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View from the Porch - Issue 102

Issue 102

By Peter Bass
Illustration by Caroline Magerl.
On life as an ovo-lacto-bovo-porco-pesco vegetarian, on why there are few hybrids on the sea, on what’s oxymoronic about a Five-Star “Cottage,” and a question: must CSAs include beets? [Note: this column by Peter Bass has replaced Peter Spectre's regular column, which was titled "In the Lee of the Boathouse." Mr. Spectre remains as editor of Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors magazine.] Well Nancy, here we go again. If you are reading this column for the first time, welcome. If you are reading it for the second time, welcome back. If you read the first one and are not reading this one, you are unaware of the low opinion I have of you. So there. Food and Energy We’re at the end of Harvest Time, and food and how we view it as Maine residents—year round or seasonal—has become more top-of-mind in view of meat recalls, spinach bans, tomato scares, and what we squirt (or don’t) on everything we grow. So, too, with fuel and energy. We live in the upper right-hand corner of the USA; we’re at the end of the road in the American Marketplace, which has advantages and disadvantages. Someone asked me once if I was a vegetarian. I answered yes, of course, I have nothing against killing vegetables. Clearly, that someone had never been to my house for jerk ribs. I think of myself as an ovo-lacto-bovo-porco-pesco vegetarian. But I have standards. My stepson, Xander, gave me a book that profoundly changed the way I think about food. It is The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I can’t admit that I have gone vegan, or organic, or dropped the porco-bovo parts of my vegetarianism after reading it, but at least I have tried to go local whenever I can. Which brings me to the topic of CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture. In broad terms, when you join a CSA you pre-buy a share in the output of a local farm, which then supplies you with a weekly pile of produce as it is harvested. Depending on the farm, the produce might be organic or not, the share might include meat or not, but it will be sustainably produced by your neighbors; it will often be a bargain or at least be competitive with big-box stores. I haven’t bought a share in a CSA yet, because I haven’t found a farm that will let me specify that no beets be included in my share. Not an insurmountable problem, but I am a little slow to change. Maine has plenty of CSAs. The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) publishes a list of CSAs on their website, If you live in Maine, or come here for the summer, find one near you and join up. If you do, I’ll send you my recipe for jerk ribs to go with that pile of chard you’ll be getting. Also read Pollan’s book. We can be saved. We are in the throes of a fundamental change in the way we can live in Maine, at least those of us who “winter over.” Our 2008 wood piles recall the mid-1970s during the era of the Arab oil embargo, but there is a key difference: the embargo was an artificial creation for political purposes, not the result of underlying supply-and-demand basics of the raw commodity. We can’t address the cost of oil with an international political fix this time; we need to drastically reduce demand. Ridiculous cost will do that, but a little behavior modification can go a long way. This is my stump speech in favor of local markets. As an avid cook, I love to shop for fresh food in small markets. We have a nice one where I live, here in Yarmouth: the Rosemont Market on Main Street. It is also next to one of the last great local hardware stores, Goffs, which makes a visit to either a distracting affair. When you add the cost of gas to the where-to-shop equation, local makes a lot more sense than it used to. There is nothing better than buying groceries and hardware in one stop and getting in a good gam while you’re at it. Southwest Harbor has one such combo: Sawyers Market and McEachern & Hutchins; Northeast Harbor has The Pine Tree Market and F.T. Brown. When I was a kid in Wilton, Maine, you could get your groceries at Jacob’s, meat at Larry’s, and hardware from Nick Craig’s Wilton Hardware down the street. There’s still a market near Wilton Hardware, but Merle (at Jacob’s) and Larry are long gone. Nick has moved to warmer climes. All were fascinating people. Nick was a former Merchant Marine captain on the Murmansk run in WWII. Working for Nick was my first job; I’ve been a tool nut ever since. Five-Star Amenities My wife was flipping through an issue of a magazine about Maine and pointed out an ad for a second home development on the coast with a tag line that read, “Finally, a Maine cottage with five-star amenities.” I raced for my dictionary to look up “non sequitur” and “oxymoron.” A non sequitur, it seems, is a conclusion that is in conflict with a previous argument, whereas an oxymoron is simpler, a figure of speech with apparently conflicting components. Having grown up in a Maine cottage with open-frame stud walls, seasonal water, primitive heat, and a foundation consisting of piles of rocks, the idea that a Maine cottage could have any amenities that could be branded “five star” seemed, well, oxymoronic at the least. I maintain that this eight-word tag line