Late start, halting progress, Andrews Island

Cruise of the Leight, Part II: 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.

Morning was a surprise. It was dripping wet and deaf with fog when I turned in, but the mists had evaporated by the time sleep was chased away by water sprites dancing on the ceiling at the decadent hour of 8:37 a.m. I’d been vaguely aware of the Pleasant Point lobster fishers leaving hours earlier, and, sliding the hatch open, a primordial brew of mud, salt and spruce hung thick, while the vitreous sky was reflected on shimmering waters like a silk brocade.

Card-carrying layabouts like me are not treated shabbily along this coast, the wind often not showing much ambition before midday. It was satisfying to have a leisurely breakfast, check the oil and batteries, unfurl the flag, and bail the dinghy with agreeable deliberateness.

My plan was no plan – sort of. Casting off in buttery sunlight, making light duty of it, we putt-putted across the mirrored stillness of the St. George River and into Port Clyde, where a tolling church bell lent a sober note to the thoughts of a singlehander of my low order.

Noon was well astern by the time we made the bell off Mosquito Island and found a few zephyrs scrolling the sea. Raising sail a bit prematurely, progress was halting for a while, but the tide came fair and we made three knots of it, more or less. Heading for Muscle Ridge Channel, reclined across the well-cushioned cockpit like a pharaoh, it was the most civil of circumstances.

Currents billowed and knotted, the tiller trembled, and Whitehead Island lighthouse was hours coming abeam. As afternoon shadows lengthened, the Leight ferried silently between Oak and Dix islands to mere breaths of a breeze. Hugging the bold north shore of High Island, ledges showing to port, her four feet of draft wasn’t challenged, the fathometer showing no less than 11 feet. Running out of wind, the Folkboat was quietly shunted along on the flood.

Engine idling, we crept into the snug lee afforded by Andrews Island and The Neck, of which the guides say nothing. I had it to myself, as always. Anchoring was a bit of a busy cup of tea. Circling about, taking soundings, I positioned the sloop where we’d have eight feet at low, put the engine in reverse, nipped forward to let the hook and 10 fathoms of chain go. Snubbing off and making fast, I hastened aft to keep her backing straight, after which I hustled forward to tie off properly, silence the halyards, flake the jib and stow the main.

The stillness of the eel rut was deep. I was missing Leigh, and the energy of “us.” While British sailor H.W. Tillman wrote, “Strenuousness is the immortal path and sloth the way of death.” Being a slacker, I soon had a bottle of wine open and shoes off. Binoculars in hand, I scanned the knot of islands, several so small to be unnamed. The one camp on Andrews Island was unoccupied, and the sweep of sea toward Owls Head was possessed of so many shoals, buoys and bells that, after all these years, I never pass through them without a chart at hand.

Solitude seemed a weighty business as the velvety vastness of night descended, the anchor light a feeble glint against the gathering gloom. As much as isolation suits my various social defects, when nature’s night chorus tuned up, the weight of starry infinity seemed profound.

I’d only made 15 miles, but it was the most civil of days. Sailing is a slow business in a world of fast. The five knots we’re perfectly pleased to average, is three times slower than an old man on a bicycle. Hurrying time along, and motoring when we could be sailing, often doesn’t pay. Sitting in the cockpit, night came wine-dark, the anchorage shrank away to a mere tide pool, and a distant whistle had a poignant plaint to it. There’s a glow to going with the flow.

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

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