Finding a true harbor

A boat at anchor in The Cows Yard off Head Harbor Island, Maine. Photo by David Buckman

If a man knows not what harbor he seeks, any wind is the right wind.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Roman Statesman, 50 AD

Years ago, I wrote about embarking on a process of understanding which is the right boat for each of us, and doing that based on a kind of hierarchy of needs. Are we into looks? Speed? Space? Seaworthiness? Cruising? Racing? Family day trips, etc.?

This month, reflecting with a friend on our favorite harbors, I thought about that same criteria, but this time for harbors, based on who we are. But first, some definitions of the word.

Noun: a place on the coast where vessels may find shelter, especially one protected from rough water by piers, jetties, and other artificial structures. E.g.: “fishing in the harbor.”

Verb: keep (a thought or feeling, typically a negative one) in one’s mind, especially secretly. E.g: “She started to harbor doubts about the wisdom of their journey” or “Rose had harbored a grudge against him.”

Verb: give a home or shelter to.

When I interviewed the old cruising buddy and asked him to tell me about his favorite harbor and why, I realized that, even if I had just met him, I would know a lot about who he was just by the harbor he picked.

For example, if he’d replied, “Portsmouth Harbor in New Hampshire,” I could have guessed this about him: he likes easy entrances, he doesn’t want to be too far off the beaten track, he likes modern marinas, he likes shore power, and he likes to have facilities right there (showers, restaurants, shore-side sites, transportation, emergency help). If I didn’t know him, would I assume that he had a powerboat? Maybe. That he was risk-averse? That his life perhaps had enough risk already in his day job? That he liked to be in complete control, and not compete with nature? That he didn’t mind spending money on extra services (like marinas) when cruising? That he was eager to be social and close by his neighbors? That he didn’t like being alone or relatively isolated? Maybe. But these are just assumptions, of course.

But that wasn’t my cruising buddy’s reply. In fact, it was just the opposite. He picked The Cows Yard, Head Harbor Island, Eastern Bay, Maine. Why his favorite? Well, here are some opposites for you: It’s far off the beaten path, way Down East; it’s full of fog (often only until you get inside); it has an alluring name; it has an entrance that’s hard to spot – even when there’s no fog – between the cliffs beyond a point of land, where you favor the bold, pink granite cliff on the eastern side; there are no services there, only scattered homes tucked into the pines; you can hear the lonely sound of the Moose Peak Light fog horn; rarely are there many or any other boats there; it’s great for rowing the dinghy and exploring all the small islands, nooks and crannies; and ashore the flora is vibrant and diverse, because of the intense moisture due to its proximity to one of the foggiest areas on the entire coast of the United States, Petit Manan.

So what’s not to like?

Sure, he’s not close to his doctors way up there.

But, to him, this is a place to die for.

Dave Roper’s new novel, “Rounding the bend: The Life and Times of Big Red,” was released in mid-June and is available from and Barnes and Noble.

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