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In the Lee of the Boathouse - Issue 97

Issue 97

By Peter H. Spectre

This being our Winter issue, what better way to get in the mood than to have a few words by yacht designer William Atkin about a visit to a boatshop on a winter night back in the early 1930s? “To the west of the shop,” wrote Atkin, “between the mill and the harbor several winter-stored yachts snuggled together to protect themselves from the cold. It was the latter ones, my shipmate and I had come to listen to, this winter night. And what do boats—old ones and young ones—talk about? They will talk about themselves, their neighbors, their ailments, their hopes, their prospects, and their discouragements much the same as people talk. “In passing it is refreshing to record that, excepting certain glittering needle-nosed ocean-racer cliques among them, there is nothing of boastfulness in the pixie-like nocturnal conversations among the winter time occupants of boat storage yards near and far. I am happy to add this is about what one would expect of honest, plain, wholesome, useful boats of which, fortunately, there are so very many.” A fascinating solution to a dispute between the owner of a restaurant in Old Orchard Beach and the town manager, as reported in the Portland Press Herald: “A nasty argument that began with purported remarks about prostitutes on the Old Orchard Beach Pier and accusations of slander ended with an exchange of T-shirts and the promise of a new marketing campaign.” Perhaps the State Department could use a similar solution when dealing with some of this country’s festering international squabbles. Over the bar: George Welch, 66, naval architect and marine surveyor; June 23, 2007, in Hope, Maine.

