Archive for the ‘boats’ Category

A week on the Maine Island Trail: Vinalhaven to Deer Isle

August 30, 2017

This post continues the account of our recent trip from Five Islands to Deer Isle on the Maine Island Trail.  We pick up from the previous post on Hurricane Island, southwest of Vinalhaven, where we spent the night after crossing the western arm of Penobscot Bay. DSCF0375The morning dawned clear and calm, and we broke camp straightaway so as not to miss the tide.  We bid farewell to the island and rowed across the mouth of Hurricane Sound on the last of the ebb, and rounded the lighthouse on Greens Island to open the approaches to Vinalhaven village and Carver’s Harbor.  A breath of wind came up, but there was still a fair amount of rowing involved before we made it to Sheep Island, where both the sea breeze and the flood tide picked up and carried us up the east side of the bay.  DSCF0387

We made a quick pit stop in the lee of Smith Island, then decided that conditions were suitable for the crossing to Isle au Haut, and so set out for the second half of Penobscot Bay.

The front had pushed out the previous day’s southerly haze, so this time we had a crystal clear view all the way across the bay.  As before, Alexis set a course on the chartplotter app so we could keep track of our progress.  The numerous lobster buoys were a bit of a hassle to navigate around, particularly in deep water or popular channels, where two floats are connected by a submerged line of fifty feet or so (presumably so the gear can be recovered if it gets chopped by a passing powerboat). But they were also useful for gauging current, and they provided an important psychological boost when rowing in a calm.DSCF0389DSCF0392DSCF0410By now the flood was at full strength, and the sea breeze was not so strong as the day before, so if it faltered the tide might have carried us right into Stonington (and the psychology would have been a lot different with a strong ebb carrying us out into the Gulf of Maine). But as it happened the wind held, and we reached across the bay at a crab angle to the tide that carried us past Kimball Rock, past the lighthouse, and into Isle au Haut Thoroughfare by mid-afternoon. DSCF0417DSCF0435DSCF0425The wind seemed to strengthen and align with the channel as we sailed into the busy harbor and tied up on the back side of the town float.  DSCF0442DSCF0447

We stretched our legs, got an ice cream and some crackers, and walked a few hundred yards down the road to the Acadia National Park ranger station, where we talked with the ranger on duty about the park and inquired about Duck Harbor campground (booked solid as expected, not to mention upwind against the tide).  So we got back aboard and sailed a very short distance to a lovely MITA campsite with a fine cobble beach and glorious sunset views across the entirety of Penobscot bay – a total of about 16 miles for the day.  DSCF0466

We pulled the boat up the beach above the high-tide mark with on the rollers with the block and tackle, made camp, and enjoyed spectacular sunset views.

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Day seven dawned with a light breeze but a low overcast had set in, with intermittent fog.  We had 3 miles or more of visibility to the south toward Stonington and could see the sun through the mist, so we figured it might burn off, and in any case the islands of Merchant’s Row off Stonington offer numerous campsites.  So we rigged the radar reflector and ran off to the north, amid the lobster boats and the occasional outboard.  DSCF0524DSCF0537DSCF0545We passed west of Merchant Island with a clear view to George Head, but then as we approached George a fogbank rolled in off the bay leaving us with nothing but our compass course and the navigation app.

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Still, the wind was moderate, and the visibility sufficient to make out the lobster boats well away, and soon we could make out Sand Island and the racket of the granite operation on Crotch Island beyond.  At that point the wind faded away, and we took to the oars to make our way past Two Bush Island and into Stonington Harbor and the town dock.  We filled some water bottles, got a snack, and the dogs socialized with others of their kind while we waited for some wind.  DSCF0563DSCF0560The fog lifted, and in time a light southerly sprang up again, so we set off again reaching down the harbor, where we passed a ghostly windjammer in the mist.DSCF0570At this point we had an appointment to make at the end of our trip, so we coasted up the east side of Deer Isle on the tide and what there was of the wind, with the navigation app keeping us clear of ledges and steering us toward our destination in what thickened to become a pea soup fog with mist edging toward drizzle.

