*** May 5, 2022: Great Auk departs Joy Bay, southbound.
*** June 1: Arrive Connecticut River, anchoring in North Cove.
*** July 7: Arrive Joy Bay, home once again.
Suzanne worked out the number of days away: 64. In an interesting bit of synchronicity, this year I am 64 years old.
That was a big trip! The farthest point south was Sag Harbor, New York, which is out by the Hamptons on Long Island, where I had lovely visits with my friend JG and we made plans for more sailing.
Sag Harbor was one of the original destinations. The even bigger heart calling was the Connecticut River, and sailing up to Deep River, which felt like going home. The hills were right, and the trees, and the sun and the shape of the clouds, and the bits of gentle fog in the rain.
It had been seven years since I sailed away, moving to Maine. And I love Maine, with its rocks and wild wind, and evergreens everywhere. But the Connecticut River feels like home. I didn’t grow up there, but close enough, and then lived for so many years right by its shores a little further north.
In Deep River I made a new friend, years ago. On the day we first launched Auklet, learning the yawl rig in opposing wind and river current, losing steering. Make sure that the mizzen sail is free, or you’re not going to be able to turn. Opposing wind and current pinning the boat, headed straight across the river for the shore, and that big steel sloop on its pilings. We didn’t hit it, anchoring just in time, but things got complicated. This led to meeting Warren Elliott, who was none too pleased at that first moment. And we became such good friends.
Warren was going to be 93 years old on May 23, and my mission in leaving Gouldsboro so early in the month, in the spring cold before leaves were even out on the trees, was to get there to see him. If not by his birthday, close. I didn’t say anything, ahead of time, because I was afraid I wouldn’t succeed – like last year, when I had set out but got only as far as Pemaquid. I didn’t want to call again to say it wasn’t going to happen. But I should have picked up the phone anyway.
When things felt more assured I left a message, on May 23, singing happy birthday into Warren’s answering machine. This was from the water, having left Rockport, Mass. early in the morning, bound for Provincetown, which in a combination of losing both the wind and the tide became unattainable and led to sailing through the night, straight for the entrance to the Cape Cod Canal. But before night fell, there was that song, and I told him in the message that I thought I really would get there this time. I called again a few days later, leaving another message, and getting closer bit by bit.
Ever so sadly, I missed Warren by a month. His wife, and my friend, Margo, called back with the sad news that he had passed away at the beginning of May, two days before I left home. We came so close to one more visit, after those long intervening years.
Sometimes being on the water is where I do my grieving. The ocean and the broad rivers sturdy enough to contain all those tears, and enough space to wail into the open skies.
Margo kindly invited me to come and stay at their dock, and I waited to see how my travels might go. In the end we had a beautiful visit, in my accustomed spot at Warren’s float.
This had become the place where we fitted out each year after putting Auklet in the water at the nearby ramp in Deep River, and was often where I returned, to pull the boat out of the water in the fall. Equaria, the big steel sloop that Warren had built himself, was still right there.
Warren was a steelworker, in his younger days. He told stories about building a giant steel tower on an island in the Aleutians – I think he said it was 1000 feet tall. He said the height never bothered him. So welding the boat together was right up his alley, and once it was built it led to meeting Margo, and the two of them having wonderful trips sailing off to the Caribbean.
Coming home is like that. The sweetness of familiar shores, and as one gets older, the presence of those who are no longer here, holding their memories so close.
And now I am back in Maine, in this new home that has actually started to feel that way. I missed it when I was gone, and was surprised to find that the low sandy shores of southern New England felt foreign, from the water. Although I did get used to swimming in comfort, and to so many fewer rocks with which to play dodge’ems, in the swirling current. But now the evergreens feel like they make everything right, and the lobster boats are a welcome change from go-fast churners of a million wakes.
Besides that, people in Maine appreciate this boat. I had become accustomed to the lovely conversations, folks enjoying both Great Auk‘s oddball configuration and bright colors. These friendly encounters were rare in southern New England, where yacht clubs are a lot more common than fishing villages. A sailing houseboat felt out of place and not necessarily welcome, unlike in Maine where Great Auk is more of an attraction, and the frequent interest and appreciation feel extra welcoming in unfamiliar harbors.
The trip overall was wonderful. Now and then it was a bit much, but then something nice would happen, and everything would feel right again. I am ecstatic about having been able to do it, and the boat having shown itself so capable. There were some repair issues, all to do with steering in one way or another, and there is more to address on that – it’s a heavy boat, with an enormous rudder, and the strain of roiled up seas can be substantial.
We’ll be addressing the rudder issue, and the boat will be better for it. In the meantime, the temporary repairs held up, and here we are home.
My endless thanks go to the folks who helped with those repairs: most especially John York in Cataumet, MA; Susanne Altenburger in Gloucester, MA; and Luke Tanner, who made the trip to Portsmouth, NH to help out. The boat got home thanks to their kindnesses, as well as to the folks who made those connections possible. And further thanks to everybody along the way who made this trip such a joy. How appropriate, to come back to Joy Bay!