On discovery and bar bullies


Some say there are no wild places yet to discover in the Gulf of Maine, or wild times to be had in its ports-of-call. Nonsense!

Coasting since the 1970s, it’s been a rare summer we haven’t wiggled our way into an eel rut or two, where no sailing vessels may have ever called. We’ve known provocative solitude, been privy to treasures of anchorages, riches of maritime beauty, friendly locals, and a hostile Texan who wanted to beat the crap out of me 10 minutes after we met in a waterfront pub. I told him there’d be a lot of paperwork, and he backed off.

While the icons of North American exploration – Cabot, Champlain and others – are credited with discovering this stretch of coast, indigenous peoples inhabited the land long before them. The same is true today, and though the natives are usually affable, they’re occasionally exotic enough to be of interest, or to steer clear of, and it’s still not a bad idea to occasionally play the grovel card, or address bar bullies as “Sir.”

Like mariners of old, we hear tales of wild places where eagles soar, restless tides run, and the largest mammals in the world cavort. We want to discover them for ourselves, and, thus, know the freedom and weight of coasting. Maine and the Maritimes are still perfectly primitive in places, perhaps even wilder for us than it was for 15th-century explorer Giovanni Caboto, for whom wilderness was ordinary fare.

It was a forecast for rain, fog and southeasterly winds gusting to 30 that sent us scurrying to the far Downeast refuge of Moose Snare Cove in Little Kennebec Bay. The guide and Pilot offered little of its nature, but for years I’d looked with interest at the single six-foot sounding on the chart, inside Mill Pond, which it seemed would offer perfect sanctuary from the storm.

Anchoring outside the bolt-hole of a backwater, I got out my notebook, a pencil, and sounding lead – the basic implements of discovery – and prepared to fathom the waters from our rowing dinghy. Just then, a stand-up canoeist from one of the camps inside the pond paddled by. I asked if we could anchor the sloop inside. “No,” was all he offered.

Leigh and I were discussing what to do next, when another canoe appeared. “Do you know if there’s room to anchor inside?” I shouted as he slipped by. “There’s a hole close under the south shore, the paddler replied, adding, “but it’s pretty small,” as he passed out of talking range.

Taking to the dinghy, we rowed into the inner sanctum, which was closely guarded by a small hill to the north and legions of impenetrable spruce crowding shore. About the size of a couple of football fields, it pretty much dried at low water. Casting the lead, we found no obstructions mid-channel in the entrance gut, and close beyond a teacup of a tide pool that would require close-quarter anchoring, but where the 15-foot tides would leave six to seven feet at low water – and where we wouldn’t be troubled by wind and seas.

There was a particular drama to our circumstance that night, as the wind raged, rain slanted down, fog erased the world a few feet away, and barely a ripple addressed the sloop. With two anchors out, we streamed with the tide. The Leight’s snug cabin was invested of a certain civility. We’d followed our instincts, as minor as they were, chanced upon new lands, reveled in the energy of discovery, and came privy to secrets known to a few, which seemed significant against the usual run of trivial pursuits.

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