For the last mile and a half we had open water, and we set aside the app and steered by dead reckoning, with just the compass and a guestimate of our speed.  We saw our destination loom out of the mist just as I was starting to wonder if we should check the GPS, a dramatic and fitting end to a delightful trip.  We capped the afternoon with a hot shower and a crackling fire in the woodstove to dry off, and the next morning found our way back to civilization. In the end we traveled about 88 (statute) miles over the ground by sail and oars, and our route looked like this:2017 MITA trip map

Given the popularity of both the Appalachian Trail and sea kayaking, I am surprised that the Maine Island Trail doesn’t get more through-trippers.  Membership is reasonable, and the freedom of navigation makes island-hopping more akin to free-form off-trail wandering in the Rockies than the trail-bound hiking and occasional views of backpacking in the east.  Our point-to-point approach left much to explore, including the eastern rivers of the midcoast, upper Muscongus Bay, the Fox Islands Thoroughfare and upper Penobscot Bay, and the east side of Merchant’s Row.  And the trail extends west and east of the section we chose to travel; we both agreed that we would definitely return again to the Maine Island Trail.

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Hearty thanks to everyone who helped make this trip possible, to all the friendly and helpful folks we met along the way, and to the MITA team for enabling this beautiful water trail!

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A week on the Maine Island Trail: Tenant’s Harbor to Vinalhaven

August 30, 2017

This post continues an account of our week on the Maine Island Trail.  The previous post left the story at the end of day 3, when we had sailed into Tenant’s Harbor for a ‘rest night’ after rowing from near Allen Island south of Port Clyde.

We had come far enough to appreciate the inn for its hot showers and soft bed, the front passed in the night, and the morning broke misty with a light easterly wind.  We had a nice breakfast on the porch, then packed up and beat out of the harbor against the wind.

DSCF0136DSCF0143DSCF0151The wind died (a bit more rowing) but the sun burned through the mist, and a light southerly came up which carried us through the narrow slot between Rackliff and Norton islands, a neat little passage of the sort that a small boat can breeze through but a yacht wouldn’t risk.  We got permission to tie up briefly at the Sprucehead lobster co-op, a hopping spot, where we gave the dogs a break and met briefly with a friend of a friend who lives and sails out of Sprucehead island, and he shared his advice about the crossing to Vinalhaven.  DSCF0175DSCF0176The sea breeze out on the bay had picked up to 10 or 12 knots at this point, so we got back on the water and set out across Muscle Ridge Channel for an island that would put us in good shape for the crossing.  DSCF0177DSCF0181DSCF0183

We got a good view of the Camden Hills up the channel to port. The wind carried us across the channel but seemed to be faltering, so we weren’t tempted to set out across the west arm of Penobscot Bay at the late hour.  As we approached the island we passed a ledge with a number of seals sunning themselves; I don’t know seal varieties that well and we didn’t get close enough to take good pictures.DSCF0187DSCF0191We put ashore at a nice half-tide beach, making camp on a beautiful granite ledge so as not to disturb an osprey nest on the northern end, and set the haul-off for the night – a total of about nine miles for the day. DSCF0198DSCF0215DSCF0227At the dawn of Day Five we found that for the first time the southerly seemed to survive through the night, if abated, so we got a relatively early start. DSCF0239We rigged a radar reflector between the forestay and starboard shroud, and carefully threaded our way among the ledges and islands forming the east side of Muscle Ridge Channel.  DSCF0245DSCF0255DSCF0256The wind strengthened and turned comfortingly southwesterly as we headed out into the bay.  We could make out the vague form of Vinalhaven and the three large wind turbines that provide much of the island’s power, but there was enough haze that we couldn’t actually see our destination, Hurricane Island, a high wooded granite form that guards the southwest corner of Vinalhaven.  To this point we’d been navigating by eye using waterproof paper charts, but as we faced the seven-mile open water crossing, for the first time we turned to the free app and fifteen-dollar vector chart I’d loaded on my phone. Alexis used the app to set a coarse past Crescent Island and across the western arm of Penobscot Bay to the northern end of Hurricane Island.

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With a good breeze, the flood tide running hard, and a couple feet of gentle ocean swell, we were happy to have the app to correct our compass course, and soon we were mid-bay, where we could make out the high island and the passage to the north.  DSCF0273There wasn’t much boat traffic for the crossing, but as we came closer, a nice looking yawl motored out into the bay.DSCF0272Once we passed between White and Hurricane islands, the wind went flukey off the high island, the tide was hard against us, and there were ledges to dodge, so it took us several short boards to make the float, where we tied up on the back side and went ashore for lunch.DSCF0276

While most islands on the trail are quasi-wilderness, Hurricane is a veritable city by comparison.  In the late 1800s it hosted a massive granite quarry with a town of up to a thousand people, which dried up in the early 1900s, leaving the island deserted.  More recently it was the sea base of the eponymous Outward Bound school, with a mess hall, workshops, staff barracks, cabin tent encampments, and more.  Some years ago HIOBS abandoned the island, but fortunately a new organization, Hurricane Island Center for Science and Leadership was formed to revitalize the island and use it for a variety of outdoor programs, and a dozen or more staff members now make it their home for the summer.  The team generously allowed us to fill our water jugs, and we spoke at some length with Sam Hallowell, the on-island Director of Operations, who described the work the new organization has done to stabilize and rebuild the infrastructure and launch new programs that take advantage of the beautiful setting to inspire students, teachers, architects, and the like.

