O My Preppy Soul!
Outside magazine, June 1996
O My Preppy Soul!
Hours from anywhere but on the edge of nowhere, the rough Down East passages welcome the well heeled and unpedigreed alike
We had rounded schoodic point some hours before, or so we thought and dearly hoped, and were motoring slowly northwest past Winter Harbor into Frenchman Bay, on our way in thick fog to perdition or Bar Harbor. This was before GPS locators came in cereal boxes, and our modest sloop did not have radar, because the skipper considered radar pretentious and evidence of deeply flawed
At that point the muffled whup-whup-whup of an old truck engine grew louder, and out of the fog, 50 feet away, appeared not a truck but a beat-up lobster boat, going dead slow. An old bird in yellow slicker pants and a green plaid shirt was winching up pots. Maine lobstermen are renowned for taking a lively interest in watching summer people make
That’s not even a story, as Maine sailing yarns go, lacking the necessary loss of life and property. And what happened a bit later wasn’t much, either. We continued on in the fog toward Bar Harbor, taking careful account of speed and direction, till it was obvious that if we were not somewhere else, we were there. Nothing was visible, and then abruptly there was a mast. Quite a
Bashing broadside into maritime history is the sort of opportunity that Maine sailing offers. For the most part it is a workaday, fish-smelling kind of history. This is because the gaudier, Battle-of-Hastings, Peak-in-Darien sort of chronicle requires robbery in the name of God and a monarch, and Maine has little that seems worth stealing. The Maine coast has been known to
Maine’s bony coast, however, is perfectly situated to make it the best sailing ground near the North American continent. Fiberglass and Dacron have made yachtsmen of half the doctors and brokers in New York and Massachusetts, and a three-week vacation gets them up past Block Island, through the Cape Cod Canal, and into Maine waters. Dodging lobster buoys in Penobscot Bay is an
But it is the infinitude of small voyages that has made Maine a sailor’s paradise. The Pacific Coast offers nothing similar. A friend of mine in California bought a modest cruising sailboat and by the end of his first season had discovered that although there are mighty voyages to be done from the left coast, there are few small outings of real interest. Seen Catalina Island
Short runs off Maine are not always easy. Water temperature at the peak of summer will be about 60 degrees, and air temperature on an overcast day not much higher. Hurricanes rumble in from the Caribbean, and nor’easters blow up toward Greenland, not always at your convenience. Head out single-handed and watch weather that was forecast for 20-knot winds–a useful breeze–turn
Sailing and suffering keep the ruling class out of mischief, and it follows that a certain degree of display must be tolerated. But in Maine the rule seems to be that if you can’t avoid being wealthy, you should manage to do so with a decent appearance of shabbiness. This does not mean suiting up frayed sails and may require nothing more than wearing cruddy boat shoes in port.
Still, given the realities of tradition and economics, there is an Ivy League tone to Maine’s summer sailing. If you are an unpedigreed midwesterner (and suspected Democrat) invited along by some loftily descended skipper, it is an eerie surprise to find yourself a guest on an island owned by the same family since colonial times. I admit, however, that single-malt Scotch
And though it’s not my class, I’m drawn to Maine sailors and their austere coast, hours from anywhere, on the edge of nowhere. Maine’s tang of seaweed and former fish is a reek unlike any other. I am not much of a sailor, but my head is cluttered with the rough poetry of marine charts: Eggemoggin Reach, Isle au Haut, Misery Ledge. A hundred miles inland, beached and becalmed, I
John Skow, a longtime contributor to Outside, wrote about sailing the North Sea in the January issue.