Extreme boating comes to Quahog Bay

April 2003

By Dodge Morgan

The advent of the annual boat shows seems especially incongruous this winter. It takes a stretch of imagination to covet a pair of handcrafted oars when the outside temperature in Portland is 17 degrees below zero. But because boat people are natural dreamers anyway, the shows this year could well be mandatory therapy.

It has been a winter from hell. The top half of your thermometer has been useless. Shorelines have been swallowed and extended out to sea. Bays and rivers have disappeared. With just 35 days of harvest time, shrimpers could walk to their moorings, their boats fixed in place as ignorant of wind direction as an abstract painting. Tides only move up and down.

I recall two conflicting winter forecasts, one from NOAA and the other from The Old Farmer’s Almanac. The pros predicted a mild Northeast winter because of some global esoteric phenomenon such as El Nino and the Farmer foretold a brutal one because the squirrels were caching huge stocks of nuts. When I noted the torrential rain of acorns dropping from a large oak by the house, I sensed that the squirrels know more than El Nino.

Before November was out, Quahog Bay became a solid white expanse, a barren field, with my home propped up in the middle. The Snow Island transit authority vessels, lobster boat Wingnut and outboard skiff Snowshoe, became nothing more than marine monuments. The ice is a foot thick and flat. I could walk home, perhaps sliding a dinghy in front of me for safety’s sake. But I do not have the courage to trek where three months ago I sailed. So I become a homeless person because I simply can’t figure out how to get there. Then my good friend and Snow Island compatriot Don Friend happened across Kenny Lund.

Lund is a clammer who digs all four seasons wherever and whenever his rake can penetrate mud. This is a trade that celebrates arm power, back strength and plain hard work. You have to know where the currently productive flats are and then you have to get to them. The getting-there challenge is where Lund has added the mindset of an entrepreneur. He doesn’t row or power or walk. He flies.

Lund plies his trade by airboat. Although his machine does float, she is more a cross between a toboggan and an airplane than she is a boat. She is an aluminum pram with a Chevy 350 gas engine driving a 6-foot, two-blade aircraft propeller in a cage on the stern. A pair of rudders rides in the prop-wash and gives her the maneuverability of a fighter plane. Her bottom is free of any protrusions and sheaved with slippery stuff called polymer.

This vessel does not care what the travel surface is – water, mud, grass, snow or ice. Kenny’s airboat zipped over the Quahog Bay icecap at 30 knots, quickest commute ever and Don and I were convinced that one more vessel had to be added to the Snow Island fleet. Yankee Airboat of Sebago, Maine, built Snowfly in three weeks. She is 13 feet loa with a beam of 8 feet.

I doubt you will find Yankee Airboat designer and builder Harold Williams with a booth in either of the Portland boat shows. He is more into surface-bound aircraft than into boats.

But I am desperately looking forward to those shows this year. I want to be inspired by the concept that floating objects will again be in fashionable season for Maine. I want to wallow in the belief that a boat is an aesthetic presence first and then a practical machine. I want to dream of the time when my voyage home will be slower and quieter and accomplished over seawater.

Dodge Morgan broke all sorts of records when he single-handed American Promise around the world without stopping in 1985 and ’86. He lives on Snow Island in Harpswell, Maine.