should be recognized for containing in its short span all the elements of a non sequitur. It argues that there is a housing ideal that is a Maine cottage, and concludes that it can contain five star amenities. In our case we would need to add an extra bedroom for the concierge and install bidets. This in turn stirred up a related memory. Gail and I attended a wonderful and raucous birthday party a few years back in Belfast, and anticipating the consumption of adult beverages, we engaged a room at a nearby bed and breakfast. It was elegantly decorated, the hosts were charming, and there were a couple of other guests who were old friends of the innkeepers and who had been visiting since the current owners had been operating the inn. At the sumptuous breakfast at which I was more interested in replenishing my depleted physical reserves that opining about the issues of the day, one guest remarked on the progress that Belfast had made since broilers ran wild in the streets. “Do you remember,” she proclaimed, “that when we first visited there was no place you could find fresh basil in Belfast?” Too bad the broilers aren’t still around, They’re great with fresh basil. Kelp Me Please In the last issue we considered underwater turbines in Lubec Narrows. From our eagle-eyed webmaster we learn of new underwater power-generation technologies that mimic fish tails and waving kelp, thanks to the tech blog at An Australian Company, Biopower, proposes hydrokinetic generators based on natural flora-and-fauna designs (see We are blessed with some of the most formidable tides in the world. Let’s use ’em. Seeing these inventions reminded me of the remarkable kinetic art on display this summer at the Maine Coast Botanical Gardens, in particular a huge piece that transformed waving fronds into rotational motion. I felt like the Mainer in the “Bert and I” story about the fellow who won a trip to New York City: “There was so much going on at the depot,” he said, “I never got the chance to see the village.” In my case, there was so much going on with the art, I barely got a chance to see the plants. The Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay is one of the gems of the coast: Those who know me well will be shocked that I gave up an afternoon on the water for one viewing lugubrious pine and creeping dymentia. I am truly amazed at what has happened here. Boothbay has come a long way from the trinket shops of my youth, although there are a few good ones left in which to spoil my grandchildren. Go to the gardens. Now. ( Also out in the natural world, reported on the forced breakup of a party in Acadia National Park. Evidently some “hikers,” while on a “midnight hike,” had run into a small group of 40 or so fellow nature lovers and were enjoying typical, night-hiking refreshments of the smoking and drinking sort. Some of the refreshments were inappropriate due to the age of the revelers and/or state and federal law. Park rangers broke up the gathering and detained several participants, who claimed excessive force was used by the rangers, who we must guess were greeted by peace, love, and understanding by the “hikers.” The Park Service is investigating itself. This is the extent of our investigation. Fish Tales After years of trying to dissuade tourists and their Maine hosts from catching and eating lobster, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has swung its guns toward something of either unspeakable cruelty or delicious absurdity. Logan Scherer of reports that the latest in the pedicure world is to have hungry (but tiny) carp nibble the dead skin off one’s feet, leaving them smooth and attractive. PETA thinks this is animal mistreatment. One look at my feet after a sockless day in boat shoes, and I have to agree. After receiving this bit of news from one of our editors (I bet she didn’t send it to any of her other contributors), I had to google “carp pedicure.” Please do the same. You will learn several things: I am not a liar, I don’t mind sharing tasteless and disgusting facts with perfect strangers, and there is a reason that we do not revere the carp. Go PETA. The Gong Show Out on the cost-of-living front, during the run-up of oil prices many people missed the concurrent run-up of other commodity prices. Corn shot up, mainly due to the value of ethanol, to which an increasing share of the corn harvest goes. Whether or not corn should go to ethanol is a topic about which we should all be concerned, although the topic is not particularly germane to this state or column, except for what it does to the cost of our food. The scrap value of metals also increased sharply in the last couple of years, due in no small part to the energy costs inherent in the extraction and smelting of virgin ore. Which leads us to the crisis at hand: the Great Clapper Caper, or the de-gonging of the Maine Coast. According to the Mainebiz daily e-mail newsletter (, at least seven bell and gong buoys have gone silent due to the theft of the noise-making parts, which are probably the most removable parts and also the most dense. All joking aside, however, any mariner who has relied on sound buoys in the fog knows that this can be as serious as losing the buoy itself. The Coast Guard is not amused. If the perps are caught, perhaps the bell should be replaced with the head of the