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After lunch we took a leisurely walk among the outsize relics of the former quarrying operation, including massive grout piles, stone foundations, cemeteries, and a giant rusting steam engine. We walked through the remains of the quarry and up to an amazing overlook that commands a panoramic view of the surrounding islands and the open Atlantic.DSCF0285DSCF0288DSCF0292DSCF0294We had planned to keep on sailing, either out around the exposed southern end of Vinalhaven, or up Hurricane sound and through Fox Islands Thoroughfare to other Island Trail islands on the east side of the island. But Hurricane was a truly delightful place to visit with much to explore, and as we were studying the charts a small, rainless front blew through, quashed the seabreeze, and replaced it with an indifferent northerly. With the ebb we faced a long beat against the tide to get into the Thoroughfare, where the wind would likely be even lighter, and we didn’t want to risk the outer route at the late hour and with the outgoing tide. And with the spectacularly interesting and beautiful setting, it wasn’t a hard decision to stay the night on Hurricane.  So we took a leisurely walk around the north end of the island and back to the quarry overlook, where we watched as several yachts sailed into the harbor and took up guest moorings. DSCF0298DSCF0311DSCF0324DSCF0341DSCF0352The island seems to get a pretty good traffic of cruisers and day visitors from nearby islands, but fewer MITA through-trippers; Sam said that someone comes through about once a week doing a through-voyage along the trail, and this was consistent with the information in the tupperware trail registers that were provided at some of the islands.DSCF0359The MITA tent platforms are out of the way of the rest of the island activities, and we set the hauloff in a cove between the rocky shore and an old stone pier and made camp. DSCF0363DSCF0368

To be continued…

 

 

A week on the Maine Island Trail: Five Islands to Tenant’s Harbor

August 30, 2017

DSCF0008This post continues the report about our week on the Maine Island Trail.  The first post describes our the idea for the trip, gear, and planning. Subsequent posts will describe the middle and end of the journey.

On the first day of our trip, we launched mid-morning near Five Islands to a light southerly wind, and the photo above shows the view back into our home harbor. The breeze freshened as we got out into the Sheepscot.  Rather than beat out around the Cuckolds lighthouse against wind and tide, we decided to take the inside passage to Boothbay.  Here we are crossing the Sheepscot and entering the passage to Townsend Gut. The dogs took a while to settle down, but soon they were sleeping on either side of the daggerboard trunk.DSCF0012We arrived at the Southport bridge just in time for the 12:30 opening.  DSCF0017The wind was still pretty much southerly, and we made the end of Linekin Neck in a single tack, then bore off for Pemaquid Light.  DSCF0020

The short crossing to Pemaquid Point:DSCF0023

DSCF0026Pemaquid Point is reputed to be rough, but neither the wind nor the seas were excessive, the weather was clear, and we cleared the headland without incident, waving to lighthouse visitors on the shore.  DSCF0028

Looking to stretch our legs we poked into New Harbor, where we got permission to tie up at a commercial dock, and went ashore to exercise the dogs and get some chips and soda to complement our backpacker-style rations.  On toward late afternoon we sailed out of the harbor and a couple miles up Muscongus Bay to a beautiful island on the trail – about 20 (statute) miles on the water for the day.

DSCF0040Still being pretty far out in the bay, there was some surge even on the sheltered side of the island, and the landing was a ‘bar’ of dog-sized granite boulders covered with rockweed, so getting our gear and critters ashore was a bit of a challenge.  We then set the haul-off and pulled the boat out into the cove for the night.  At this point we were quite tired, but there was a nice campsite with great views and a couple of large tent platforms (even a rotting picnic table!), so we had a fine time.

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The morning of day 2 dawned clear and calm, and unfortunately it stayed calm right through noon, when we rigged the boat at the first sign of a breeze and headed east.

DSCF0046DSCF0055All afternoon we ghosted across Muscongus Bay past lovely islands, with rarely enough wind to heel the boat perceptibly.  On towards evening I rowed the last mile or so to our destination, a total of scarcely more than seven miles for the day.  But we had a sand beach landing, a beautiful shell beach campsite, and wonderful views of the surrounding islands.

