Discovering Smith Cove – again

buckman-160401In the wake of a lifetime of sailing, the exhilaration of discovery remains a powerful notion, as the mate and I were reminded when we sailed into Castine last summer to take in the arrival of the replica 1779 French frigate, Hermione. We’d first called here in the ’70s, aboard a train wreck of an 18-foot faux cruiser, took a break from sailing and bailing to enjoy a lively visit to Dennett’s Pub, tour its historic quarter, and spend a quiet night in Smith Cove, close across the Bagaduce River.

The mile-wide cove is secure enough, though it’s no bolthole, and with a crowd of cruisers in town on our most recent visit to take in the spectacle of the 145-foot-long square-rigger under sail, anchoring space was tight. Sniffing about the margins, looking for a quiet berth from a fresh southerly predicted to blow up that night, our attention was drawn to a knot of tightly clustered contour lines in the southeast quarter of the chart, where a knob of granite and greenery stood invitingly proud.

Steering clear of a three-foot shoal west of Sheep Island near low tide, readings in the teens and 20s flashed on the sounder. Swinging east, we soon came into the lee of the heights, played out the leadline, found the bottom muddy, and were about to anchor when we came upon a mooring – a brand new one judging by its pristine condition.

Circling it, debating whether to pick it up or drop the hook, we elected to lay to it for lunch. Though there were a few camps a half-mile away to the south, our attention was commanded by the eastern shore, where cliffs sheered boldly, a crown of spruce rose a 100-feet above the still waters, and there were no signs of man’s ambitions.

There’s a particular intensity to such moments, and we were charmed at first glance. The drama of the place spoke to us with a certain solemnity that we were not be able to immediately fathom, but that there was something stirring to the native art of it. The play of light and shadow, wildness and drift of ancient sensibilities tempered the teacup of a tide pool and resonated distinctly. Our solitude added another subtle layer of tenor, while bold brushstrokes of gray, emerald and blue rendered sea, sky and spruce a striking minimalist composition.

Part of its attraction was our remove from the crowd, and the chortling of a tidal waterfall draining the shadowy backwater that cut into the south shore. A rich brew of spruce liquor and primordial ooze floated on air, while a blue heron, in its ministerial garb, stalked prayerfully along the muddy verge.

A gnarled finger of an islet in the interior waters stood a shade darker than the far shore, and suggested an inviting sense of depth. With the tide well advanced, and the velvet vastness of night coming on, it begged exploration in our rowing dinghy. There was a sense of being in a museum full of masterpieces, after hours, as we carried quietly along, an amiable chuckle whispering from under the bow.

After all these years, I’m sure there are as many discoveries yet to be made as we’ve known, and our imaginations will allow, but we’re not likely to shed light on such treasures if we don’t wander from our comfortable grooves.

Comments are closed.