August 1, 2004
Quahog Bay, Maine
43o 48.691
069o 54.302

White As A Wedding In Casco Bay

By Bernadette Bernon

Friends told us that the sail from Falmouth Foreside, near Portland, Maine, to Quahog Bay, through the labyrinth of granite Casco Bay islands covered in deep-green evergreens, is spectacular, but having just made the passage a few days ago, we couldn't really tell you if that's true. We saw nothing except the snowy mohair shroud covering Ithaka, making visibility beyond 100 feet nil as we ghosted past invisible shallow ledges to port and starboard. For the five-hour sail, all of which I spent gripping the wheel and peering ahead in a vain search for the next buoy to emerge from the white-out (or, worse, for the sudden appearance before us of splashing waves against a massive wall of granite, as did happen) I barely even saw Douglas; he was sequestered below at Ithaka's nav station, orchestrating our progress through the fog via radar and electronic charts, and occasionally handing me up crackers. What a guy!


We sailed from Provincetown, Massachusetts, up to Maine in tandem with the 50-foot steel Dutch boat Baerne. At sunrise, on our approach to Casco Bay, Baerne was close by.
This is Maine. At one moment, you may be able to see for miles. But in the blink of an eye, fog rolls in and that's the end of your in-flight movie. When you finally land at your destination, and drop the hook, usually that's the signal for the fog to lift, and for you to see where you ended up.

Except for the inevitable white-knuckled moments, and the occasional whipping of the wheel to the left or right to avoid something massive, hard, and ugly that only just revealed itself directly in front of the boat, sailing in fog up here is kind of fun, in a pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey sort of way. You just have to get used to it. This is our second voyage to Maine, one of the most beautiful places we've ever been -- anywhere -- when you can see it, that is, and we're happy to be here again, experiencing its bold panoramas, its quirky fogs, its dramatic tides, its lighthouses standing sentinel on every cape, and its hundreds of protected anchorages, often giving us picture-book hideaways completely to ourselves.


Douglas and Bernadette in Maine.
We sailed up to Maine from Provincetown two weeks ago, the passage swift and beautiful. We left Massachusetts at 10 a.m., rounded the curlicue hook of Provincetown's wind-swept beaches, raised the mainsail, hoisted the staysail, rolled out half our genoa, and Ithaka took off at six knots, with the westerly wind at about 50 degrees off the bow. After we'd tweaked the sails just right, we never touched them again until dawn the next morning, as we approached landfall in Casco Bay. As the orange ball of sun painted the morning sky, we turned into the New Meadows River, and made our way through the lobster pots and up into The Basin, a spectacular hurricane hole completely surrounded by tall evergreens and granite ledges - given a five-star rating by the excellent "Cruising Guide To The Maine Coast" (by Curtis Rindlaub and Hank and Jan Taft, Diamond Pass Publishing, www.diamondpass.com). We lingered at the Basin for several sunny and warm days, where not one bit of fog stepped in to conceal the beauty.


While we sailed to Falmouth Foreside, Pieter, from Baerne, and his wife Inge, continued on toward Canada.
The Basin is one of those anchorages that you just know in your bones you'll always remember, so you stare out often from the cockpit trying to capture it all in the amber chambers of your brain. The trees are deep green and lush, and grow tall all around the shoreline. Long-legged herons alight on the elephantine pink granite rocks, and remain undisturbed for ages, allowing you to watch and marvel at their great spindly-leg strides. At low tide, great knots of mussels cling to the underbelly of those same rocks, mixed in with hags' heads of golden seaweed. That's when Douglas or I would kayak ashore to collect a pail of mussels for dinner, our feet sinking into the thick oxtail soup of mud exposed for only the hour or two of the lowest tide. During our days in The Basin, "the time signature over our existence was adagio," as John Fowles wrote in "The French Lieutenant's Woman," a brilliant page-turner of a novel that I had the sweet leisure to thoroughly enjoy while we idled.


The Basin, a protected hideaway off the New Meadows River, feels like a secluded, pristine nature preserve.
Truth be told, the peacefulness and beauty of The Basin could have held us for a week or more, but we had a deadline to keep, and it was growing closer. One of our dearest friends was getting married in Washington, DC, and we'd arranged to fly down from Portland, Maine, for the wedding. So, when the time came, we set sail for Falmouth Foreside, a brief, six-hour passage through sometimes narrow, but almost always deep, "shortcuts" between islands. Everywhere we sailed, we snaked through colorful but annoying sprinklings of lobster-pot buoys -- dodging them as best we could and hoping not to foul our prop - and watched lobstermen out working their watery pastures. One thing had changed dramatically for the better in the four years since we'd first sailed up in Maine; we've been delighted to discover that, so far at least, floating lobster buoys now have built-in pick-up sticks, instead of floating buoys attached to pick-up lines attached to second, smaller floats. Those old connection lines between buoy pairs were what always fouled props. This new system almost completely alleviates that headache, eliminating one of the universal challenges of cruising in Maine, and we hope this new trend continues as we head further Down East.


