Winter dreams

A very chilly looking Rockport (Maine) Harbor. Photo by Tim Plouff

Midwinter 2021

By Tim Plouff

We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea – whether it is to sail or to watch – we are going back from whence we came.

-John F. Kennedy

January in Maine can be a long, cruel month. The days are too short, the sun doesn’t warm the frigid Canadian air that constantly flows south, and the euphoria of family and friends during the holidays has subsided.

Yet, on this day, the sea is making everything feel much different.

Crossing the giant Penobscot Narrows Bridge from Verona Island to Stockton Springs, it is easy to see the open waters of the Penobscot River calmly flooding inland below. To the south, Penobscot Bay reflects the day’s first rays of sunlight, the recent snow creating a black and white panorama complemented by the rising sun.

Pushing further south along Maine’s coastal Route 1, every hill and curve reveals new vistas of the expansive bay and the inviting sea. The light is glistening off the water while a succession of islands announces itself in the early dawn.

Crossing over a quiet Belfast Harbor, the tugboats are apparently already out working a tanker coming into Searsport, while the first signs of life are stirring at Front Street Boat Yard. Smoke billows out of a few live-aboard boats nestled against the ice-bound dock.

At Lincolnville, the state ferry is making its first run to Islesboro, its elongated wake disrupting the flat-calm waters. Climbing in elevation along Route 1 and the east side of Bald Rock Mountain, Penobscot Bay reveals more of its treasures as North Haven and Vinalhaven come into view, the three wind towers absolutely still this day. Even majestic Isle au Haut’s peaks are visible on this crystal clear morning, an easy 25 miles away.

By Camden, early morning walkers and their dogs are filing down the narrow dead-end streets that head to the shore. Walkers stand atop granite park benches strategically placed alongside the ocean to savor a view that brings spiritual peace and never grows old. The crunch of the cold snow in the crisp air is the only sound as you scan the inner harbor and watch the sun rise over Curtis Island.

The empty mooring balls, the vacant docks, and minimal working boats all suggest that winter has overtaken this coastal community. Yet, many mariners are still working. The sea is still supporting life, and in many ways.

The previous evening had been spent with friends, and boating was a large part of the conversation. Scott has been working as a carpenter all winter on the offshore islands of Little Cranberry, Great Cranberry and Sutton, taking the daily boat trip out of Northeast Harbor to join dozens of other craftspeople building and restoring homes. His stories of life on the ferry – the boat being a conduit for supplies, food and lumber – were fascinating.

We listened with envy as just-retired Roy regaled us with the detail work he was performing on his Sea Ray 270 Sundancer and an old 18-foot, outboard-powered lobster boat given to him by his dad. Both boats were now under cover in Roy’s new garage – a heated 40’x40’ addition to his home. Fixing boats during long winters is a Maine tradition.

Something I do regularly is write about automobiles for several newspapers in Maine. On this particular day I’m reviewing a new Dodge Ram 2500, and its powerful diesel engine sounds similar to those of the working boats in the seaside town I soon find myself in – Rockland. No wonder, then, that I find myself driving to empty launch ramps and abandoned piers where I can see and smell the sea. There is no wind and the water glistens. Pure perfection . . . until air guns and power saws break the silence. Boats aren’t the only things being worked on during Maine’s long winters.

Back in the truck again driving the city’s roads, my thoughts turn back to the islands I’ve seen on this day, these places being frequent destinations on our summertime boating trips. Even viewed from the mainland, in the depth of winter, they seem so inviting. The thought of visiting them compels me to reach out to several of my boating friends and share pictures from adventures-past.

By day’s end, the falling tide and the southerly breeze have changed the look of the bay. On the way home, at a Hamilton Marine in Searsport, I’m able to pick up the latest maritime newspapers and a copy of the newest Points East. The satellite radio is playing Kenny Chesney, and his songs are of boating, warm beaches and cold beers. This has been a special day in Maine. Perfect for helping the winter doldrums pass by.

Soon enough the snow will be gone and the frigid Canadian air will subside. The sun will grow strong, and Island adventures await. Knowing this brings great comfort and warmth to my soul – and is much better than any dream.

Tim Plouff and his wife have been enjoying the coast of Maine since 1986 with a trailer load of sea-kayaks and a Sea Ray 215EC. In addition to writing for Points East, Tim pens weekly automotive columns found in the “Portland Press Herald” and “Ellsworth American.”