belly is wide and flat and red, freckled with algae. De-rigged and mastless, stripped of her billowy white sails, she is nearly all steel but not without grace. Her bowsprit juts forward as if her neck is craned, back arched, looking ahead. A wingless bird.

Megan Jones looks on, hands tucked into the back pockets of her jeans. She is focused and alert but smiles often with ease. Her chestnut hair is wrapped in a loose knot at her neck. She wears no makeup and is beautiful. This boat, the Frances, is hers.

The steel hull drips with salt water, puddles forming under her keel and rudder. A man in orange rubber overalls starts power-washing specks of sea life from the hull. It is October, and the sailing season in Maine is over. The boat is returning to land where she will hibernate patiently through the winter, propped on stilts, wrapped tightly in a cocoon of white plastic.

◌◌◌

At forty, Hasket Derby Hildreth was all coarse blonde hair, smiling green eyes, and charm. He was wild in the best sense of the word: free, driven, passionate. He’d grown up on Maine’s coast with his parents and three brothers and was named for Elias Hasket Derby, a merchant and shipowner of the mid-1700s. Hasket avoided burning fossil fuels, ate local organic food, and exuded natural brilliance and eccentricity. His environmental consciousness and intelligence about food made people say he was of the earth, but truly he was of the water.

The Frances was the second boat Hasket would build with Wally Soule, an old friend and master woodworker. From four years old, the two spent their boyhood summers on boats. A carpenter, Wally built houses but also knew steel from working as a bridge builder across New England. Why Hasket wanted to build a boat that would take black-soled New York vacationers on tours of Casco Bay—and be subjected to answering their ding-ding questions about sailing—was beyond Wally. But there was no hesitation in joining the project. Hasket had a vision for a unique vessel; Wally had been there to build the first boat, and he’d be there for the Frances, too.

And Megan. After graduating from Bates College with a degree in geology, Megan moved to Portland. She’d grown up sailing in Maine during summers with her parents and younger sister. In Portland, she started an apprenticeship with a sailmaker. Sails, she thought, were beautiful. The sailmaker had taken a look at her and asked what a young girl just out of college was doing there. “You’ll be gone in a year,” he’d said, “but I like you.”

At the sail loft, she met Hasket. He arrived like a ship, full of presence, filling the moment with warmth. She connected with the old soul she saw in him, feeling that it echoed her own. He was of another time. Megan was captivated. They would spend the next two years together, sailing.

The coastal sailing Megan knew with her family was not the sailing she came to know with Hasket. With Hasket, she took her first long sailing trips, lived aboard the boat, sailed night and day. One October on Hasket’s 35-foot sloop Alina, they set a course, analyzed the tides, provisioned food and clothes, and set out from Portland through the Cape Cod Canal down to Newport, RI. They left at night, in the cold dark, because the weather was right, and Hasket knew what the wind and sea spoke, and knew when to leave. It was the first time Megan stood a watch, alone on deck at the helm while Hasket slept. She drove the ship, kept course, and corresponded with other boats. Her heart swelled with adventure and life. They were in love. They would build a boat.

Hasket set up a drafting table at his home in South Portland and spent months stationed there drawing and calculating. Using ship curves, he penciled swooping lines from bow to stern, masthead to keel. Hasket was naturally brilliant, held a degree in engineering, and had gone to boat-building school. But he was also dyslexic, and calculations required intense concentration and review by Megan. When the plans for the boat were approved by the Coast Guard, Hasket radiated with youthful pride. It was the second year of their relationship, and Megan was living with him. The couple had a dog, a Jack Russell named Duff.

A new energy ignited within Hasket while he was planning the Frances. Megan witnessed something come alive in him; he was full of an artist’s intensity and focus. It seemed that maybe Hasket was slipping away from her. Maybe his passion was something with which she could not compete. And maybe, if she looked inward, she saw that she was still so young, just out of college, and in a relationship with a man much older, a man who already had a daughter—and who, maybe, did not seem capable of settling down, even now. Perhaps, for Hasket, building the boat was not only about the desire to design and build and start a company but also about the lure of the sea and its constant motion, its endless passageways.