DSCF0069DSCF0078DSCF0079DSCF0098Day three dawned sunny and the wind remained light. DSCF0113DSCF0126DSCF0128

So we rowed most of the way to Port Clyde, and put in at the general store, where we filled our water jugs at the gas dock and ordered a couple of nice omelettes from the counter to eat on a picnic table at the wharf while we waited for wind.  In general the Maine coast wharfside restaurant paradigm proved pretty dog-friendly over the course of the trip, and here as on several occasions we were one of many tables with dogs leashed to the legs of the table.  A light southerly sprung up, and we tacked out of the harbor in good spirits.DSCF0131

The wind died just as we rounded the lighthouse, and it was back to rowing.  A light southerly reappeared as we approached Mosquito Island, and carried as far as Mosquito Head before dying again, and it was back to the oars.  By now the day was getting on, and we were far from the next island on the trail.  We could probably have asked permission to camp on an off-trail island, but with evening coming on and rain in the forecast, we took the easy, luxurious route, got on the cell phone, and found a room for the night in Tenant’s Harbor.  We tied up at the town dock (a total of about 11 miles for the day, mostly under oars), schlepped our drybags to the inn, and got dinner at a wharfside restaurant, where we met some old friends from New Jersey who were finishing up their own (land-based) Maine vacation.

To be continued…

 

A week on the Maine Island Trail: Concept and Preparation

August 30, 2017

DSCF0244One of the challenges of trying to live as if CO2 emissions matter is that it’s tough to go on vacation.  A cross-continent flight or a long-distance road trip can quickly undo the gains carefully accrued over months of bicycle commuting and solar-powered living.  Fortunately, here on the coast of Maine we live in a top-notch summer holiday destination, and fantastic renewable-powered recreation is near at hand.  We tried this out for a week earlier this August, and had a great time. Besides the beautiful scenery and occasional relaxation, the trip provided a great opportunity to think about the coastal ecology and economy of the place where I grew up, with its uneasy — but symbiotic and picturesque — coexistence of the recreational and fishing economies that give the folks at the Island Institute so much to write about and photograph:DSCF0139

Naturally, climate change was not the only factor in deciding to do the trip.  It had been a while since we’d done any real backcountry, and our two dogs are getting too old for serious hiking.  We’ve enjoyed kayaking and sailing a small dinghy around Casco Bay and Five Islands, and for years I’ve wanted to do a more serious trip on the Maine Island Trail, a loosely-defined 375-mile coastal route from New Hampshire to Canada, enabled by over 200 small islands sprinkled along the route where travelers with a membership can land and camp overnight.  Membership cost is very reasonable, and it includes a useful paper guidebook with precise info about each island, including where on the perimeter of each island provides the best landing and tenting.  We managed to keep the paper guidebook dry (at least until the drive home), but all of the same info is also available in an iphone app, built locally by the good folks at Chimani. Here is Alexis taking advantage of a calm stretch to pick our next camping spot in the guidebook:

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We were fortunate to have access to a suitable vessel for the trip – a Trinka 12′ dinghy.  Most people who travel the trail use kayaks, but we like to sail and wanted to be able to bring the dogs, so the dinghy worked out well.  The Trinka is a beamy, plumb-stemmed, high-sided fiberglass tender with a self-bailing hull, and a single large sail on a stayed aluminum mast.  There’s not much information available online about these boats and I don’t get the sense they’re very common, but the design is by the same guy who designed the Laser racing dinghy (there are also 8′ and 10′ Trinkas by different designers; the commonality seems to be the builder, Johannsen in Florida).  There are some photos available online to give a sense of the boat.  With an LWL of about 12′, hull speed should be about 4.5 knots, but it’s a planing hull, and in a strong wind we saw 5.5-6 knots on a reach (surely it goes even faster when not loaded with camping gear, dogs, and water).

Initially the dogs were a bit put out by the uneven footing and constant motion, but they soon settled in:DSCF0173DSCF0174DSCF0041

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As to the particular boat we used (sail number 18, if that means anything), around 20 years ago my dad bought it from an elderly neighbor who found it too tippy for his own use. We used it a lot when I was a kid, especially since it was a lot drier and warmer to sail than the lower, sportier singlehanded dinghies like the Laser.  Then it spent 15 years or more up on blocks, until we cleaned it up this spring for Fern’s birthday party on Beal Island (which is incidentally also on the Island Trail, though it is owned by and accessible through the Appalachian Mountain Club).

