And finally to Roque

Midwinter, 2018

By Herb Smith
For Points East

We had made reservations with Judy at the Jonesport campgrounds the night before. Once there, we set up our L.L. Bean Northwoods tent that we’d purchased the previous winter after selling the schooner Eastwind. It was fun and big enough to accommodate our two military cots, two folding chairs and a table. We were right on the water overlooking Jonesport Harbor, which is behind a breakwater. It was cool, with a nice sea breeze coming off the Atlantic Ocean, which we could see.

When the moon first emerges above the horizon it will often be orange. But as the earth rotates, it quickly becomes free and clear and casts silvery rays of light over all the objects in its path, including our tent. When the sun went down, we had a delicious dinner out of our ice cooler, heated up with our alcohol boat stove: fresh corn-on-the-cob and zucchini bread and chicken.

Sleeping safely in our tent that evening was a pleasure. Not to worry about putting a reef in the sail, a storm, or colliding with another vessel.

I didn’t have to look at a clock either because, every hour, the Sawyer Memorial Congregational Church – with moon rays on its steeple – would strike a bell to the hour. The church was established in 1877, a beautiful large white steeple church. Jonesport was incorporated in 1832. Capt. Coffin Jones ran his sailing vessel aground along the coast there – thus “Jones” port.

At 4 a.m., we heard four bells ring and the lobstermen starting up their engines so they could be fishing at sunrise (5:31 a.m.). Doris’s father, Emile Plante, was the inventor of the escape vent that by law had to be put on every lobster trap in the 1960s so small lobsters could escape. Some lobstermen claim he saved the lobster industry. When I told a local lobsterman that Doris was Plante’s daughter, they were pleased to meet her since the escape vent had Plante stamped on it for over two decades.

The next day we got up early, soon after the lobster boats had departed, and made breakfast. It was clear and calm so I asked Doris if she wanted to try for Roque Island today. “Sure,” she replied.

At 7 a.m., we put the canoe into the water at the public boat ramp close to our tent. When I pulled the trailer out of the water to park it, I noticed two young men sitting in their truck, smoking and watching Doris tie Christy up to the float next to the launch ramp. “Where are you fishing today?” they asked.

“We’re not fishing,” I said. “We’re going to Roque Island.”

“I wouldn’t do that if I was you,” the driver said. “The bay going across can get terribly rough, very fast.”

I thanked him for his advice, but didn’t let it deter me. Life is about taking chances. We took risks building boats and taking people with us around the world, and doing this were better off than sitting in front of a television set. So going over to Roque seemed reasonable.

When I got down to the boat, Doris asked me, “What did they want?”

I said to give me some advice that the bay going across to Roque can get very rough quickly.

“What did NOAA weather say for today?” Doris asked.

“Five to 10 knots of northerly wind; it’s fine right now so let’s go. It’s only four miles, and we can come back if it gets too rough.”

“Well, we’ve come all this way for your obsession, Herb, so let’s go,” Doris replied. “Afterwards, maybe we can go to Helen’s Restaurant in Machias to get blueberry pie.” Doris had done this every summer in the past with either her mother or father until they died.

We motored out past the breakwater into Moosabec Sound. We started due east. The current here can exceed five knots, but I didn’t notice any. The buoys were all showing slack tide. It was nice weather when we passed Mark Island and went out into Chandler Bay, with 70 feet of water under us. Roque Island, a long-held goal, was right in front of us, a mile away. Thirty years ago, Bud McIntosh and his wife Babe, who visited the island with their 30-foot, gaff-rigged sloop Bufflehead, got me interested in it. Now, we were making eight knots, on a calm day, and we were soon up next to Roque’s west coast, tree-lined and steep with no houses.

We came to the northern end, at Squire Point, then went east around it, and lovely sandy beach appeared in Shorey Cove. I remember Bud telling me there was perfect protection from southerly winds; therefore, there’d be no waves crashing in on the beach. On the west side was a long pier with a boat and two men standing at the end. Behind them was a magnificent farm with red barns and a yellow house. I approached the pier slowly thinking we might not be welcome until they waved to us. I told them that we were camping in Jonesport, and just wanted to come over today to see Roque Island. “How old is that boat?” they asked. I told them, 80, and covered with canvas just like it was in 1936.

The men said they were running a ferry to and from the island. I asked if they would sign a piece of paper confirming that we were here on Aug. 1, 2016, and Avery Kelley did, saying, “If you want to see a greater beach – the best in Maine – you have to go to the other end of the island. Go back down the west coast until you come to a small inlet that’s a passage between Little Spruce Island and Roque. Go through it until you come out into another larger bay. But be careful later: The wind is supposed to pick up this afternoon, and it can get pretty rough between here and Jonesport.”

In a few minutes we were at the other end of the island, and we came to a break in the coast Avery had mentioned.

We proceeded through the narrow Thorofare, as it’s called on the chart, which was calm and lined with trees right down to the water’s edge. Cutting a smooth wake across the quiet blue-green water, we came out into a much bigger bay called Roque Harbor, with long sandy white beaches on our portside.

Two sailboats were anchored close to the beach – only two. In the Caribbean there would have been 30. On the beach, we could see signs that said, “Do not proceed beyond this point” about every 100 yards. I found out later that lobstermen would come over from Jonesport and Beals Island on summer Saturday nights have a grand parties on the beach. We circled around one of the sailboats, crewed by a friendly couple from Maryland. They told us we should go to Mistake Island, a sound over by Jonesport, which had an abandoned lighthouse and a nice place to anchor.

However, I was anxious to get back to our tent; therefore, we motored west, back out through the Thorofare. Motoring at around at eight knots is so very convenient. To do what we’d already accomplished this day under just sail could have taken a week.

Out in the bay again, it was calm. The sun was out after a brief shower, so we proceeded back to Shorey Cove, at the north end of Roque. We gently slid up onto the smooth beach, got out – Scamp our dog included – and walked around. Doris found a few shells, and I picked up a small rock with a pinkish-gray blend of prehistoric material that I put in my pocket. It is now a paperweight on my desk that reminds me that I actually stepped foot on Roque. We headed back down Chandler Bay toward Jonesport, looking back at our wake and the slowly receding dream of Roque Island.

Back in Jonesport, we took Christy out of the water and parked the trailer by our tent. Then we drove up to Helen’s Restaurant, in Machias, and not only had blueberry pie, but also a delicious fish chowder so we wouldn’t have to eat again the rest of the day.

For the next two days, we hiked all the trails at Roque Bluffs State Park, across Englishman Bay from Roque Island. Doris picked the wild blueberries along the trail, and we saw workers harvesting seaweed on the rocks, a popular source of income for Mainers. It’s sometimes dried out and sold in packages to health-food supply stores.

With the trailer and Christy hooked up behind us, we headed back home to Sheepscot, and I wondered about the nature of dreams. This one was finished now, but I wasn’t sad. Dreams never run out, and I’ve got a dozen more to tickle my fancy.

Herb Smith, wife/shipmate Doris and mini-poodle Scamp live in a log house in Sheepscot, Maine, near the mouth of the Dyer River. The couple has written five books, including “Sailing Three Oceans: Building and Sailing Schooner Appledore,” about their world-girdling voyage in the 1980s. “The whole point of this story,” Herb says, “is to keep your dreams going. Dreams never run out at any age. I hope readers get that from this story.”