Huntress turns 60

By Kevin Harris
For Points East

Huntress started her 60th year with a July cruise Downeast on a breezy day – “a cap full of wind” day, as Joshua Slocum would have said.

Only her skipper was aboard for an exhilarating reach and run from Boothbay Harbor to Maple Juice Cove in Muscongus Bay, Maine. We did see nine-plus knots show up on the GPS occasionally while surfing down the waves as we approached Franklin Island Light. The tide was fair and the wind held all the way up the St. George River as we rounded into the cove at six to seven knots. It was a grand day for man and boat. Her skipper was, once more, treated to the seakindliness of the pilot design.

Aug. 10 found us back in our homeport in Robinhood, in the Sasanoa River, with Huntress dockside for her 60th birthday celebration. Many close friends attended. Steel-drum musician Ben Betts, from Boothbay Harbor, provided the music. We enjoyed wonderful food and a glass or two to “toast the day,” and a special birthday cake for the boat. Our friends came from as far away as Connecticut, and included a former crewmember, Ed Vianney, from the 1979 Marion to Bermuda Race, when Huntress, then Damn Yankee, was First in Class.

Ed was extremely generous in presenting his commemorative mug from that race to the skipper and the boat. He also shared some wonderful stories of that race and crew, which included the seasick Minister of Finance for Bermuda and cooking hotdogs in the coffee pot on the gimbaled Sterno Sea Swing stove.

It was a very special afternoon to gather great friends together, commemorate the 60th year of Huntress, and appreciate the joys of life on the water. I am honored to have been the caretaker of this wonderful boat for the past 33 years of my life – a full half of my lifetime, so far.

I first saw Huntress in Kittery, Maine, in 1983, at the old Dion’s Yacht Yard. I had been looking at several wooden sailboats that summer, and the plan was to join two friends in a charter business designed to be a wooden-boat experience. Three boats would sail in company along the coast of Maine, stopping at some of the wood-boat builders, boatyards, museums, historic places, old schooner wrecks, etc.

We planned to stop at the Bath Apprenticeshop and Maine Maritime Museum in Bath; the town of Wiscasset, where the Hesper and the Luther schooner wrecks were still very recognizable; Paul Bryant at the Riverside Boat Co. in Newcastle; the Gamage Shipyard in South Bristol; and one of the best preserved schooner wrecks, now mostly deteriorated, the impressive Cora Cressey, up in Muscongus Bay in Bremen.

I had already seen most of the other boats on my short list, but, once I saw Huntress, it was love at first sight. The owner, Rev. Parkman Howe, just purchased a second boat, a fiberglass Pilot also named Huntress. It was now September, and Reverend Howe had two boats to store for the winter, so the asking price was dramatically lowered. I was in the right place at the right time, and purchased Huntress on Halloween 1983. The adventure began.

Our first sail was to take Huntress up to Portland, so, with two friends, we set out from Kittery on a beautiful, fresh, westwind day in early November. It was evident from the start what a wonderful sailing boat she was. We were all smiles that day, and I was hooked.

The charter business was starting in the 1984 sailing season, so we sailed Huntress up to the Gamage yard just before Thanksgiving, to be wet-stored. She wintered there well enough. When spring arrived, I went to work on her brightwork, and carried out some repairs, which included replacing sections of her Honduras mahogany cockpit coamings. We hauled out on the old railway (now gone), at the shipyard to give her a coat of antifouling paint for the summer charter season.

As does happen with these ventures, the other boats had dropped out, and Huntress was on her own. We enjoyed a busy charter season and made many new friends, some of whom have returned over the years to sail with us. Over the next several years, I continued chartering with Huntress as well as doing sailing instruction and cruising courses.

In the years 1984 through 1988, her homeport was primarily Christmas Cove, where Mike Mitchell ran the Coveside Inn and Restaurant. This was a favorite place for many boaters, with a spectacular view out to sea from the restaurant/bar deck. I was also working with Ed Hamilton, who had the Norrad Sailing School, based at Robinhood Marina and, later, at Christmas Cove. Huntress was a useful addition for cruising courses with the school.