Later in the summer we did an overnight test trip, sailing out of the Little Sheepscot river, stopping for lunch near the mouth of the Kennebec, and then making a trial crossing of six miles or so to Damariscove harbor before running back up the Sheepscot and camping on Powderhorn Island.  That trip went well, so we began preparation for a more serious journey.

A boat this size isn’t big enough to live and sleep on comfortably (thus the island part of the Island Trail), so one major question dealt with how to put up the boat for the night. While it’s light enough for two people to move around a bit, it’s too heavy to carry, so we contrived a couple of methods of dealing with the 10-12′ tides of the Maine coast.  For the typical rocky shores, we carried a ‘haul-off’, consisting in this case of an 8lb Danforth-type anchor with 70′ or so of rode, and about 350′ of light synthetic potwarp arranged in circulating loop passing through a ring on the end of the anchor rode.  With this setup we could set the anchor offshore, trail the haul-off rope to land, put our cargo ashore, then attach the boat to the circulating loop of rope and pull it out beyond the low-tide line, where it would ride comfortably overnight through the tide cycle.  In the morning we could pull on the other end of the rope to bring the boat in to shore.  The 350′ line (which of course gives half that much reach when doubled) was a comfortable minimum, requiring us to carefully select our location and dodge ledges, given that much of the coast of Maine looks like this:DSCF0218Here are a couple of photos of the haul-off in action:DSCF0234DSCF0098To keep the doubled rope from twisting or fouling, the junction between the single anchor rode and the doubled haul-off line is typically made to float, and is given enough width to prevent it flipping over in the water from the inevitable twisting tendency of the rope.  I made the connection with a stout piece of clear-grain oak with a galvanized steel ring bolted to it; to accomplish the antirotation I lashed a red PFD cushion to the oak bar, which can be seen in the photos above.  In doing it again I would definitely incorporate a dedicated float, as the lashing and unlashing was annoying and took valuable time.  In general we spent a lot of time fiddling with knots to secure our gear; on a subsequent trip I’d find some kind of small, corrosion-resistant locking carabiners and incorporate more fastex clips and other time-saving tools, which would be especially valuable in trying to make a fast departure in squally conditions (which fortunately we didn’t have to do).  This photo shows me in the distance at far left fiddling with the haul-off, trying to get the anchor set among submerged ledges and ghostly abandoned lobster traps near Allen Island:DSCF0088

For landing on the rare and wonderful gradual sandy beaches, we brought two hard foam rollers 6″ in diameter, of the sort that athletes use to massage their backs, which worked well for maneuvering the boat up and down a smooth beach surface.  I am told that inflatable dock bumpers work well for this also.  We also had some pulleys that would allow us to turn the haul-off rope into a 3-fall tackle to help pull the boat up a steeper slope. Here are some photos of the beach rollers in action:

DSCF0584DSCF0470DSCF0471We ended up using both the haul-off and the beach rollers multiple times, and both worked well. The rollers performed nicely on surface roughness up to apple-sized rocks; for rougher surfaces we switched to the haul-off.   One time we were able to find some driftwood planks that did a nice job of enabling the rollers to work on a slightly rougher beach; as the coast of Maine is famously rocky I’m happy to have made the trip without damaging the fiberglass. If the weather had been rougher, we would have naturally been driven further inshore, up the rivers and bays to flatter water and muddier, gentler landings, but as it was the winds were on the light side and we kept to the outer islands for the most part.

If I were contemplating more serious or extended expeditioning, one modification to the boat that I would consider would be to cut some high-quality access ports into the double hull, both to check on the condition of the internal flotation foam and to make use of the substantial volume under the seats for gear and water storage – possibly even to the extent of fitting an internal water tank.   As best I could tell, the 2+2 of us consumed about three gallons a day on average, without trying too hard to conserve.  We carried fresh water in two 2.5 gallon plastic jugs lashed in the stern, as well as five 1qt nalgene bottles for daily use, and we picked up an extra 3-liter Poland Spring jug in Port Clyde. We also brought three types of water purifiers (pump, iodine, and a newfangled UV disinfector), and didn’t use any of them, though if we’d been trapped on an outlying island by several days of stormy weather we might have been glad to have at least one of them to purify rainwater.  One piece of gear I would add would be a couple of large collapsible water bags, the weight would be nothing and they would add flexibility and psychological margin, though in reality there was fresh water all over the populated parts of the coast.

