Last days in Utopia

The author’s new boat, Shining Star, docked alongside his faithful and recently retired Utopia. Photo by Jack Farrell

August 2022

By Jack Farrell

There is an old saying that the two happiest days of a sailor’s life are the day he buys the boat and the day he sells it. I’ll agree with the first part, but in most cases – for me – the sale of a boat was more like saying goodbye to an old friend for the last time. We launched our new boat, the Shining Star, on the first day of July, and she will go into service by the middle of the month. That makes these the final days of my time in Utopia.

Capt. Bob Cloutier commissioned the Utopia nearly fifty years ago from the Bruno and Stillman yard in Newington, New Hampshire. Bob was a highlining charter boat captain with a growing clientele. He needed a bigger boat to go out further and stay out longer. Utopia was Bob’s version of heaven, and he fished her from Newburyport and Portsmouth in the Gulf of Maine out to the Fippennes Ledge and south to the Bahamas and Gulf of Mexico. Locally known as Captain Clorox (he kept the boat very clean), Bob was said to have “paved the road” to Jeffrey’s Ledge in search of giant tuna.

I’ve heard lots of stories about Bob and Utopia. It was not always peaches and cream aboard for Bob. The boat has seen some hard times and even some tragedy in her fifty years, but Bob found enough bliss on board to live up to her name.

When I first saw the boat, she was in Bob’s driveway – and had been for a number of years. Bob’s health was declining, and he no longer felt strong enough to run the boat with guests aboard. She sat about fifty feet from the doorway of his immaculately clean garage where he would sit in the sun on nice afternoons, with eyes on his Utopia. He ran the engine regularly and kept the bottom paint fresh, planning for another trip when he felt better.

Bob eventually accepted the fact that there would be no more fishing trips and that it was time to sell. I learned about Utopia from a friend, and after weeks of discussion we struck a deal for her sale.

Bob sat in his lawn chair in the garage as the truck pulled away with Utopia. “Take care of my boat,” he said with tears in his eyes. Bob died a year or so later, but not before he came down to the dock to see the work we had done on his boat. “You did ok with her,” he told me. But he never could bring himself to come out for a last ride.

I’m writing this dispatch from the cockpit of Utopia, tied off to the stone pier at Star Island, the unofficial capital of the Isles of Shoals. Star Island’s vision statement includes the admonition to imagine the world as it might ideally be. Thousands come here every year following their individual versions of this hopeful quest. In the midst of our troubled world, the island provides a safe haven for those who aspire to a world always moving toward peace and justice.

On the morning of the Fourth of July, I watched as a piper led a holiday parade across the lawn while the retired organist from Yankee Stadium played the Star-Spangled Banner the way Joe DiMaggio would have heard it. That evening, descendants of Emily Post presented a new evolving concept of etiquette which focused on kindness over manners. It was, for a moment at least, a utopian vision of the world as it might ideally be.

Next week we’ll start a new chapter in a brand-new boat. Utopia will move on to an easier assignment, but still in the Piscataqua River, where we’ll see her every day. Side by side, the two boats show their Downeast heritage and look remarkably similar. The Shining Star is much bigger than Utopia and will carry double the load. But as my wife points out, Utopia is prettier.

During my time in that tough old boat, we’ve made almost 2,000 trips to the Shoals, hauling people, pineapples, pianos and everything in between. We dabbled in lobstering for a while, but unlike Captain Bob, we left the rest of the fish alone. Utopia has kept me and hundreds of others safe over 30,000 sea miles in all kinds of conditions. I was only scared in her one time. Thank you, old girl.

These may be my last days in Utopia, but fleeting glimpses of a perfect world come remarkably often these days: in conversations with my patient wife, with the sun rising out of a summer ocean, at the helm of Aloft on a beam reach, at the apex of a good turn in perfect snow, in watching my sons grow into good men, or with a grandchild settled contentedly against my shoulder. I hope you find your own utopia from time to time. But if you don’t, my advice is to never stop looking for it.

Jack was the manager at Star Island for many years. He currently manages major construction and utility projects there and provides all-season boat service to the island (average 250 trips per year) for luggage, food, employees, supplies and guests. He also runs Seacoast Maritime Charters, LLC providing year-round private charter boat service and marine logistics to the general public, now in the Shining Star. He still enjoys cruising in his classic Ted Hood sloop, Aloft, and teaching skiing at Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine.