I’m finally back from Germany and ready to jump back into action! A week before going to Germany, I went up to Maine and went for a sailing and camping and Vision-Questing trip on the islands of Casco Bay. Being September, most of the tourists and many of the summer residents had already moved on and our trip promised to be a fantastic getaway from everything where we could enjoy ourselves and do some deep pondering about the course of our lives.
We began our trip on a Sunday, just about an hour before sundown. The wind was blowing a gale through Portland Harbor, as usual, and upon launching the boat, we ricocheted off of a channel marker and tore a small hole in the sail. My bad. Not to worry though, we were fighting the wind now and needed to focus on exiting the harbor and heading into Casco Bay. Because of time limitations, we modified our original plans and decided to camp at Little Chebeague Island on the first night. Unfortunately, just as the sun was setting, we got our first look at Little Chebeague and saw that the campsites looked full. Executive decision was made to sail on, even under cover of darkness, and make way for Bangs Island, northern-most site. That’s when Christophe tacked sharp-right and cut off the Casco Bay ferry!
As Christophe’s boat didn’t have lights, and as there was no moonlight, Christophe found his headlamp, just in case, and I pulled my safety beacon out of my jacket. We didn’t want to use them as we preferred to let our night-vision do the job, but we wanted them on-hand should the authorities stumble upon our adventure party. With no traffic on the water and incredibly calm winds, the boat glided along quietly and peacefully. As dusk faded to pitch-black night, it was shocking to be reminded of all the stars one can see in Maine. There were problematic obstacles to watch out for, as Christophe could recall major rocks as well as a mussel-farm he had seen while sailing in the same area on a previous day, but the view from the the rail was clear and the gentle movement of the boat was only apparent from the occasional splashing sounds of waves against the hull. Though it was nearly pitch-black out, and though the water reflected and somehow intensified that black, the experience in those moments was pure serenity.
And that’s when Christophe noticed the light! At first we weren’t certain if the light in the water was simply some physical anomaly whereby starlight was being reflected or refracted or something by our boat’s disturbance. We watched behind the boat as it sliced through, creating ripples and churning the water and we watched over the side where the chines and hull created a slight disturbance. It was bioluminescence! I had always heard of the phenomenon happening in the tropics, but in Maine? We were still enjoying watching and studying the spectacle when we rounded the corner and saw the soft glow of a campfire that alerted us that our campsite on Bangs was occupied! We were starting to get a little impatient at this point, and although the sailing was awesome and peaceful, and although watching the phosphorescence was really cool, we were night-sailing without really knowing the area and we knew it was probably time to land somewhere.
Christophe knew of another campsite on Bangs, though, one at the joint of the figure-eight-shaped island. He knew the site would be somewhat hard to find, and it was somewhere between the rocky coast, enormous boulders, the mussel-farm, and who knows what else, but it was a small out-of-the-way site and chances were really slim that it would be occupied on Sunday night of a rainy Labor Day weekend. We turned the boat around, I took my seat on the starboard rail, and we crept back up the coast, all eyes ahead into the darkness, looking for any sign of a wave splashing over a rock, the metallic shine of a mussel cage, the silhouette of trees standing too near the water… Turned around, we were now facing into the slight breeze, and so the waves were just ever so slightly larger and the phosphorescent show ever the more exciting. We studied the water ever more closely and wondered about the micro-organisms that we were disturbing with our boat and wondering why they might be emitting light.
That is quite literally the sound our boat made when the bow rode up on a rock and the collision of daggerboard and stone instantly stopped the forward progress of the vessel. Sitting up on the starboard rail, I was already in a good position to brace myself and keep from completely falling over, but Christophe, who had been standing, was thrown across the center bench and port rail. He flew through my peripheral vision so quickly that I was under the impression that his headlamp must have flashed on, momentarily, just long enough for the image of his crumpled body strewn across the floor. In the next moment, and without visual cues to alert me to our attitude, I could sense the boat listing increasingly to port so I threw myself down onto the floor in an attempt to lower our center of gravity and stabilize the boat. Simultaneously, Christophe lifted himself off of the rail and attempted to set his foot down on the rock, found that there was only a steep drop-off, and the combination of our movements caused an over-correction that brought the boat back to level and then hard to starboard. A small wave came over the rail and into the boat while boat of us, yet again, attempted to correct our position and, thankfully, the boat stopped rolling and came to rest on top of the rock. Lights came on and we quickly scanned the boat and ourselves to determine what, if anything, was damaged. There was no visible water leaking into the boat, the daggerboard and rudder were still in their places, and neither of us were bleeding or too damaged (although Christophe took one in the ribs). We quickly dropped and secured the sail, took out the oars, and as gently as possible left the rocks and began rowing.
Now that our night-vision was gone, it was headlamps all the way and Christophe maneuvered around the boulders while I kept a lookout and minded the rudder. We celebrated our arrival at camp with rum, KFC cake, and congratulations on handling a potential disaster quite well – indeed, the first thought through Christophe’s mind after hitting the floor was that our sailing trip was over. Thankfully his boat was well built and easily absorbed the impact with the rocks. Uncertain of the tidal range, we pulled the boat up past high-tide and unloaded camp.
Eagle Island is where CDM and I encountered most of the people that we met on our trip. Several people approached to praise CDM’s piloting ability and to congratulate him on building a really sweet boat. One of those guys, it turns out, wrote a section of one of the better known books about small sailboats. Another guy told CDM that he assumed he must be a “geezer” from the skillful way he brought his boat in to Eagle.
“Most people look like Jerry’s kids out there” he said, but CDM showed incredible control of his vessel.
Almost everybody that we encountered came over to look at the boat though, just to see it up close and admire it. I guess CDM did a good job, although I personally wouldn’t know the difference – I’m still a little amazed that he built an entire boat at all.
Among the lessons I learned on this Vision Quest, I can definitively say that I will have a waterproof camera housing of some sort for our next sail. None of my photos were able to catch the intense winds, the swells that looked like they would eat our boat, or the generally crazy seas that we sailed. What an awesome trip!