DSCF0079Continuing on the theme of gear, we also acquired several dry bags (90L, 65L, 2@20L, two for cell phones) and other maritime sundries including a handheld VHF, a plastic foghorn, a collapsible radar reflector, a small compass that we fitted to the boat, and a waterproof camera that we didn’t take the time to experiment with beforehand (this explains the datecode on the photos).

We also bought a small folding solar panel for recharging phones, headlamps etc.  This seemed kind of awkward, but it actually worked pretty well and wasn’t too much of a hassle.  The phones didn’t get coverage for much of the trip, and we only used the GPS navigation app a few times, so we didn’t need much juice.  The test would be an extended period of cloudy/foggy weather, which would mean more using and less charging.  A surprising amount of gear has gone over to lithium and micro-USB, which I guess is a welcome change compared to hauling lots of AA and AAA batteries:DSCF0120Other than that, our equipment was the usual camping gear – tent, sleeping bags and mats, white gas stove and pots, etc.  While in theory we could have upgraded our meals with bulkier or heavier items, or fresh food in a cooler, we were short on drybag space and wanted to keep things simple, so we kept to our usual backpacking meal planning.DSCF0117

We decided that our launching point would be Five Islands, and that we would go ‘Downeast’, following the prevailing winds to our destination, a friend’s cottage on an island east of Deer Isle.  The following posts will describe the trip piece-by-piece.

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2016 pruning, remembering Poppy

March 12, 2016

Today was the day for the annual spring pruning, and it was a great occasion to remember my grandfather, who died peacefully earlier this week at the age of 95.  William F. Herman (‘Bill’ around town, ‘Poppy’ in the family) was a big part of my life as a kid, and his love of growing things inspired me to plant the orchard when we moved back east over 10 years ago.

Pops and my grandmother, ‘Ummy’ grew up and lived their professional lives in eastern Massachusetts, but spent a lot of time in Maine – her father was an avid rod-and-gun sportsman. In the sixties they bought a slice of land on a remote island in the midcoast, two miles beyond the end of the electric power lines near the village of Five Islands.  When my parents decided to settle down after some years of teaching mountain-climbing in the mountains out west, Um and Pops invited them to homestead on the land in Five Islands, and I grew up off the grid, surrounded by the natural wonders of the Maine coast.

In 1983, Pops retired from a 25-year career at Polaroid, and my grandparents joined us in Maine.  By then electricity had come to the North End, and my father built them a passive solar home.  Though rocky and overgrown, the land had been a farm until early in the 20th century, with stone walls, foundation holes, and odd bits of pottery and rusted iron in evidence. Over the years the family cleared land and planted gardens, berries, and apple trees, and some of my earliest memories of my grandfather relate to agriculture.  He kept a very neat vegetable garden, which he would weed in khaki pants and a button-up shirt (he’d shower and put on a jacket and tie for dinner every night until he was far along in years). He grew masses of vegetables – great sweet corn, bowls and bowls of shell peas, and so many cucumbers and tomatoes that he put a wooden box at the end of the driveway and wrote ‘Help Yourself’, to the joy of the neighbors.

The garden was surrounded by semi-dwarf apples – Cortland, Winesap, Rhode Island Greening, Red Delicious, and he showed me how to prune the trees.  There was also a big wild tree behind their house that was saved in the construction, and it gave great green apples that were my favorite kind when I was a kid. In the fall we would collect the fruit in bags, and Poppy, Ummy, Joanna, and I would press them using a hand-crank cast iron press that had belonged to my great grandfather – the same press that Alexis, Holly, Becky, and I used back in Cider Year 1.  I think he tried to ferment some a couple times, but it was a casual attempt in a plastic milk jug and I don’t remember anyone thinking it tasted good.

In all the years of living and romping around as a kid, I can’t remember Poppy ever raising his voice.  He became a respected character around town, serving as selectman and sometimes as moderator at the old-fashioned town meeting. An engineer by training, he loved to keep careful records – of the amount of firewood he burned each month of each winter down to the tenth of a cord, of the number of quarts of blueberries his waterfront bushes produced, and of gallons of maple sap we collected each spring.  He taught himself to play ragtime piano by ear, and made some pretty nice oil paintings in an engineer’s realistic style – I think he said Norman Rockwell was his favorite artist.