Three months before construction began, in the cold of winter, Megan grew sick. Fever and nausea came and went for weeks. Finally, when she arrived at the hospital, the doctor told her that her appendix had abscessed weeks ago; it was collecting bacteria and spreading infection inside her. He did not know how she was still alive. She was rushed into surgery. Days later, she couldn’t break her fever, returned to the hospital, and underwent a second operation, this time spending weeks there. In nearly two years, it was the first time Megan’s and Hasket’s parents were in the same place at the same time. Hasket’s mom asked him what he thought he was doing with this young girl; there was nearly twenty years between them. Everything wrong finally demanded attention and could not be ignored. The romance ended.

But the boat project had been planned for months, and Megan wanted it. It was an opportunity to learn and to be part of something. This was her plan, too, and she would not let go of it now.

Hasket, Megan, and Wally began building in February in a warehouse by the water—building #7 of the old Portland Company complex.

In the mornings, around seven, Hasket would pull up to the shop in his car, and Wally would arrive in his. The sun at its morning slant filled the still world with orange and illuminated the sparkling frost. Megan would arrive and let Duff play outside before starting work; she’d taken ownership of the dog when the relationship ended. The men would sit separately reading the paper in their cars: Hasket, The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times, and Wally, The Portland Press Herald. When Hasket opened his door, Wally followed suit, and they would go inside and begin building.

The vast, echoing warehouse where the construction of Frances took place was dark and dirty and without heat. Wally and Hasket constructed a flame-retardant wall before welding could begin. Eight-by-five sheets of raw steel arrived: thick, heavy metal—unrefined and brown. They built an I-beam crane to move the steel, along with other tools, using brake presses and large steel benders to curve the pieces and shape the hull.

Hasket’s vision was to build the Frances in the style of schooners used for fishing and local trade that flourished at the turn of the 19th century along Maine’s coast. In the mid-1800s, boat building in Maine grew, along with the demand for trade of larger quantities. Two-, three-, and four-masted schooners became popular and were known for the speed at which they could slice through the treacherous waters around Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope. But with the advent of railways and steam engines, the age of the schooner for trade ended. By the 1930s, schooners were repurposed as windjammers, used for pleasure cruising.

Frances would be an engineless sloop, the type of sailboat where one mast bears the mainsail, and the traditional 70-75 feet in length. Her hull would be steel, resilient and durable. She would have a push-boat to steer her on and off the dock instead of a diesel engine. A traditionalist, Hasket sought to reincarnate the legacy of Maine’s windjammers with Frances.

They worked eight-hour days, starting early and finishing up in the late afternoon. South Portland’s 98.9 WCLZ played alternative and classic rock in the shop, shallow hums between the movement and noise of metal.

The steel and the tools required to move, bend, and weld it loomed like cold beasts in Megan’s new world, unfamiliar and intimidating. Her first job was to use a plasma cutter to cut pad eyes from the metal that could be welded to the sheets as a way to move the heavy slabs. Once they were welded on like handles, ropes were pulled through, and the steel could be lifted by crane. With each task, she worked seriously, proving herself.

The floor became slick with water from rain and melting snow. Since she was the smallest, Megan often welded the bottom of the hull, crouched down low. She wore layers of old clothing, flecks of metal embedding themselves in the cotton. More than once, while she knelt on the damp floor, the welder sent a shock of electricity through her. She wore gloves up to her elbows, gripped tighter, leaned in, and kept working.

At the end of the day, in a hot shower, soot would pool at her feet, washed from her hair and skin. Tissues turned black when she blew her nose, despite wearing a respirator all day. Her knees and back ached from squatting, lifting, and kneeling. While her classmates from Bates worked office jobs or backpacked through Europe, Megan built a boat.

