By Douglas Bernon
The serpentine route to the secluded inner harbor at Blue Hill curves past the easily accessible but pricey mooring field of the busy Kollegewidgwok Yacht Club, and its armada of thoroughbred power and sailboats. We passed by, choosing instead the small anchoring field to its west, where one’s best off to enter at low to half tide. Then, as you wind through the valleys of ledges, at least you see some of the hidden mounds of glaciated granite — now and then laced with copper— just waiting to deliver unwanted surprises. We slipped past unmolested, grateful for good fortune and for a little help from the only other boat anchored there, a handsome old wooden ketch whose owner welcomed us kindly. As Ithaka tip-toed into the anchorage, one eye on the depth sounder, one eye on the lobster buoys, and our third and fourth eyes on the rocks we could see, an elderly, curly-haired jack-in-the-box popped up through his forward hatch.
“You’re on a good course,” he called over to us. “Stay west of that little fishing skiff over there, and you can run almost to shore. Don’t slip too far east. Another ledge is hiding there.”
Bernadette hollered back her thanks. “How deep is it where you are?”
“I’ve got 25 at low. Beautiful mud,” he continued. “Once you get anchored, swing over and I’ll point you to the town’s dinghy dock. Be careful, though. Tide’s a good ten feet here, and the dock dries out. You can’t get in or out of town for two hours before or after low.”
He ducked below again, apparently consulted a clock, then sprang back up. “If you want to get in and back today, you can still make it.”
“Been coming here for 20 years,” he said. “Hope I’m coming here for 20 more.”
We dropped our hook in 18 feet and grabbed immediately. Around us was a perfectly protected hurricane hole with monster mud that could suck the chrome off a bumper; unobstructed views of Blue Hill Mountain -- Kollegewidgwok is the Penobscot Indian word for “blue hill on shining green water” -- and a battalion of seals, singing sentries guarding a private universe.
Cruising is often a matter of unexpected physical and metaphysical perspectives, seeing in some new way what’s directly before you, pushing in deeper to uncover what’s subtle or hidden, finding layers upon layers that reluctantly give up their veils. Cruising in Maine is especially that way. The fog often descends with mind-rattling suddenness and instantly shrinks the known world to an area not much bigger than the boat you’re standing on. As we left Southwest Harbor, where we spent most of last week, and sailed to Blue Hill, clawing through rain and patchy fog, we headed for Bass Harbor Light at the southern tip of Mt. Dessert Island, thankful for its red beacon and loud horn. Then, just as we approached it, with a snap-of-the-fingers, the shroud lifted and offered a momentary glimpse of where, high on the rocks to starboard, our sound and light show was originating. But it was only to tantalize. A moment later, the world returned to gray as the fog swallowed whole the lighthouse and the island it stands upon.
We resisted our own diabolic tendencies, not by varnishing — that, after all, suggests leisure — but rather by fixing stuff. Since we left Newport, here’s a partial list of repairs and adjustments. Our brand-new wind indicator doesn’t know which way the wind blows. We replaced the leaking hose on the engine that continually, drip-by-drop, was filling the engine pan with salt water. Yet again we tightened down the remote oil filter that was contributing to the ugly soup under the Yanmar. We replaced the cracked and spewing faucet connection in the bathroom; and continue to search in vain for the source of a leak over the stove. We re-waterproofed our new bimini after a family of seagulls used it for bombing practice. Bernadette washed it off with Joy, which removed all the waterproofing capabilities.
While we were in Southwest Harbor, effecting this magic with our transmission, we poked around the back acre of Hinckley’s boatyard and stumbled upon the maritime equivalent of the secret elephant graveyard in old Tarzan movies, where the great beasts trundled off to die, and greedy hunters came to cash in on the ivory tusks waiting to be carried away. We too found ivory piled atop itself, abandoned in the jungle of plenty. Fans of Jerry Garcia would’ve loved it.
Close to ivory was irony. One great Hinckley, set high on chocks, was named Priapus, after the son of mythological Greek Gods Aphrodite and Dionysus. In Greek art and sculpture Priapus is always depicted with a larger-than-life erection. Down at the dock, Priapus’s tender (TT/Priapus) was deflated---symbolically perfect. A woman never would’ve picked this name, but we guys think no one could—duh—get that our choices in boat names often are forehead-slapping, bullhorn-loud, public testimonials revealing who, what, how or where we’d rather be.
From Southwest Harbor, we’d telephoned our friends Lucy and Christopher, who we’d last seen four years ago, and excitedly told them we’d be arriving in Blue Hill sometime after noon. None of us had cell phones with coverage here, so once we were anchored and put the dink back in the water, Bernadette and I went ashore, found a good bakery, a New York Times, and a blueberry stand, after which we gobbled our treasures. Fully sated, we plunked ourselves down in the main park, and watched the traffic roll by. We figured we’d spot our friends sooner or later, which worked just fine. In 10 minutes a car lurched to a stop, Christopher and Lucy jumped out, and we all hugged each other. These are friends of a quarter century, and it was sweet to spend several days catching up on each other’s lives, enjoying the growth of their children, musing about the future, and laughing at ourselves.
In between gluttonies and visiting, Bernadette and I read, wrote, checked e-mail at the library, did boat projects, listened to the seals around Ithaka engaged in their á Capella choral practice -- which started most evenings around seven -- and we walked every day. One of the great joys of cruising is getting off the boat long enough to stretch your legs to happy tiredness. The hike from the center of Blue Hill to the top of the local mountain is less than two hours, but long enough still to remember the pleasures of quiet striding. The view from the fire tower atop the crest, looking out to sea and down at trees and clouds, holds me still.
Blue Hill is a quietly comfortable community where folks from all over the east coast have summer homes here – many of which have been in families for generations. Life has a bountiful, idyllic quality. While we were in Blue Hill, for instance, there was a dog show, to which one woman brought her Siamese cat and won First Cat—only cat—In The Show. Another night, a home-grown steel drum band played the night away. There are a few nice restaurants, TWO bookstores, a food co-op selling organic produce, a plentiful supply of national and international newspapers, lots of antique stores, a quality bakery, a well-endowed library, and art galleries on many corners. Our favorite was Leighton, whose outdoor sculpture garden, with bronze, clay, marble, and wooden figures passing this portion of their lives among the pine trees, entertained us for hours. Bernadette and I circled through the collection several times, as we tried to determine which figures most resembled us.
After a couple of days, the old man on the old wood ketch sailed out of the inner harbor, and our only companions were boisterous seals who acted as though they owned the place. As the fogs and tides rolled in and out — dictating our life and schedule — the seals frequently swam by Ithaka, checking us out, descending again and re-congregating on the rocks or on a floating platform. There, they sang, gossiped, considered the news of the day, and decided if we’d get their approval, if like the old man, 20 years from now we’d be lucky enough to share this anchorage again.