Vinalhaven, Sept. 11, 2001

Marilyn Pond Brigham
It was an idyllic time, on an idyllic island with perfect weather. But events spun out that changed our lives and our world forever.

In early September 2001 my husband and I, work-weary and ready for a vacation, piled into our big Ford Explorer packed with all our vacation essentials: two bicycles, an Avon inflatable dinghy and our faithful Labrador retriever. We drove up the Maine Coast to Rockland to board the Maine State Ferry, bound for Vinalhaven Island.

As we slipped away from the pier, past the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse and into the chop of Penobscot Bay, we felt our work-induced stress begin to fade away, while already feeling a touch of dismay at the thought of our return-trip ferry reservations.

At the time, we were between sailboats. Our 30-foot Irwin had finally succumbed to its engine problems, and sat forlorn in the side yard. All that remained of our sailing exploits was the Avon. So, since we were unable to sail to Maine, we’d vacation there with the inflatable in tow (well, not technically in tow, but strapped to the top of the Explorer).

On Vinalhaven, we quickly fell into a routine in our rented waterfront home on Sand Cove, a sweet, little cottage, with a nice porch and a dock for the Avon. My husband, always up early, having his first cup of coffee on the porch, developed a silent nod of a relationship with the lobsterman who walked the beach past the cottage on his way to his boat.

After breakfast, we took the dog down to the water for the first of his many daily swims. We took walks in the Nature Conservancy preserves and strolls down Main Street. We biked around the island, and enjoyed the peacefulness and simplicity of the place.

But, mostly, we were out in the inflatable, exploring the coves and harbors of Vinalhaven and the waters of Penobscot Bay. At night, we’d cook lobster, bought at the local lobster pound, which also doubled as the island’s gas station. And did I mention that the weather was perfect? Every day, the sky was a deep blue, with no clouds; the air, clean and salty, with that first hint of crisp, fall air.

The second-to-last-day of our Vinalhaven vacation, we were out in the Avon in the Reach, not far off Greens Island. It was another gorgeous day, with a blue sky and not a care in the world. Of course, we saw lots of vessels when we were out in our inflatable. We’d already decided, if asked, we’d tell people we were out exploring in our “tender,” but, alas, we knew that wasn’t true. In point of fact, no one asked.

We had been out on the water for most of the morning that day, and were thinking we should get back to our cottage and begin the unenviable task of packing up to leave. A lobsterboat approached us, and we thought this was odd, as most boats paid no attention to us – a middle-aged couple with a big, goofy Lab in a small inflatable in the middle of Penobscot Bay.

This young guy was all alone in his lobsterboat. He had flaming, red, curly hair, and was wearing his yellow oilies, his hands outstretched with long, blue rubber gloves. He was flaying his arms, his hair upswept with the wind, “They’ve bombed the Pentagon!” he yelled against the wind.

“What?” we cried.

“They’ve bombed the Pentagon – maybe other places!” He was off without further explanation, leaving us in his wake. We decided he either was crazy or perhaps we’d better get back to the cottage.

By the time we got to the dock, dried off the dog, and were back in the cottage, it was all over. The lights on the cottage’s answering machine were blinking: Our offices and families calling to commiserate and make sure we were okay. Not only had a plane intentionally crashed into the Pentagon, but, of course, two planes had flown into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, and another, averted from crashing somewhere in the nation’s capital, crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.

Along with most other Americans that morning, we watched TV in disbelief at the horrifying images of planes soaring into the towers, and the frantic efforts to get people out of the buildings and away from Lower Manhattan.

Our idyllic vacation had come to a terrible conclusion. Now we were saddened by the tragic loss of life. Things were so uncertain; no one really knew what might happen next. We didn’t know if we could even get home: We heard the Maine and Massachusetts turnpikes had been closed. Would the Maine State Ferry suspend service?

We decided we needed to return home as soon as possible. Down at the ferry dock, there was a crush of people trying to get off the Island. The attendant in the ticket booth seemed perplexed about why people were trying to change their ferry reservations so they could leave. He said something to the effect that we were a lot safer on Vinalhaven, that no one would want to bomb Vinalhaven.

While we did feel safe on the Island, we later learned we had a false sense of security. It was later revealed that some of the terrorists had departed that fateful morning from the Portland, Maine, airport bound for Logan Airport, where one of the planes used in the attacks was hijacked.

We packed up our Avon, bikes and vacation possessions into the car and boarded the ferry for Rockland the next day, which was another beautiful day. Unlike our outbound trip, our return trip to the mainland came with a heavy heart and a grave sense of uncertainty. We knew life in America would never be quite the same, but we could not predict how things would change, how America would react, and what the long-range consequences would be.

Marilyn grew up sailing in Pleasant Bay, in North Chatham, Mass., during the summer months. Through last fall, she sailed the Jeanneau 36i  Toujours out of Quissett Harbor with her husband Paul. This winter, the two purchased a new vessel, a Catalina 445 they have named Selkie. Marilyn is a member of both Quissett and Cottage Park yacht clubs, in Woods Hole and Winthrop, Mass., respectively.