Hasket orchestrated each task, giving direction, Wally and Megan following. If working each day with Hasket was an emotional strain for Megan, she tried not to show it. It was not easy joining this team: Hasket and Wally had a lifelong friendship and had already built a boat together; Megan was a novice, a woman, and years younger. Hasket, in impatience or frustration, was not always kind. The two had moments, times when he was hard on her, an argument sparked, and Megan left. But within hours he would call—Come back, we need you—and the project continued with three. They realized if they were going to finish building the boat, if they were going to start a day sail company, they needed each other. Hasket needed Megan to hold up the business end, and she needed him to bring the boat to life. With time, their love settled into a loyal friendship.

The months passed from April to May to June, and the weather began to warm. As the hull took shape, the warehouse building seemed to grow smaller: it was twenty feet wide; the hull was eighteen. But it went smoothly—slow and steady. Hasket’s meticulous calculations were spot-on; when the hull was completed in October, the amount of excess material left in the shop fit in the bed of his truck.

Hasket saw the boat in his dreams. Wally understood through Hasket’s drawings. Megan had seen the sketches, but the day the boat come out of the damp, dark shop and out into the sunlight, she was seeing the thing, really seeing it, for the first time. The Frances was immense and elegant. Hasket named the boat after his daughter. Dozens of family and friends came, and people walking by stopped to see Frances go into the water for the first time. Her cabins were empty; she was all shell. The boat floated like a leaf atop the water. Hasket called her perfect.

Over the winter and into the next spring, Frances filled out and softened with oak and spruce. Hasket, Wally, and Megan worked to build the mast and bowsprit, her cabinhouse, lazarette hatch. They built the push boat, affectionately christened “Pushy.” Sails were stitched; Frances was rigged. By summer, she went out for her first sails. Megan and Hasket made preparations to start their day sail business the next summer. They would call it Maine Sailing Adventures. Frances was ready for passengers.

Hasket swelled with pride seeing the boat he dreamed into life become part of the Portland waterfront. They sailed the boat three times every day all summer long, sharing the beauty of Casco Bay with her passengers, young and old, from Maine and from away.

To hoist Frances’ sails and drive her through the bay, Hasket and Megan needed a crew. They hired some crewmembers who had never sailed before and taught them how to run a boat, making it fun. Frances became their summer home—more like a place to gather with friends than a job. Deckhands returned year after year, bringing their siblings, too, working together like swallows. The bonds between crew made the boat a success. They became a family. 

Megan and Hasket worked together each day from May through October, dedicating themselves to the success of the Frances. Their relationship was at once strained and stable, grounded in trust and commitment but tested by the stress of running a fledgling business. Their personal lives weaved in and out of the constant of sailing. They dated other people. Megan was in a serious relationship and living with her boyfriend. Megan remained Hasket’s confidante, meeting him for coffee if he wanted to talk, listening to his thoughts and ideas. In stress or anxiety, coming back to the boat was what grounded him, but running a business did not provide the same creative outlet as designing and building did. Eventually, Hasket started drawing up plans for another boat. He wanted to build something bigger than Frances, a vessel that would be seaworthy—one that could sail beyond the waters of Casco Bay and could make passage at sea. But the plans never came to life.

◌◌◌

Megan stands in the Portland Company building for the second time in a matter of days. It’s early March, the day of the spring boat show, and by some mystery, some inexplicable madness, she is here at the Maine Sailing Adventures table without Hasket, and Hasket will not be here again, will never stand here with her on this day, not next spring or the one after. And her chest has ached for days; it feels at once crushed and hollow. Waves of excruciating impossibility and quiet numbness pass over and over, tides of grief, moons of emptiness, beginnings and ends and ends.

Hasket’s brother called days earlier on a cold February morning. Megan was skiing with her boyfriend and could not get reception on her phone at the top of the mountain. They always went skiing during blizzards when the snow was new and rich. Under the gray sky, through the white powder, she skied to the bottom, wind in her face, and called him back. Hasket was gone, he told her. He passed away last night. It was sudden. The snow fell all around her.

