It is an honor and a privilege to live on this bay.

This morning—that meaning a few days ago, as you read this — the fog was thick and I was supposed to do some stuff on the mainland. The air service obviously would not be my means across, as Visual Flight Rules means you have to be able to see more than a yard or two, but a friend was going by boat and he did not mind a hitchhiker. At the appointed time — for it does not do to be late to the wharf when somebody is willing to give you a ride — I added my backpack and other dunnage to the pile of empty jerry cans, banana boxes and LL Bean bags. We set up the usual bucket brigade to hand our stuff across the gap and stow everything out of the way aboard John’s little boat.

As we turned out of the harbor and the island disappeared, one of the inland passengers was a little concerned about being seasick, or cold, but no need for concern. Dense fog obliterated any chance at scenery but our wild north Atlantic was as flat as a frog pond.

That doesn’t exactly happen every day.

In John’s little Parker with the dual 250-horse Yamaha outboards, we made short work of 22 miles of calm gray ocean — a trip that seems to take all day when it’s rough, wet, cold, noisy, sickening, and generally damned hard to keep one’s course to a straight line. Such excitement happens more often than the summer sailor might think. Be it thrashing or still, I am attached to this water, and feeling that sentiment more and more as years go by. Getting mushy in my old age, I suppose.

Kim sat on the ice chest, her friend from the Rockies sat in a lawn chair rigged up in a raincoat against the spray we never got, I stood in the wheelhouse door making idle chatter, and John kept an eye on his radar. Our captain reported we were doing something like 32 knots with a horizontal visibility measurable in handfuls. As we approached Rockland, the schooner J&E Riggin popped out of the murk beside us like the Flying Dutchman. John veered over close to the Owls Head Lighthouse, and then the Rockland Breakwater, for the friends from Colorado to appreciate. We took the opportunity to ogle, heckle, judge, and admire various sailing vessels, there being a large assortment in Rockland Harbor, from (as they say) the sublime to the ridiculous. 

 


It crossed my mind that most of those boat owners have to wait all year to spend a week or a month here, hoping for a few good days. We get to hear it, touch it, stand watch, worry, and adore. The rotten, stormy trips make you certain you’ve paid for and deserve the calm.

From a little Cessna carrying the mail at two thousand feet, from a big boat, from a little boat, from a twinkling tide-pool summer or winter, from a rim-racked old wharf in a gale, this bay is a feast and a pleasure, and more so when you can smell it. 

Penobscot Bay does not make headlines for killer currents that might sweep a wader out to sea like San Francisco Bay. The water’s edge hereabouts is not entirely cordoned off for the exclusive use of the very best people in their resorts and cottage estates. The coves here are not oily and sad like the wrecking yards of Asia, or shark-infested despite what nonsense you hear, nor are the beaches littered with biohazards or the fish unfit to eat. Our bay is not pristine, but nowhere is pristine, and the aqua-blue illusion of pristine defies authenticity anyway. Most of us around here would rather the authenticity. Commercial fishing, with its beached wreckage of lobster traps and knots of polypropylene, paints a multicolored portrait of authenticity.

It is a very fine thing to stand flat-footed in the water at South Sandy beach and look out to sea with the surface of the whole of the ocean, here to France and Ireland, splashing where I can taste it. To beat across the chop with a truckload of what-all on the deck of the ferry Everett Libby is occasionally a challenge — say, when the deck is awash in a foot of icy brine — but on a decent day, it makes for a couple of hours peacefully unplugged, the best sort of hard labor. 

Five years ago, I might add, this bay didn’t eat me. I cannot help but breathe deeply whenever I think of that deep-water dunking. Anybody in their right mind might have come away afraid to be in this water. I am not one of those in right mind.