The way of the coast


The mate Leigh, and lobsterwoman Dianne Ames of Vinalhaven Island, catch up on the past year’s news and events. Photo by David Buckman

I was startled by the hostility of our encounter with the lobsterman. It’d been a good while since we’d felt the burn, and I was reminded of the ’70s when the world was beating a path to buy Downeast vacation homes and a tide of anti-incomer sentiment was running in some quarters.

The mate and I had just left the perfect peace of a remote eel rut that we’d had to ourselves for three days. Running north before a fitful southerly aboard our 26-foot Folkboat, evening was coming on and all was quiet, but for a ferry sounding its way home. Approaching a narrow island passage, we heard the drone of a powerboat in the distance and hugged along the margin, leaving plenty of passing room to starboard.

On it came at speed, bow high, with a throaty roar. It being the top of the tide we squeezed to the very edge of the gut. With a great wake peeling off the bow, the 40-odd-foot-long boat held to our side of the channel and creamed past a few yards off at more than 30 knots, the skipper looking ahead as though we didn’t exist, which is the way of drive-by bullies.

The Leight was swept by whitewater from stem to stern, pitched fore and aft and slammed hard to port and starboard, sails flogging, binoculars flying, cheese and crackers broadcast underfoot and the dinghy shipping water. Twice it happened, two different boats, two different places and two different skippers that didn’t “see” us. It felt sophomoric, and messing with an 80-year-old seemed decidedly low camp.

None of this is intended to reflect on Downeast folk in general, for they are the finest kind. The Gulf of Maine is a place of breathtaking perspectives, distinctive wildness and depths of character little known in an age of cultural homogeneity. Of keen intellect, pride and independent ways, their work ethic is extraordinary and the coast is home to hospitable people. Genuine and generous, they are suspicious of governance in general and subscribe to pretty much the same state of benign anarchy the rest of us practice.

It took a while for the dust to settle and a reasonable perspective to evolve. Then, I could see that I should have thanked our aggressors for showing us a genuine slice of life we’d not have known otherwise. We shouldn’t just sail to places where the people smile at us, and our cash earns respect, for even in the most remote places along this coast, we have more in common with the locals than contrasting.

The very port the fisher folk came from was a place where we’d been all but adopted by two kind souls years earlier, who helped us find someone to fix our ailing engine. As annoying as I am, we have been able to cultivate fertile common ground up and down this coast.

Then there was the time the mate and I rescued a lobsterman who’d fallen out of his dinghy and didn’t know how to swim. Hauling him out of the water, the humanity of it struck us. It’s what we do and what they would do in a heartbeat. Antagonists may be nothing more than people who don’t know each other well enough.

David Buckman’s book, “Bucking the Tide,” is about discovering the New England and Fundy coast in a wreck of a $400 yacht. It’s a paltry $19, including shipping. Send your mailing address to buckingthetide@ Pay only after receiving book. In sailors we trust.

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