Now she stands at the boat show, just days after his memorial service was held in this building, in this same spot. In a twist of universes, a folding inside out of fate, she is here again but in a different condition and with a new purpose. Hasket’s mom has painted a sign that reads Maine Sailing Adventures and shows the boat as it was sketched by Hasket early on, his penciled strokes peeking out from under her soft lines of paint. People smile gently, nod knowingly. Megan breathes.

Frances becomes a church. In the following weeks, the routine readying of the boat for the summer sailing season transforms into a ritual of togetherness in remembering Hasket. Friends and family come to help, pray, bring gifts, tell stories. Frances is made anew: the floor is ripped up; they disassemble the interior, remove rust from inside the bilge and hull, the main salon, the lazarette, the forward galley—remove, recover, reseal, repaint, reassemble.

By June, Frances returns to the water. Family and friends take her out into the bay in the quiet fog to scatter Hasket’s ashes. They release into the air, fluttering softly like feathers, settling gently in the black water. The fog lifts.

◌◌◌

Megan carried the business that summer, the weight of responsibility at once unbearable and yet the catalyst to her healing. Each morning, she came to the boat, went through the motions, and worked and worked. She captained the boat more than ever before. For the first time, she was consistently responsible for sailing the Frances on her own, for making decisions, and for managing the safety of the boat’s passengers. Frances cooperated. There were times when the boat sailed so smoothly it was as if she knew. She sailed slowly—balanced and deliberate. In moments when Megan stepped away from the helm, Frances continued to sail straight.

One year trickles into the next. Slowly, the dull ache and sharp pangs of grief begin to fade, and the delirious fog of anguish that seemed to hang over everything dissolves. Megan works twelve- and fourteen-hour days. She goes down to the pier shed to open up for the day by 8:30 am. She spends mornings on the phone, responding to emails, talking to potential charter clients, and selling tickets. The crew arrives at eleven, and they wash down the boat and provision for the day. The first sail leaves at noon. 

Depending on the day, Megan captains, crews, or stays shoreside. She plans catering and hires a bluegrass band to play during sunset sails. She organizes educational sails for school field trips and junior yacht clubs. She arranges Coast Guard inspections and licensing through the city and state. She is responsible for hiring crew and for their payroll. She does the accounting, taxes, invoicing, marketing, and advertising. She maintains the website.

Sailing is the simple part. Out on the water, the world melts away. It goes like this:
In the wind and sun, passengers cluster around the Maine Sailing Adventures shed waiting to board. Megan greets the guests, checks them in, and answers questions. Conversation rises like a song amidst the sound of the wind and gulls. The harbor surf is rough and choppy, lapping against the boarding dock persistently, splashing over, retreating, leaving patterns of damp peaks and valleys on the wood. Frances’ port side bumps against the rubber buffer of the dock, squealing and groaning rhythmically with the friction of each lurch. Everyone boards.

Leaving the dock, the deckhands move to their stations on either side of the mast, ready to pull up the mainsail. Megan helps, laughing with the crew as they go. The captain gives his cue, and it is like a race—hands fly up one over the other, yanking the rope down, bringing the sail up, quickly, steadily, using bodyweight to reach, pull, reach, pull. The jib is set free and it too inflates with air. The deckhands smile with flushed faces. Suddenly, Frances is sailing. 

Megan does this every day from June 1st through October 15th and spends the rest of October and November winterizing Frances, then works through April and May readying the boat for the next season: rigging, resurfacing, revarnishing, grinding, painting, taking apart and putting together. The plumbing needs to be redone. The rot in the mast needs to be carved out and repaired. Wally wants to replace it with an aluminum one, but Megan isn’t sure. What would Hasket say of aluminum on his traditional sloop?

The pages of the calendar fall away. The Frances is a living creature. Sometimes she is unrelenting in her neediness; other times being aboard her is like spending time with an old friend. She fills Megan’s days and months, one day’s tasks overflowing into the next. The demands of maintaining the boat and running a business prevent her from keeping a relationship, from pursuing other jobs, from going to graduate school, from making other plans. This is not how she envisioned it. But here it is, a blessing and a burden. An obligation and a gift.

