Threading the needle

The Leight approaches the old fish shack on a rare sail through Pleasant Point Gut in Muscongus Bay. Photo by David Buckman.

Some of the coast’s most interesting eel ruts are invested of a particular attraction because only rarely do the tides, our timing, and the weather align, at which occasion we get to plumb the depths of interesting places like Pleasant Point Gut. Only a few hundred yards long, the slender watercourse that snakes its way between the St. George River and Davis Cove, in Muscongus Bay, is navigable near high tide for sailboats of ordinary draft.

Part of its allure is the local knowledge we acquired decades ago in a 30-minute survey aboard the sloop’s dinghy. With a lead line, pencil and notebook in hand, we committed its nature to a sketch, which we have since lost, but in the meantime came to know it physically and were possessors of secrets we took pride in. We imagined there was a particular poetry to the sight of the Leight quietly threading the needle.

The idea of running the gut is often almost a surprise, as it was recently, when we were drifting between Cranberry and Otter Islands. Our leisure running deep, Leigh, looking up from the pages of Eldridge, announced, “The tide is coming high in a half hour. We should float the gut.”

It’s not the most dramatic or difficult of passages, but takes a certain spatial awareness and feels good when you put it astern. There’s no cutting the corner of the westerly entrance to the watercourse, rocks lurking port and starboard, not dangerously close, but not to be taken lightly.

The mainsail jibed over softly when I brought the bow over on an eastward slant, the Speedo flashing 2.4 knots, which was a perfect pace to unravel the thread of this place. The mate slacked the jib, which rustled uneasily. I did the same for the main. Momentum and the last gasp of the flood carried the sloop silently along, shore closing in and the channel embroidered with slowly rotating cells of water that had little strength to them.

Spruce to starboard on the Gay Island shore, hardwoods on the Cushing side, I edged a few yards closer to the great spreading canopy of an alpha maple, which reached over the water to port, the fathometer yielding 7- to 8-feet.

The sails went slack as they often do in the thick of places like this, but the Folkboat inched along on the last gasp of the tide, the Speedo showing 1.6 knots as I paid heed to a ledge to starboard. There was a certain elegance to her levitation upon the stainless steel waters.

Ahead I could see the old, slumping fish house and landing that once belonged to authors Elizabeth Olgivie and Dot Simpson. I remembered warmly the day the mate and I arrived at their nearby house for an interview, which became a memorable conversation.

The dinghy nuzzled the transom as I steered clear of a muddy bar intruding to port, then described a gradual shift to starboard, the fathometer showing eight feet and the gut seeming like a gallery of masterworks. I could hardly absorb the perfection of one of them, when another would come into view, and I would get a nudge from the mate to mind the helm.

Threading rock and shoal to port and starboard we emerged into anchorage at Pleasant Point and let the anchor go, our 20-minute adventure time exceedingly well spent.

David Buckman and his wife Leigh sail a Folkboat out of Round Pond, Maine.