An ode to slow

It was only seven miles to Harbor Island, but the more than three hours it took to make it there were well-spent. Photo by David Buckman

We awoke to the reflections of sunlit seas dancing across the cabin ceiling, a rich wash of blue sky overhead and the telltales hanging limp. The mate, who functions better than I in the early hours, pulled up a forecast. “Southwest 5,” she muttered sleepily as we closed our eyes, pulled the sheets up and drifted off into the bliss of those untroubled by schedules or ambition.

How lovely it was to have nothing on our agenda but smelling the sweet, salted air, listening to bickering gulls, remembering dreams and being layabouts. There’s little profit in rushing such days along to the thrum of the engine, which is like being deaf, the rich subtleties of coasting drowned out. No, there would be none of that for Leigh and me. We’d wait and see what happened, for light-air days are slow to show their hand along the Maine coast.

The tolling bell of the brown church in Round Pond sounded the word of a union of souls as the first zephyrs of the day wrote their tentative scripts along the west shore of Muscongus Sound. By then, it was mid-morning. It wasn’t enough of a breeze to take action on, but a sign – and then it evaporated, as is the way of such days. Another hour of boat cleaning passed before we raised sail.

Ghosting away from our mooring, we exchanged greetings with the crew of a sloop from Harpswell who were watching to see how we fared. After 15 minutes of halting progress we sailed into a light compression breeze playing along the west shore of Louds Island, the knotmeter flashed 2.8 knots, which seemed a thoroughly civil velocity.

Cruising under sail is about slow, not speed. To average five knots is a very good day for most of us, and that’s just creeping along compared to a bicycle where I can average 11-12 mph around my hilly New Hampshire home.

Close-hauled, sails eased to maximum draft, the sloop barely laid her shoulder to it, though a soft chortling coming from under the bow seemed to signal her contentment with our circumstance. There was a certain magic to easing along quietly, following mere cats paws of scurries, dodging lobster pot buoys and enjoying a picnic of sardines, cheese and crackers.

Leaving Bar Island astern at length and easing the sheets, life in the slow lane was thoroughly genial. Well into our muse, we came under the lee of Harbor and Halls Islands in the middle of Muscongus Bay. The Swedish-built Folkboat is decidedly handy and carrying into the slimmest of possibilities under sail invested of a particular energy. Something of a dance, it was a delight to be easing along in close quarters, soundings declining into the single digits and a sense of excitement in the air at the sporting challenge of it.

Hardening the sheets, she put her chin to the playful waves channeling between the isles. With shoals on all quarters, our tacks were little more than a minute long. Coming about, I’d ease the mainsheet and put the helm over, while the mate brought the jib around and sheeted it in as we laid off on the next slant as though it were a dance. Gaining the limits of navigation, Leigh throttled the jib and brought our “secret” mooring aboard in a tennis-court-sized tide pool. It had taken us over three hours to make seven miles, but we couldn’t have imagined a more pleasant day.

David Buckman, who has forgotten more tennis-court-sized tide pools than most of us will ever know, sails a 26-foot, Swedish-built International Folkboat out of Round Pond, Maine.

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