If I drank another pint of this 2014 cider I could probably go on all night, remembering Poppy teaching me how to build kites and drive a tractor, and ‘messing about in boats’, fishing for mackerel in the Sheepscot river out of a 13′ Boston Whaler – he loved the water though he famously would never swim no matter how hot the summer. As the years went by, Poppy’s world gradually compressed; the boat trips shorter and the garden smaller and weedier, but he stubbornly kept at it. I remember a couple years ago when I was working in the orchard, I looked back toward the house and saw him at the edge of the field, using his old-fashioned scythe instead of a cane – he’d take a couple of swipes at the overgrown brush, then lean on the tool to catch his breath.

As Poppy slowed down my parents increasingly picked up the slack, mulching and pruning the berries, planting the corn, and splitting the firewood. And in 2006 I asked him if I could clear some land off to the the south to start a new orchard for cider apples, and he was happy to let me get started. For as long as he could walk, he’d totter up the woods road to the orchard gate to see what I was up to, and we’d talk about trees and plans.  I’m grateful to my grandparents for the opportunity to grow up in a unique and beautiful part of the world, and for the sense that tending and caring for the land is a project that can last more than a lifetime, and build connections across generations.

 

 

Running the mighty Stroudwater

June 8, 2013

A couple of weekends ago, Emily, Andy, and Elsie came to visit, and Andy (who has done a lot more paddling than I) got the notion to run Stroudwater falls.

In dry times the river running through our front yard is little more than an overgrown brook, but when multiple inches of rain fall over a day  or more, it swells impressively.  Instead of sneaking around and through the abrupt ~1m rocky upper fall at low points in the bedrock, it rushes directly over the drop in a handful of weakly organized chutes into the millpond below.  We scoped it out and judged it (and the rapid below the ruined dam) doable.

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Borrowing Joshua and Kelsey’s 16′ fiberglass canoe (not the beautiful cedar one his brother made for him), we carried upriver and put in.  The main channel in low water is a tight 180 degree bend at the far right, but we didn’t think we could maneuver that, so we went through the next largest chute, immediately to the left.  I half-expected we would end up swamping the canoe out of the knee-deep shallows below the fall, but although we shipped a few pails of water over the bow (which is not nearly as high as in some whitewater canoes), we passed without incident, and proceeded to run the rapid below the ruins of the dam and under the bridge, where Kelsey snapped some photos (see below).  Though these rapids were less imposing, we actually shipped more water over the bow, giving the boat a slow, plowing character in the flatwater below.  We pulled out on the  north side of the river shortly below the old bridge site and carried the canoe back over the bridge and home.

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It made me wish the next half-mile or so of flatter water below the falls wasn’t so choked up with blowdown, so we could paddle to work – Pika Energy’s new home in Westbrook is similarly only a few hundred feet from the south bank of the Stroudwater, perhaps 3-4 river miles downstream.

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Year 5: Sunday – the last of the cider

October 31, 2009

Sunday dawned clear, still, and warm.  Breakfast consisted of French toast, made with some of the multitude of baguette that Andy brought from the farm where he works.  There was plenty of time before a quorum arrived to make cider, so Joshua, Kelsey, and I took advantage to replumb the hydraulic system with the check valve and manual bypass appropriately positioned.  Meanwhile Keith stuffed one of the 4500psi recycled SCBA tanks with closed-cell polyethylene foam, and we backfilled it with hydraulic oil.  Joshua hung the resulting high-efficiency accumulator from the rafters to get it out of the way (and away from face level).  We then launched into cidering once again, and hit an impressive 75% yield on a carefully measured batch (the tally for the cidering as a whole was not maintained accurately, since there was a significant amount of filling of drinking cups directly from the press as it poured into the catch pail).  The repositioned check valve made all the difference, allowing a quick effort to pump the system up, whereupon it would hold over 2000 psi for a long time as the last of the juice gradually dripped out.  The addition of the accumulator made a smaller, though noticeable difference – the pressure would not fall off so quickly as the stack dripped out the last of the juice.  The improved pressure-holding capabilities of the re-plumbed press wreaked havoc with our last-minute press plate welding hack, which was pretty much pooched by the end of the morning:

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Soon the last of the apples were pressed.  As a memorable grand finale, we used the press to crush a single Redfield apple, resulting in the following sequence:

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Cidering being done but for the cleanup, we took advantage of the assembled peoplepower to move the heavy wooden dory that Joshua and I built years ago to the boathouse down by the water, which made for an interesting sight:

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Some folks including the Summer Street gang had to get on the road; the rest headed over to #5 for a corn-and-bean casserole provided by the gang from Your Mom’s House.  There followed a generalized departure, leaving only Joshua, Kelsey, and Andy of the company.  It being a beautiful, warm afternoon, we put the dory in the water and paddled to Beal Island, which we hiked around, then rowed home with only minor mishaps, arriving around sundown to stow the dory in the boathouse in time for dinner.  I also kicked off a half-gallon starter of Pasteur champagne yeast, to be pitched Monday.  We played some tunes after dinner and chocolate cake, but found ourselves too tired to really make it happen, so we retired to the red barn for another round of Settlers, then turned in – another very full day.

