Engine talk, ghosting, Burnt Coat comfort

Cruise of the Leight, Part Five: 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.

The engine was mumbling away contentedly as the Leight left the still waters of Seal Trap, on Isle au Haut, astern. It sounded like a verse about all good sailors needing to eat Spam. As much as I’m no motorhead, the little diesel is dependable, all nine horsepower of it, though a finicky bleeder. My friend Martin has to be called in for that. He’s a genius. I’m good at checking the oil.

While I’ve been known to gripe about all the motoring that goes on when there’s a perfectly good sailing breeze up, it was a lovely thing to cleave the silky seas this dazzling morning. Consuming but a third of a gallon of fuel an hour at five knots, it’s in sync with the sloop’s low-tech/no-tech systems, and my marginal maintenance skills. I may have read too much Thoreau in my formative years, but simplicity suits me, and the 26-foot sloop is not complicated with electric anchor puller-uppers, bow thrusters, a fridge, and other such bother.

Steering with an idle elbow, a few miles along I motored past the village of Isle au Haut, and exchanged waves with two moored cruisers who were waiting for the wind. Both were couples, and there I was, an island of sorts, thinking that solo sailing was a pretty intense business.

Spit out of Isle au Haut Thorofare by the newly minted tide, a fluky westerly ruffled the waters, sail was set, and we were soon making 2.6 knots of it. Ghosting quietly toward the Pell Island passage, the fathometer display declined toward the single digits. Carried along on a magic carpet, we threaded the needle between Wheat and Pell islands, the bottom coming into view as it shoaled to 10 feet.

A couple of miles on, the breeze went away. Just like that. Gone.

When in doubt, I like to eat, so I improved the moment with sardines, crackers, cheese and chocolate. A fitful breeze eventually stirred, and we slowly made for Swans Island, tide athwart our interests. Hours later, the sloop eased past Burnt Coat Harbor Light, on Hockamock Head, and sailed into the quiet of the harbor.

Dropping the jib, we skulked through the fishing fleet, and skirted a rock I’d rather decisively charted decades ago. Making into the tide pool off Minturn, the anchor went down where we’d have seven feet at low and know nothing of the fishing fleet’s crack-o-dawn wake-up call.

It was my fifth day of solitary – then the phone rang. Bill Cheney, who summers nearby, had seen me sail in, and plans were soon hatched for an evening social. Bill and Kendra are lively company. I never visit without bringing a note pad and pencil, for they are extraordinarily well read, and we always leave with a list of good books.

As much as I’m a social defective, the warmth, energy and intelligence of the evening was nourishing. I was still missing Leigh. Thought I’d adapt sooner, but now I wonder. Wuss city.

Bill’s a seasoned Downeast hand, cruising aboard an engineless, 22-foot catboat, Penelope. He writes salty tales and captures the spare images and lively moods of the rugged coast with a keen eye. Crafting an original life, his roads less traveled are possessed of an innocence we’re in need of knowing. Besides, catboaters are an earnest lot, pretty much out to change the world.

Coasting is a head game. There’s stirring theater to Maine and the Maritimes that I’ve seldom known on land, then only among mountains. It propels me into expansive encounters, deep quiet, and occasional madness, which adds depth and breadth to things. While not always pleasant in the heat of it, there’s an organic drama to coasting Downeast that wears well and is close to epic proportions for one of my modest stocks of intrepidity.

David Buckman’s book, “Bucking the Tide,” is about discovering the New England and Fundy coast in a $400 sloop. It’s $19, including shipping. Send your mailing address to buckingthetide@gmail.com.

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