perpetrator, which should ring well since it is evidently empty. Speaking of buoys, Maine’s ocean stakeholders are about to lose a part of the GoMOOS weather and ocean science reporting system we have enjoyed for the last seven years. The Gulf of Maine Ocean Observing System is maintained by UMaine with a federal subsidy, which is being reduced and could cost us nearly half the buoys. Several Maine publications have noted the effort to solicit funds to make up the shortfall through private sources. Let’s hope it works. Personally I use the system to check seawater temperatures in the spring to decide when to shake out the striper gear, other fishermen use it for much more important safety checks before going to sea. The data history could make a huge difference to how we understand the Gulf of Maine in the future. Pass the Potatoes Continuing in the navigation and commodities vein, one of my favorite images as a child was the idea of potato navigation, a practice peculiar to Maine, since Idaho has no coast. An enterprising mariner had a crewman with a strong arm throw potatoes ahead of the vessel in dense fog, a splash meaning continue and a thud suggesting that a change in course might be prudent. Now it seems that this commodity might have more value than as a rudimentary echo-sounding device; it may one day be the stuff of ships themselves. A group known as the Sustainable Bioplastics Consortium, which includes the University of Maine and Tom’s of Maine, has garnered public and private grants totaling more than $650,000 to research the production and potential uses for a plastic derived from potato starch. PLA, or polylactic acid, has gained wide use in packaging. Many retailers, including Whole Foods and WalMart, tout it as a green alternative to the more common soda bottle plastic known as PET, though its biodegradability is more than a little suspect. (See for the whole story.) Biodegradability is not necessarily a good thing for a boatbuilding material, so the future of PLA might include the new FRP, or fiberglass reinforced potato-composite technology. My brother Bob, who was always in charge of mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner, occasionally produced a batch that could be sanded and painted in less than an hour. We were all pleased when he met and married a mashed potato master, whose potatoes are seldom left over. Hybrids on the Sea I like to think that boat people have deeper respect for the health of our environment, because we see firsthand that all our bad choices eventually end up in the ocean. Given the success of the Toyota Prius and its ilk, marine engineers have started to think of adapting hybrid technology to pleasure boats. Unfortunately, the kind of power needed to roll a light car down a smooth road at highway speeds is nowhere near the power needed to send a planing 30-footer over the waves. Non-planing catamarans with long waterlines, and long, skinny monohulls running at displacement speeds improve the formula somewhat, but we haven’t found that magic bullet that will send us dancing along at planing speeds with only water music in our ears. There are a few interesting craft to look at, however. Ruben Trane, who has made a life in boats by participating in some remarkably innovative projects, has taken the solar/hybrid/diesel conundrum to the next level. Remember the Hens, those shallow draft pocket cruisers? Ruben Trane. Or the Florida Bay Coasters, the personal freighters? Ruben Trane. Island Pilot fast trawlers? Ruben Trane. So take a look at Trane’s Island Pilot DSe Hybrid 12m ( It uses the Austrian Steyr Diesel Hybrid system, lotsa batteries, and a couple of acres of solar panels. And it asks you to view 13 knots as swift. At that rate, you can get from just north of New York City to Cape May in a long day. My favorite hybrid idea is a lot simpler. Lenco Marine makes a product called Troll’n Tabs, which mounts high-torque trolling motors on trim tabs ( Coupled with a few big batteries and a four-stroke outboard with a significant alternator you have the poor-man’s hybrid. It has a joystick to control the silent propulsion for the evening harbor tour or stealth fishing. I see an easily driven West Pointer-style 22-foot outboard boat with a 60-hp 4-stroke and twin 36-volt Troll’n Tabs. You can be the first to build one. There are several hulls around Maine to start with in glass or cold-molded wood. Years ago, DownEast had a wonderful closing column by “Doc” Rockwell that ended with the tagline, “Maker of Fine Cigar Ashes since 1888.” Here on the porch, I haven’t found the same graceful exit that Doc had but I’m working on it. In the meantime sit back; there’s still a little light left and plenty to talk about. Feet up, binoculars at the ready!

Long-time MBH&H Contributing Editor, freelance writer, and raconteur Peter Bass is an owner of Maine Cottage Furniture. Click here to read other articles by Peter Bass >> Submit your comments... newsy tidbits, photos, illustrations, clippings, rants, and raves for possible use the form below. Or mail to “View From the Porch,” P.O. Box 758, Camden, ME 04843 or fax to 207-236-0811. Items may be edited for length and clarity; materials become the property of Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors, Inc.

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