Damariscove

Speaking of the boat, I spent 7 hours at the wheel yesterday without a break.  I escaped the endless list of the home front at 2:15 and beat my way downriver (but uptide and against a freshening SW breeze) into the bay.  These springtime days bring sudden strong winds, cold and sharp-tongued as your 5th grade teacher. By the time I cleared Thrumcap Island, I was rail under, hard on the wind, chop spray flying overhead and salting my glasses, riding the edge out to sea with straining sails and sheets.

The goal was Damariscove Island, a long, thin treeless and haunted offshore island, the last before the deep Atlantic.  Damariscove is distinguished by having been the stopping place for Maine’s first tourists, the first ‘summer people’. English fishing boats followed the explorers over to gather the cod when they were too numerous to count.  They set up on this island as a shelter and resting spot, to store gear they wouldn’t have to carry back to Old Blighty, as a place to dry the salt fish, and as a gossip and trading post. It was far enough ‘off the main’ to be safe from the ‘savages’ that prevented permanent mainland settlements.  Although no one knows when the visiting first started, it was certainly in full swing in the late 1500’s.  The island is named for Captain Dameril, who set up a store there in 1608.  It is hard to credit that maybe thirty ships sailed out of this tiny sleepy harbor fully 400 years ago.

But the Pilgrims, landing a couple of days’ sail south on Cape Cod, and desperate after the deadly winter of 1620, sent a boat up to Damariscove in the spring of ’21 to get fish and other things, and were generously assisted – so this summer settlement helped save the Pilgrims.  It was also the rendezvous for English, French, and Dutch ships making their way to the colonial settlements in Virginia and New Amsterdam (New York).  Men drank, gambled, quarreled, bartered with each other and the Indians – in other words, a typical commercial seaport.

The harbor is mightily thin and open to the southwest, which makes it a challenge for single-handed boats from that day to this, so I rounded up to take one of the moorings near the old Coast Guard station, only to find at the crucial moment that my batteries were dead.  (The floating switch on the bilge pump had packed up and run them down.)

In a high wind, you have only a few second to get a mooring secure, and I missed my moment. I couldn’t hold the mooring pennant, and without an engine was pushed ignominiously up the tiny harbor to rest bumping against the rocks.  Desperate, breathing hard – it was a falling tide, I was alone, and I had been in this situation before without good result – I used the whisker pole to push myself off before I got stuck fast, got the sails up again, and – shaking – short-tacked my way up the cove past the ledges to the open water.

I decided to spend the night closer to shore, as I would have no power for lights, stove or anything. Starting at 6:30, I opened the sails and made my way shoreward, fighting the ebbing tide, but helped by the wind that persisted long after the sun had gone to bed, I decided to try to make it all the way home, and arrived back on the mooring at exactly 9:15, far into nautical twilight – I put the sails away mostly by feel.

Except for a 30-second run down below to check the bilge, I had not left the wheel for 7 hours.  It was a great lesson, and one that ended with a welcoming committee (no one should have been out alone on such a windy day, so Annie, Quan, Peter and Sarah, knowing I was out in the airy dark, were anxiously awaiting my return) and with me in my soft bed – not bad therapy.

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