#31 Maine

Halfway along the Newport waterfront is a rather large shed. At one end of it is a pile of old Beetle Cat sailing dinghies, propped up on each other and looking very sorry for themselves. From inside the shed you can hear a whir and a whine, as a bench-planer and a table-saw vie to be the loudest. Walk around to the other side and, lo and behold, dozens of charming little dingies are mustered in neat rows, their topsides bright and their fittings gleaming, their halyards spliced neatly in tiny three-strand.

This is the International Yacht Restoration School, and inside the shed every student will work on restoring a Beetle Cat in their first year, before moving on to a larger project. The dinghies are sold to help fund the school, which has been running as a non-profit organization since 1993.

We were kindly given a tour of the IYRS by Clark Poston, who has been involved with it for many years. After looking around the school, we went into the next shed behind, where the real excitement lay. The 131’ schooner Coronet, built in 1885 in Brooklyn, is undergoing a complete rebuild, and is approaching the final stages of planking. This magnificent yacht has a colourful history – she was sailed for over a century with no engine, has circumnavigated the globe, has won a historic transatlantic race, and has passed through the hands of various adventurous and unusual owners.

We marveled at the sheer size of the hull and the timbers being worked. All her old fittings lay around the edges of the room, gathering dust and watching the slow process of the restoration, perhaps wondering which of them would be lucky enough to be cleaned up and invited back on board, and which would be relegated to a skip.

She is fastened with Treenails – small pegs of oak that are driven through plank and frame and then locked in place with a small wedge on either end. This primitive riveting may be fairly labour-intensive, but it has its advantages. Oak is cheap compared to steel or copper or bronze, and it is not susceptible to the same galvanic corrosion, although of course it has the potential to suffer rot or worm.

After our protracted working-holiday in a marina berth, it was time to put to sea again. And so we left Newport behind to sail north. Our passage to Maine was uneventful and unremarkable, but it was pleasant to be out at sea after so long. The weather was fine, the sails were full, and all was good with the world.

We anchored just North of Portland where we had our first views of the fine country of Maine. I relished the refreshing chill in the air as we launched our varnished launch, and took it to the pontoon to pick up our guests. We bid farewell to our freedom, and stood to attention.

Over the next two weeks we cruised relentlessly around the scenic coast of Maine. It blurs somewhat into one, but there are moments that stand out. Days passed in which we didn’t start the engine once, sailing on and off the anchor again and again. The endless hoisting and flaking of all of our sails became tiring, but at least we were sailing, kept busy and active, and navigationally alert. We squeezed through some very narrow channels with all our rags up, drawing slack-jawed stares from lobstermen. Although the weather was consistently fine we encountered all manner of breezes, which kept us on our toes changing sails, one minute hard pressed with just our lowers, the next minute ghosting through channels with every inch of canvas up.

Wherever we went, we were plagued by thousands upon thousands of lobster pots, so densely planted that there are barely boat-widths of space between them. We soon realised that it was useless to try and avoid them, but luckily our bow-wave tended to push them clear of our prop.

The scenery of Maine has to be seen to be believed. Thousands of uninhabited islands scatter the coastline, providing an enormous sheltered cruising ground in their lee. They vary hugely in size, but even the tiniest islets are home to a scattering of fine pine trees and sculptural rock formations, and beg to be explored. I sighted a hundred perfect spots to moor a small boat, to build a little hut, to hide away from the world with a tent and a fishing rod.

After our guests had left, we were invited to visit one not-quite-so-tiny island by a certain Mrs.Meyrs, who is well known for almost singlehandedly starting the revival of the J-class. Her family has a modest and typically American wooden house on the island, which seems itself to be divided into perfect proportions of woodland, meadow, and fruit-and-vegetable garden. All manner of lush and succulent produce spills out of neatly dug rows, and the colours and smells are enough to make even the most carnivorous and unimaginative mouth water. We were like spoilt children in the blueberry bushes, stuffing our cheeks and giggling.

I spent hours walking round and round the island, enjoying the sun and the freedom and the feel of earth beneath my feet after two weeks of barely stepping ashore. Again, I found dozens of perfect camping spots, and as always was frustrated by the universe’s habit of presenting one with so many exciting possibilities when one is already committed to something.

In the evening, the whole crew ate local lobster and potatoes with our island hosts in their house, and then we were merry with wine and sunset and good company. Eventually some of us ended up on the beach with bonfire and guitar and Cornish sea-shanties. In the morning, we piled onto Elizabeth’s yachts and raced each other around the islands. Some of us were on her beautiful gaff Yawl, which is a sight to behold, and the others were on a tiny little gaff Cutter, which held even more interest for me. Her date of build is unknown, but the builder apparently died in 1880, so she is at least 135 years old, and possibly many more. She is clinker planked with huge oak boards, which are at least an inch in thickness for her petite 25 feet of length. She is fairly unsymmetrical, almost as wide as she is long, and she bustled through the water with surprising speed and agility.

Eventually it was time to leave Maine behind, and so Adix sailed south once more. There were some issues with our Hydraulic system, which meant we were unable to use our engine very much, and so we worked our sails to the wind with relentless attention, avoiding pots and beating into light and fickle airs. We waved goodbye to that fair coastline, and disappeared over the horizon.

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