Nature's dramatic building blocks; the granite reflects pink in the waning light.
We picked up a mooring at Handy Boat Services in Falmouth Foreside (competitive at $25 a day) so that we could safely leave Ithaka unattended for a few days and fly to Washington for the wedding. It was a great event, with its share of hilarious and memorable moments. Henry Kissinger was a guest, Douglas was an usher, and as I watched my husband escort the former Secretary Of State down the aisle to his seat, I noticed the two sharing a laugh. They're not exactly old buddies, so later I asked him what was so funny. Douglas explained he'd asked Kissinger for a picture ID before allowing him into the church.

"I don't carry one," himself purportedly remarked, in his trademark gravelly German accent, according to my comedian.


Riley, one of the clan of friendly black labs ready to greet guests at Handy Boat Services.
This was only the second time in our 14-year marriage that I'd seen Douglas in a tuxedo, and many times during this joyous event I thought to myself, why don't men realize how fantastically irresistible they look in a tux? To me, it's one of the mysteries of the sexes. Although he owned one when I met him, inexplicably Douglas claims he now hates wearing them, and wouldn't wear a tux to our wedding, opting instead for a new dark-blue suit, which looked just like his three other dark blue suits. (Somebody, please call Carson at Queer Eye.) Thereafter he wouldn't agree to go to any event that required a tux - an amazement to me, someone who loves getting dolled up. A few years later, Douglas was asked to be best man at a friend's black-tie wedding in California. As thrilled as I was at the prospect of a dressy affair spicing up the wasteland of our social calendar; my husband was all gloom. He hauled out the accursed tux from the back of our closet, and with a long face schlepped it out to San Diego, continually handling the hanging bag as if it contained the Ebola virus. On the morning of the Big Event he went to put on his "penguin suit," only to discover in horror that, six years before, the dry cleaners had put the wrong pants with his jacket. Douglas stood there apoplectic in our hotel room, one hour before the ceremony, wearing pants fit for a shorter man who was fifty pounds heavier; they barely reached the top of Douglas's socks. I admit now, as I scurried around to help him find replacement pants, and tried to keep a straight face, that I enjoyed a certain perverse pleasure at his predicament.


In another 15 minutes, as the fog rolls in, no boats will be visible beyond the Handy dock office.
Since then, our lives have been a tux-free zone, especially the past four shorts-and-tee-shirts cruising years - that is, until the day Chris and Radford decided to tie the knot, and asked Douglas to be in their wedding. As my husband, looking so handsome in his dapper rent-a-tux, hobnobbed with guests, and danced up a storm with Chris and me, I had to smile, remembering him that morning many years ago in his old tux with its midget pants, now long gone, dumped with vehemence in the nearest Salvation Army box the morning after the California wedding.

As Chris and Radford flew out for their honeymoon, we flew back to Portland and Ithaka, still talking about the wedding, and discussing what form of diet we should now embark upon. We picked up some groceries, paid our bill at Handy, and set sail for Quahog Bay on a clear morning promising to be a beautiful day. But this is Maine, where beautiful days come in myriad forms. This one made a bright entry before becoming as white as a wedding cake by noon. The fog seemed to speak to me though, as we groped along. "Hey, c'mon, think about it," it seemed to say. "Without me to give you all a little challenge, EVERYone would be up here, right? Without me, this might as well be SWEDEN, for heaven's sake!"


Trees seem to grow out from the granite all along the rugged coastline.
We felt our way to Quahog Bay, dropped the hook in 20 feet at high tide, motored back on our chain and, instead of that reassuring tug you feel when you're well planted, we dragged. We raised the muddy anchor, moved to a new spot, dropped again, motored gently back and dragged again; raised the anchor, moved again, dropped again (this time much more slowly) and, finally, we held. The learning never ends. And now here we sit, three days later. Around us is a huge protected bay, as beautiful as everyone promised it would be, cradling so many little islands, nooks, and crannies to explore, thick trees, a couple of tasteful homes hidden among them, and other than the hint of a mast here and there behind the deep tufts of green and rock, we have the whole place pretty much to ourselves.

The deep scent of thick wet forest wafts out to Ithaka, bringing with it sweet memories of other forests explored in childhood, and of cut Christmas trees from cherished times gone by. Near where I sit writing, at the nav desk, I notice the barometer rising quickly, and the sun beginning to elbow the clouds aside. The birds begin singing and calling again as the blanket of fog exits stage left, as quickly as it arrived, and the scene around us comes alive again. Fish jump around the boat, and the kayak bobs behind Ithaka, ready for action.