A melancholy annual event

October 2007

By Dodge Morgan

I wonder if the reason I make the sail each year from Snow Island to Newcastle alone is because I enjoy sailing Eagle with a crazy crew. Or if I simply can’t find anyone who wants to sail with me. Or if I just like the thought that I can actually lower the average age of the assembled because Eagle is 80 now, and I am, well, less than 80.

But age has me doing it differently. I do not leap around deck; I move more like a crab than a bird. A chore that should be done, such as rigging boom preventers, gets more prolonged thought than quick action. Slow progress feels comfortable more than frustrating. That I cannot read the small print on the chart is not a problem because I have made this passage at least 50 times and know where almost everything is nearly all the time. Even the mistakes are predictable.

Our first passage was in glorious weather, solid-blue sky and forever visibility. The sailing was sloppy in a light wind dead aft, a clumsy time for a gaff-headed schooner. There was a heave of long, four-foot sea swells that was mesmerizing in boat motion but lit up the shoreline with towering explosions of spray. It took us five and one-half hours to reach the Cuckolds off Cape Newagen, just a 22-mile run.

I passed the time by bonding with a cormorant. Do you realize that cormorants spend as much time under water as they do with their heads in the air – and less time than that flying? I wondered how much existence loses when a cormorant dies and takes with him the package of subjective understanding he has accumulated over his life? I wondered what it would be like to live the life of a cormorant? Is there a totally native wisdom in a cormorant’s life that we humans cannot conceive because we are unable to free ourselves from our own closed views and circumstances?

I gave up, sailed into Boothbay Harbor for a social evening of vodka and roast beef and ephemeral friends at McSeagull’s bar, then celebrated that I’d thought to put a sleeping bag on board so I wouldn’t have to use the fisherman staysail as a blanket.

The passage out and around Linekin Neck and up the Damariscotta River to Riverside Boat Company, Eagle’s winter nest for more than a quarter-century now, was a wet and cold bluster, wind 20 and pouring rain that locked us in a world the size of a closet. If any other vessels had ventured out with us, they remained unseen. The river’s tidal current added two knots to our speed, and Eagle’s engine performed like a fine watch.

When I could see shore, I noted almost no fall color, even as it was the end of September. Hope rose in me that the “Farmer’s Almanac” prediction for a long and cold winter is wrong. Can anyone recall the “Almanac” ever giving us a different winter prognosis?

Just one mishap on the way: A fair-leading jib sheet block came adrift. The simple repair took me more time than I like to admit. Maybe it’s time for me to enlist another crazy person to sail with me. She can steer while I dead-reckon out those oft-repeated piloting mistakes or do a repair or take a leak over the side or rub the circulation back into my hands. She can brew coffee for us and help answer those vexing cormorant questions.

Dodge Morgan lives on Snow Island, Maine.