In our Chronicles of Crime Department, Downeast Division, we have these items, all from the police beat column of the Bar Harbor Times: “A flower pot was stolen from a Northeast Harbor residence.” “A small group of men was walking up Main Street leaving a trail of broken flowers.” “A possible invasion of a MySpace account was reported.” “A man sleeping on the sidewalk next to the Quarterdeck was told to move along.” “Two men were smoking pot and drinking Corona on Cottage Street.” “A skeleton valued at $300 was stolen from the pond of Pirate’s Cove.” A few statistics from the 2007 Fact Book, published by Mainebiz magazine: The 10 largest municipalities in Maine, in order, from the top: Portland, Lewiston, Bangor, South Portland, Auburn, Biddeford, Brunswick, Sanford, Scarborough, Augusta. The 10 Maine counties with the most home sales in 2006, in order, from the top: Cumberland, York, Penobscot, Kennebec, Androscoggin, Oxford, Hancock, Knox, Sagadahoc, Somerset. The 10 towns with the highest home median sales prices in 2006, in order, from the top: Kennebunkport, Mount Desert, Ogunquit, Westport, Falmouth, York, Cumberland, Cape Elizabeth, Deer Isle, Harpswell. In the lobster biz, there’s a simple maxim—no bait, no lobster—and it’s on everyone’s mind these days. The principal bait is herring, and its supply of late has been low and its price has been high. So along comes Paul “Popeye” Turnage of Saco who manufactures scented bass lures and has recently developed an alternative lobster bait called the Lobster Puck (it looks like a hockey puck). Made of soy meal, fish meal, rice, salt, herring, menhaden, bran, and tilapia, it is held together with plastisol—plasticized polyvinyl chloride resin—which worries the defenders of the environment. It also worries the defenders of the purity of the product, the lobster the bait is intended to entice. The Lobster Advisory Council, made up of representatives from the various Maine lobster districts, has recommended that the state ban the puck and all other alternative baits. High bait and fuel prices combined with low prices paid for lobsters by dealers (after a winter and spring of high prices) caused a lot of lobstermen to get hot under the collar last summer. “We’re working on 2007 overhead with 1965 boat prices,” one fisherman was quoted as saying. Calling it a tie-up, not a strike, a large number of lobsterman protested by refusing to go out and haul one day in August. In further lobster news, a Winter Harbor lobsterman landed a monster blue lobster last June, a female weighing eleven pounds. Awhile ago a Stonington lobsterman landed a Benelli 12-gauge shotgun. The Hancock County Sheriff’s department was recently able to trace the owner via the gun’s serial number. It seems the gun was lost overboard during a duck-hunting expedition off Russ Island. In further lost-and-found news, 31 years ago Ronald Eaton lost his high school ring while digging clams on Deer Isle. Last summer, his uncle Austin Weed, digging clams in the same spot, found it. Last summer the Maine Lobster Festival in Rockland went green. More than 25,000 pounds of lobster were cooked in what the festival claims to be the World’s Largest Lobster Cooker, which for the first time was fired by Bioheat—95 percent fuel oil cut with 5 percent soybean oil. Speaking of green, Bar Harbor’s College of the Atlantic was recently named the Greenest College in the World by Grist magazine. And then there is the 718-foot Dutch cruise ship Maasdam, which came to Bar Harbor near the end of the summer and invited local and state dignitaries on board for a tour of the vessel’s wastewater treatment plant. The Maasdam’s engineer said the resulting fluid was clean enough to drink and offered his guests a taste. Nobody took him up on it. Anyone thinking that the Ellsworth strip along Route 1 was overloaded and couldn’t get any bigger hasn’t seen the 500,000-square-foot shopping mall currently under construction; it will be anchored by a Walmart Supercenter. Other big-box stores slated for the town are Lowe’s and Walgreens. Meanwhile, activists who thought they had driven a stake through the heart of big-box development in Belfast back in 2004 are seeing the issue on the table again. The city is looking at an amendment to its comprehensive plan that would allow general merchandise stores above 75,000 square feet. David Buckman in the “Fetching Along” column in the September 2007 issue of Points East magazine had a few interesting observations. “What’s with cruisers motoring to windward with their sails up? Flying canvas while powering directly into the wind does not constitute sailing any more than writing a column suggests the possession of language skills or reason.” And, “Sailing to windward seems to be falling into disrepute, too. For the kind of day cruising most of us do, clawing to weather is an honorable occupation.” And, “What’s the deal with all the pirate flags I’ve seen flying? I grew up under the impression that one best conceal his larcenous inclinations.” Actually pirate flags are just the tip of the iceberg. Pirate costumes are all the rage for Halloween, pirate video games are big, several new pirate books have been published and some of the old standards have gained new life, pirate movies starring Johnny Depp have been busting the box offices, and don’t forget the annual Talk Like a Pirate Day (it’s always September 19, in case you missed it). Shindigs with a piratical theme, especially on the downeast coast, have also taken hold. Last August the Lubec Comedy Theatre staged “Pirates of Cobscook,” and in September the town of Eastport held its second annual Pirate Festival (“three days of fun and mischief-making” with “street performances, cutlass fighting, and cannon demonstrations”). Machias got into the act, too, with the Pirate Ship Race on a September Saturday and the Pirate Bed Race on a Sunday. In Rockland, “Down East Pirate Days” was held over Labor Day weekend, and word has it that considerable booty (to the tune of $1,500) was donated by the organizers to the Make-A-Wish Foundation when the festivities were over. Boatbuilding schools are becoming more popular. We have the Maine standards—among them the Boat School in Eastport, the Landing School in Kennebunkport, and the Carpenter’s Boatshop in Pemaquid—and now comes word that a Boatbuilder’s School will be moving into the old Carriage House in Boothbay Harbor and that there’s a children’s boatbuilding school, the Isleford Boatworks, on the Cranberry Isles. Also spread out in all corners of the state are individual classes sponsored by various organizations to teach amateurs, children and adults alike, how to build boats. The most interesting, to my mind, was the class held last August by David Moses Bridges at the Cobscook Community Learning Center in Trescott on how to build a birchbark canoe. This wasn’t a stack of plywood, a bucket of epoxy, and Heigh-ho Silver. Rather, this was canoe-building from scratch: bark from a tree, spruce roots, and good, old-fashioned Maine boatbuilding cedar. You knew it had to happen sooner or later: We’ve had a wedding—the first, no doubt, of many—in the 420-foot-high observatory atop the new Penobscot Narrows Bridge that connects Verona Island to the mainlaind. “Only for you,” the mother of the bride was quoted as saying to her daughter, “only for you will I get up there.” After the spectacular bridge collapse in Minneapolis last August, the state of Maine took stock of its own bridges. According to the results of the latest inspections, there are 288 bridges in the state in poor condition. The problem was put in perspective when, just a couple of weeks after the Minneapolis disaster, the famous South Bristol Swing Bridge connecting the mainland to Rutherford Island became stuck in the open position, making the island truly an island for nearly two hours. If all of the troubled bridges in Maine were to be brought up to snuff right now, the cost is estimated to be $500 million. There was trouble in Northeast Harbor last summer when owners of moored boats complained that lobstermen were setting traps too close to their moorings. A powerboat would get underway and almost immediately catch a pot warp with its prop. This has become more of a problem in all coastal harbors as the number of pleasure boat moorings increases, so much so that several towns have rules about setting traps in their harbors (are lobstermen happy about this? does Donald Trump sleep in the woods?). The Portland Fish Pier, opened with great fanfare back in the early 1980s as the latest, greatest thing for the southern Maine commercial fishing industry, is nearing the rocks if not quite on them yet. A landing stage and fish auction house, the pier can’t make ends meet because of the decline in the fishing industry. The Maine Department of Transportation recently provided a $500,000 grant to keep the pier and its centerpiece, the Portland Fish Exchange, alive, but the word on the waterfront is that it is doomed unless the industry is revived soon. You know things have changed on the mudflats when you hear that there is now a Maine Clammers Association. After all, clam-diggers—and wormers, too—have long held the unofficial record for being the orneriest, nastiest, most fiercely independent gents on the coast of Maine. If the Guinness judges ever took the time to slog out to the flats, they would quickly certify the record to be official. Lobstermen, by comparison, come off like back-office clockwatchers. But because of increasing government regulation centered on pollution control and environmental concerns, and decreasing land access to the best flats, and on top of that less money for more work because the clams that are marketable are thinning out, clammers, like the fishermen and lobstermen, have felt the need to band together to make their voices heard. Sic transit gloria mundi. Finally, a newspaper headline we particularly like, from the Ellsworth American: “Sifted Compost the Ultimate Luxury.” And an advertising pitch, from the Boothbay Register: “Stop Seagull Splat.” And a real-estate come-on for “country-estate” homesites, from the Quoddy Tides: “Free Horse With Each Purchase.”

Information Welcome: We look forward to your notes, tips, tirades, clippings, press releases, rants, and raves for possible inclusion in this column. Send to P.O. Box 758, Camden, ME 04843; fax 207- 236-0811;

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