Cruise of the Leight: Part 1

I was imagining my summer of cruising as a “sailabout” of sorts, sharing qualities of the aboriginal Australians’ walkabouts. I was seeking the peace of wild places, mysteries of nature, depths of solitude, and the incomprehensible energy of the sea. I wanted to lie in the sun, drink wine, read, write, muse on things – and do nothing at all.

As fully occupied as I was getting the Leight ready for cruising, it was only a few days before casting off that it loomed large that I’d be singlehanding for a month before Leigh joined me. Suddenly, it seemed like a long time. Too long, actually.
Packing away the last of the stores aboard the 26-foot sloop, a silent river of fog crept into Round Pond, erasing the world more than a few boat lengths away. It invested my lot with a provocative quality, for morning would find me coasting,which is an intense occupation that renders life in stirring dimensions and pregnant silence.

My subdued mood reminded me of a line from Colin Fletcher’s book, “The Man Who Walked Through Time.” In this account of a three-month hike through the wilds of the Grand Canyon, he wrote, “It begins in wind and dust and emptiness. It is always there, this emptiness at a threshold of a journey that will start something.”

My ambitions were to work my way to the farthest reaches of Downeast Maine, and up the Bay of Fundy to the St. John River, where I’d push into New Brunswick’s pastoral heartland. Possessed of a certain drama for its wild prospects, the world’s highest tides, racing currents and dungeons of fog, it stirred up a heightened sense of awareness, which is the optimal state to pursue such things. I’d sailed the waters long ago, in an 18-foot sloop, and it was still no small thing for one of my humble stocks of intrepidity.

Morning dawned ominously gray, the sky leaden and a chill in the air that was a disgrace to June. The forecast was for rain and a southeasterly breeze gusting to 20 knots. Hardly a promising beginning, but I wanted to launch the venture, though the day was well along before the last niggling details were sorted out, and the main and jib set flying.

Burdened by a foul tide, the sloop put her shoulder to the soldiering wind, rain fell in flurries, and not far along she was engulfed in a smother of fog. Slanting southward in Muscongus Sound, it was a busy cup of tea as I laid a long cross stitch of tacks, and it was several hours along before I could ease the sheets and bear eastward at Bar Island.

Worrying my way through the mists, I caught a faded glimpse of Harbor Island, skirted the shoals off Halls Island, made for Otter Island, which passed unseen, and squared away for the St. George River. At length, the Leight slipped under the shore of Gay Island. Dropping the jib, I silently tacked my way through the lobsterboat fleet to a secret mooring at the head of navigation in Pleasant Point Gut.

Retreating to the cabin and setting the lantern alight, I made an entry in the log. We’d made only nine miles, but there was a stirring quality to my solitude, the drama of the ocean, and the fact that I was on the way at last.
Coasting is more art than sport, and, at five knots, speed is practically irrelevant. If I’ve learned anything in a lifetime of sailing, it is to live quietly, take the full measure of time, and pursue it as organically as I could manage.

Part 2 of “The Cruise of the Leight” will appear in the May issue. David Buckman’s book, “Bucking the Tide,” is about making do, muddling along and discovering the New England and Fundy coasts in a wreck of an 18-foot, homegrown cruiser. It’s $19, including shipping. Send your mailing address to buckingthetide@gmail.com.  

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