The memory is like a dream now. Hasket and Megan spent their first summer together sailing up Maine’s sunken coast. They passed lighthouses, fishing villages, and rocky cliffs, navigating around offshore islands. Their hair curled at the ends in the salty breeze, the air full of sounds of seagulls, lapping water, fluttering sails. North of Monhegan, the boat’s rudder became caught on a lobster buoy. The sea was quiet with no other boats in sight; it was the end of the season, the autumn chill rolling in. Anchored backward to the lobster pot, the seas started coming in, filling the cockpit. Even with the strain of the boat against it, the lobster gear would not let go. Hasket and Megan found a knife from below and fastened it to the gaff. They cut themselves free.

As each sailing season closes, Megan reviews the books and reflects. She tells herself she has to be realistic. If she sells the boat, she wants Frances to remain part of the Portland community. Maybe it could be used by a youth sailing organization. She believes Frances is at her best as a teacher, used as a space where the tradition of sailing can be carried on. It’s what Hasket started and always encouraged: a community, a simple community out on the water without distraction or hassle, where nothing trivial matters. Where the crew and vessel are at the mercy of nature but cooperate with her and cooperate with each other. Where there is just sea and salt and the gulls, the jagged oak-ridden coast, the islands emerging at every turn like fingertips reaching up from the earth. Where the Frances is a tiny vessel making passage in a palm.

In the winters, Megan goes to sea on other boats, making passages out into the Atlantic. She travels south, leaving Maine’s brown November coast retreating in the distance, but it isn’t always a clean break. Her steps away from the boat are countered by a pull that brings her back. In the days before her most recent trip south, Megan ran into Hasket’s mom at the gas station. She told Megan how much she appreciates all she does to maintain the Frances, to keep the business running, to carry on a dream. She wiped away tears, saying how being on the boat reminds her so much of her son.

Out at sea, everything is blue—or saturated in red at sunrise and sunset. There is nothing to see except ocean and sky. Megan is small, a tiny fleck floating on the waves. There’s no coast or bird or island in sight, but she is not afraid. The horizon pulses with the heartbeat of the planet, and she feels it, the water and salt and sky coursing through her veins. She breathes in, her lungs filling with memory. Her heart swells with adventure and life. She is home.

◌◌◌

Now, in the boatyard, Megan sits alone on Frances’ deck, working to winterize the boat for the season. With needle-nose pliers, she undoes the shackles that were seized in the spring. The shackles are connecting links that hold parts of the boat together, like block pulleys to rigging. It’s a job she and Hasket used to do together each year. As she disassembles, labels, and puts them away, she wonders whose work she is undoing, whose hands were on them last. Someone who came to help on the boat? A deckhand? Wally? Megan herself? The momentum carrying on the seasons flows like a current now, has a pace and rhythm that moves forward. A life continues in so many ways, she thinks, and packs the shackles away.

Kelly Shetron is a writer and multimedia storyteller living in New York City. She received her BA in English and economics from Muhlenberg College and studied nonfiction writing and multimedia storytelling at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies.  She wrote this story in 2013.

A LETTER TO THE ISLANDS

I spend my summers and falls sailing around the islands of Casco Bay, Maine.  Nothing makes me more pleased than when fresh ideas of how to purposefully use Frances take form at a season's start.  This season's ponderings, though fresh for us, date back to the era of Frances' design.  To help you better understand, first I will share a bit about this boat.  My name is Megan, I own and captain Frances.

The man who dreamt of her was just about the most clever person I think I will ever meet.  His name was Hasket, and one of his many visions was to build a replica of a late 1700s sailing vessel.  The boat would be named Frances, and launched into the Fore River in 2003.  She is a replica of a workboat from 1790, her design utilitarian for the practical purpose of coastal trade and fishing. 

I loved the Frances even when she was just pencil on paper, all ships curves and calculations.  She was a working vessel and yet elegant in her lines.  Today you may know her as running day sail and charter trips from the Maine State Pier.