Midnight on the water

September 30, 2007

[note: Midnight on the water is the name of a fiddle tune, a waltz by Luke Thomasson.]

Ela (a friend from college) turned 32 this last weekend, and to celebrate she invited a bunch of folks to camp out on an island in Squam Lake, about an hour from where I live. Alexis was at the hospital and couldn’t make it, and I had a bunch of things to take care of on Sunday, but the weather looked good so I decided to join them for the day on Saturday. There were ten other people, and everyone else was canoeing, but the forecast was for a nice breeze, so I took the sixteen foot lapstrake dory that Joshua and I built some years ago. When I arrived at the put-in there was a ripping northerly breeze with whitecaps on the lake. There’s a nice little boat ramp and a canoe/kayak rental concession at the Squam Lakes Association, with a shallow inlet that opens out into the south shore of the lake near the west end. We loaded some firewood and food in the dory, and I rowed out to the opening, dropped in the rudder, and raised the sail. Since I was single-handing, I sailed her with just the main, so she had a bit more weather helm than usual, but nothing ridiculous. The canoes followed me out, and together we headed upwind for the far side of the lake. I tacked and jibed in among the other boats in the lighter breeze as we worked our way towards the island, about two miles distant, then we headed out across a short stretch of open water to the lake. At one point I passed a line to one of the canoes and pulled them for part of the downwind run, and then I fell behind as the wind slackened in a slot between the island and its neighbor.

The island was perhaps 10 acres with three or four campsites on it, and everyone pitched camp; then we basked in the sun for a while. The wind was still good, so I took three others out for a sail around a neighboring island; with the jib raised we moved along nicely, pounding through the whitecaps on the upwind leg and driving powerfully on a broad reach. On towards sunset the wind was abating and I knew the moon would be bright, so I stuck around for dinner, cider, and conversation. At some point I realized that everyone around the fire was married – one of those moments when the vague mental finger pointing at the timeline of life shifts noticeably to the right. Ela was the person who lent me a spare fiddle, five or six years ago when I was first interested in learning, and we both brought instruments, so we scraped out some jigs, reels, and waltzes together by the campfire, another occasion to realize how far things have come.

The moon rose, and the fire died down a bit, and it was time to go, so I studied the lake chart, packed up my fiddle, and bid farewell. I raised the sail and lashed it up to the mast with the mainsheet, and rowed out northward, through the gap between the islands, and back into the wind, which had come a bit westerly and moderated to a comfortable level. Campfires flickered on the islands, the moon sparkled on the lake surface, and Chocorua rose up to the northwest. Once clear of the islands I pointed upwind, unshipped the oars, and loosed the sail, paying off briefly on the port tack. I had picked out landmarks at dusk; a headland on the south shore and a hill just west of the landing point, and I could make out the hill but not the headland. With the moon I could make out the direction of the ripples on the water, and with that and the wind on my cheek I kept her full and tried to sense the speed of the boat by the sound and the bubbles passing over the stern. As soon as I had my way I came about and headed eastward, aided by a buoy with a strobe about a mile distant. The wind was cool and the stars made it seem cooler, but the challenge of sailing in the dark kept me warm enough. A few puffs had me up on the windward rail, but nothing that made me doubt my sanity or think of slacking the sheet. After some time on the starboard tack I could make out the loom of the headland – I could see that I would not make it on that tack, which meant the wind had shifted further westerly. I was about even with the strobe by then, so I took a board out into the middle of the lake toward the light, and soon I could make out the small island that it marked. Another couple of tacks took me further along the shore, with the island and the light well astern. The wind which had held nicely to that point fell away to the point where it was difficult to tell if I was pinching, and it was after eleven, so rather than beat around in the dying breeze I bound up the main again with the help of my headlamp, unshipped the rudder and raised the board, and rowed toward the gap in the trees that marked the inlet.

The wind died away to nothing, and I ghosted in between the rocks into flat water. The lily pads guided me along the channel to the ramp, where I winched the dory back onto the trailer and headed for home, arriving a bit after 1 AM. The day could not have been more perfect, with friends, food, music, and an incredible moonlight sail – one of those times that bring the thrill of life close up in the chest.