The year 1988 was to be the most fortunate of years, as I met my wife Carolyn while provisioning for a five-day charter. She was working temporarily at the Shaw’s market in Brunswick, Maine. We became friends, and, five days later, we got to know each other over dinner and I asked her to join me for a sail on Huntress.

Rowing out to the boat, I introduced Carolyn to the actor William Hurt, who had just purchased a Pacific Seacraft 34 from Mike Mitchell and was on a mooring there in Christmas Cove. We enjoyed a lovely, light-air sail, and Carolyn took to sailing and the boat like a natural. I even managed to “arrange” a double rainbow later that day. It was magic. Had I not been shopping that morning for a charter on Huntress, we would likely not have met. In a sense, the boat brought us together. Life can be wonderful.

There have been countless adventures, scares and events over the 33 years, including a few groundings, and riding out Hurricane Gloria in Quahog Bay in 1985. One event included my running full-speed down the road from a wedding out on Peaks Island after seeing from the church Huntress dragging her mooring through the other moored boats during a squall. I managed to row out (no outboard) in time to start the engine and motor off to safety, having managed to avoid hitting any other boats or rocks. I think we used up one of her nine lives that day.

Another wonderful, chance experience was meeting Dan Fogelberg, a long-admired music hero of mine, on the dock at Robinhood Marina. He had had a Robinhood 36 cutter, named Minstrel, built for him there. I am honored to say that we became good friends and sailing companions until his much-too-early death from prostate cancer in 2007. He is sorely missed, but we are fortunate that his music lives on.

We have also made some close friends and enjoyed some grand times through the Hinckley Pilot Association, started by Buzz and Beth Billick, who own a raised-cabin-model Pilot named Glory. We had a gathering of seven Pilots last August anchored off our friend Lynn Whitney’s wonderful home and at Zeke Point, Vinalhaven.

Owning a wooden boat involves a lot of maintenance, of course. The engine was replaced with a Beta Marine three-cylinder diesel. The engine space was rebuilt. Sistered and scarfed-in frames have been installed. A few underwater body planks have been replaced. We extracted a bronze keel bolt to examine and verify the condition. Amazingly, it was found to be in “near-new” condition, and was reinstalled and torqued down.

The transom framing has been replaced/reinforced as required and a new transom was installed. We have reworked and reinforced the bronze stemhead piece and fastenings. A refastening of the underwater body planking and portions of the topsides has been carried out. Other work includes replacement of cabin-trunk corner posts, hatches and hatch frames, and portions of the cockpit coamings and fairing blocks. Also replaced were the bow pulpit rail, roller-furling unit, genoa and mainsail, standing rigging, and cockpit dodger (the boat did not have a dodger for the 1979 Bermuda race). The galley areas were furbished and refinished to include a new Paul Luke propane stove and oven. The head compartment also was refurbished and refinished, including installation of a Wilcox Crittenden Skipper toilet and associated plumbing. New electronics were installed, and rewiring was done as required. The list will sound very familiar to other wooden-boat owners, I’m sure.

There are always more sea stories to tell, and, should our paths cross, I would enjoy sitting down over a “pint or two” trading tales. I have to say, I am very fortunate to own such a special yacht, and sailing the coast of Maine on Huntress has been such a treasured gift in life. I continue to be renewed and inspired by the beauty of the experience.

Capt. Harris works as a marine surveyor and is a member of the National Association of Marine Surveyors. He lives in Bath, Maine, with his wife Carolyn. A good part of the winter is spent in Tortola, British Virgin Islands, where they enjoy sailing, scuba diving, and the wonderful people and pace of life in the islands. This coming summer, Huntress will once again be sailing the coast of Maine and welcoming guests aboard for her 61st year.