I am beyond the point of being able to count the number of times I have set out from the pier and sailed past the islands of Casco Bay.  Sometimes we stop, but mostly we sail past.  There has always been a bit of me that wants to see Frances do something she would have done in her time.  In the years between 1790 and 1820 there would have been fifty or more of these 70-foot range, gaff-rigged topsail cutters on anchor in Portland Harbor.  These vessels would sail out to the fishing banks with dories in tow.  They traded lumber, salt, granite, and a great number of natural resources along the coast of Maine.

We carry visitors, local people, musicians, yogis, summer campers, maybe even you have been aboard.  We don't carry cargo... but we could.  

I am hopeful in saying this season Frances will be working with Fresh Start Farms at Cultivating Community to help organize island delivery of CSA summer farm shares.  I am optimistic we will have a good response and we hope to service one, if not three, of the islands in Casco Bay.  Peaks, Little Diamond, and Cushing are on the short list.  The sale of 10 summer shares per island will allow for weekly delivery by sail.   

This idea in part stems from spending my childhood summers on an island in Maine.  I have memories of the vegetable boat crossing the Sheepscot River, docking on Pratts Island, selling us fresh veg right from the farm.  They made the trip once a week, weather permitting.  It was rustic, it was old world, it was real, and to a child it was magic.  Perfectly ripe tomatoes, candy-striped beets, sugar snap peas, pies, pickles, and luscious local goat cheese rolled with fresh dill.  These memories make me nostalgic for island living and for summer.  Now I am grown with a boat of my own, and I call a different community home.  I believe there can be a connection between soil, farm, food, cargo, and our sailing heritage alive on our working waterfront. Portland is the perfect place for it.   

Since 2009, Cultivating Community has led the New American Sustainable Agriculture Project, now the largest land-based farmer training program in Maine, to support former refugees, as well as other immigrants, in creating farm businesses. The farmers provide the produce for their CSA and wholesale programs.  More information on Cultivating Community and pricing for summer shares may be found at cultivatingcommunity.org  A visit to their website is inspiring.  It will be an absolute pleasure to get this organization on the water.  

We will be sailing in June.  If you are an islander reading this, perhaps we will be bringing you your fresh veg come July.  Please be in touch if this service would be of interest to you, and please share this blog with island friends.

  Frances, Maine State Pier, Portland Maine

 

Frances, Maine State Pier, Portland Maine

THE CANOUAN FISHERMEN

It became clear it was time to put the camera down.

Tacking up the lee shore of Bequia late morning February 7, 2014 we had one reef in the main and our staysail set as we made our way to the north end of the island.  We were to sail to Mustique and arrive by early afternoon. 

A calm morning lent to a steady breeze as the heat of the day set in.  Wind began to build, drawing wave height, and in time gusts of wind and current built a steep head sea around the point of land we were heading to pass.  Sailing the Caribbean Sea between islands can lend to rough passages more often than not.  Our ninety-foot ketch is perfect for it.  I could never dream of a better sea boat than her rugged teak planking, deep full keel, tonnage, and easy sail plan. Her name is Sincerity.  She was launched in Varazze, Italy in 1928.  She spends her winters in the West Indies.

It was to be a short day of sailing for Sincerity.  The tacking up this coast is exquisite.  Very steep cliffs drop into the sea so we can sail relatively close to the shore and then back out again to make way to the north.  By doing this we avoid the current in the pass of water between St Vincent and Bequia.  On this morning we saw hundreds of sea birds diving near the surface of the churning water.  So many sea birds, there must have been a whale feeding.  Our eyes were to the water as we prepared for our final tack to clear the north coast. 

There was a red shirt standing several feet off the water and then there was nothing.  We rose and fell with a wave period and then he rose in his.  As we saw a man seemingly standing on water, I imagine he saw the sails of our white ketch.  His arms rose high above his head.  He was close to the north shore of Bequia, within the reefs, and his boat was sinking.

What was to follow is something that I will never forget.  I am home now, sitting in my Munjoy Hill apartment where the walls are not moving and everything that is inside is dry and not lashed down.  I want to write about this because the crew I sailed with that day did something that was exemplary, and this is a story worth being told.  Two Canouan fishermen returned home to their families.  This is the story of us:

The fisherman had started their day early from Canouan and were enroute to the island of St Vincent.  It is unclear how long they had been set adrift in their bright blue plywood speedboat.   They were without lifejackets, without flares, without radio.  Their engine had been almost completely submerged and they were sinking and drifting upon the northern point of Bequia.

Every long sturdy line aboard Sincerity was utilized in the effort to save these men.  Hundreds and hundreds of feet of line were hauled out of Sincerity's lazarette.  Buoyed at the end with fenders and large bright insulated life vests, we struck the staysail and tucked another reef in the main, and made our first attempt to swing the lifeline within reach of the fishermen. 

Our first attempt failed.  We were moving too quickly.  On our second attempt around, this time a couple of knots slower and that much closer, the man in blue dove into the water and grabbed a hold of our tow.  We hand hauled him in.  The wave height was increasing, Sincerity rolling, dipping her rails, as we came beam to the sea with each pass.  The red shirt was standing atop his half sunk hull steadfast in his desire not to leave his boat. 

It will be a long time before I forget the look in the man in red's eyes.  It was a look of complete hatred and complete fear.  Our fisherman in red was not going to give up his vessel.  And so, after many roundings and attempts to reason verbally, his trust grew and he too dove toward our line and we hauled him aboard.  The decision was made to attempt fully to tow their vessel in, or standby until a smaller vessel or coast guard could come to assist.  This boat was everything to these men.  It was clear they were not going to easily replace it if it was lost.

We were able to tow the fishing boat away from the shore and into the clear and deep body of water between St Vincent and Bequia before the tow point parted.  Our attempts to tow the boat were unsuccessful, the boat breaking to pieces under the mass of water that filled it.  Clear of the reef it was decided that one man would return to the sinking boat with a large bailing bucket.  Sincerity stood by, tacking and gybing, rounding the small vessel with one fisherman fighting to keep her afloat. 

The St Vincent ferry heard our distress call on the radio and diverted its course in our direction.  Within the hour another small fishing vessel came to assist.  There appears to be no active coast guard in St Vincent.  We left our men safe with the smaller vessel, giving them lifejackets, and the St Vincent ferry continued to standby as we headed back to Port Elizabeth for the night.

We are not sure what came of the fishing vessel we tried to save.  It’s men lived beyond that day.  On the waters of the Lesser Antilles, between St Vincent and Bequia.

Sitting below in the main salon, guests and crew, we sat together for dinner that night in the safe harbor of Port Elizabeth.  We all agreed we were glad we were there to see them.  It's a big ocean out there and when you work on it you realize just how large it is.  That is in part why I love to sail.  It humbles me and makes me better understand my place in this world.  It gives me perspective and reminds me to not take for granted the simplicity of a dry, safe bed.  I wish to think the favor would be returned if it ever need be.  Being in the presence of someone who thought they were going to die is humbling.  To be there to help that person is more reward as a human than I ever could have imagined.  Mostly, that is why I write this.  And to thank the crew I sailed with that day.  February 7 brought a lot of luck to this speck of ocean so far south from here.

WILLIWAW

For the past three summers, come early July, Frances and her crew make a journey along the coast of Maine with a camp from Rhode Island.  Camp Williwaw hails from Bristol, though the nucleus of this 23-day expeditionary trip is a large white van and trailer from which twelve campers (w guides) exist as they conquer our state each July.

On July 6 we set sail from our berth in Portland for new places and spaces to share with these teenagers hailing from Europe and the United States.  Two called Paris home, one was from the Basque Country, and the remaining were from cities across the US.  They were 15, 16, & 17 years old.  They had been sent away to summer camp.  We can all remember this feeling.

I read a poem by Carl Adamshick called Loss, upon my return from our Williwaw adventure.  I could not help but think of the company I had kept with these kids, and of the coming of age that they were all at.  Somewhere between having to grow up fast and between still having an honest innocence that only a child can truly embrace.  It can be seen in the sheer joy of diving into the green Maine ocean after a day of sailing in the heat of the sun.  It is in the laughter.  In the running and racing across the beach, in the swirling of the night stars when we lie on our backs at anchor and watch the night sky.  

This teenage summer happiness is pure bliss.  Not a care in the world, but at the same time every care and every worry in the world.  It was my favorite part of this trip this year.  The way I could still see the child in each one of them, the child who wanted to hold on to summer forever.  He who just wanted to be loved by his peers and accepted.  He who maybe had a tough year at school or whose parents may be separating, or who may be slightly headed down the wrong track and had been sent away to camp to set a better course.  I like that for four days we all ran wild like children in the Maine wilderness again.  Waste high grass and ink black night sky.  The laughter was real and rolling.  

Four Frances crew took fourteen campers sailing up the coast of Maine.  We charted our lives in nautical terms on old worn charts from the lazarette.  Together we made an artistic collage of the path of our lives; in irons at times, tacking back and forth in a fierce upwind beat at others.  Sometimes life offered an easy downwind run.  Sometimes there was fog, sometimes we were becalmed.  The metaphors made between sailing and living are real ones.  We shared our stories.  There were tears too.

I have been reminded to try not to forget what it is to be a child.  To live in a tent, to pitch it right on the waters edge facing east between the granite outcrops and pines of Maine’s coast.  To stay up too late in wide-open spaces.  To count stars, and to reclaim the happiness of being a child in summer again.  To keep the rucksack of childhood innocence close, and to remember to open it.  Often.

 

Loss//  by Carl Adamshick

 

It is nice to be without answers

at the end of summer.

Wind lifting leaves from branches.

The moment laid down like something

in childhood and forgotten, until later,

when stumbled upon, we think:

this is where it was lost.

The sadness isn’t their sadness.

The sadness is the way 

they will never unpack the rucksack

of happiness again.

They’ll never surface as divers rising

through leagues of joy, through sun

willowing through the bottom half of waves.

They’ll never surface again,

Again and again,

they will never surface.

 

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THE MAKING AND UNMAKING OF, TO BUILD AGAIN

I keep trying to figure out just how old this old tree was.  They say you can count the rings from the center out to the bark and get the age.  How many years did she stand tall in the forests of Oregon? 

Visiting our tree (more literally our stack of vertical grain boards, once a tree) it is apparent there is energy in her still.  I comment on this as a little bearded fellow in shorts and hiking boots (on this 50 degree day) loads our stack of lumber on to the back of a trailer normally put to use to haul hay.  Not everyday do we drag the makings of a mast down the back roads of coastal Maine.  Today is an important day. 

This energy I speak of can be found in the silent stacks of wood, old wood, that rest in a barn in Washington, Maine.  Our wood is set aside and ready to go to its new home, with its new purpose.  The other wood is left behind for the time being.  It is all so beautiful, and it has all taken so much time to come to its form on this earth.  I feel a level of humility standing in its presence. The crew says I have a romantic outlook on things.  And I’m thinking:  how could you not?  

I did observe that afternoon every person in that barn take a moment to lay their hands on the grain and look at it slowly and with respect for its perfection.  There was not a hand that rest to admire that did not contemplate the things of grace this natural world builds, and continues with resilience, to build.

In the making of this west coast douglas fir, to its ultimate unmaking at age “x” in a saw mill in northern Maine, to its building again as a mainmast for Frances, this wood is now family.

She was beautiful in her stand, and I hope we are putting her back together just the way she likes.  Laminated, our spar will be stronger.  Some say it will last us a hundred years if we care for her correctly.  Linseed oils, pine tar, beeswax.  I say to that:  my goodness, I certainly hope so.  There is so much to be done in these 100 years. 

Come meet our mast in June.  We’ll be on the Maine State Pier.

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