On steering away from shore

Chart_MatinicusThe end of summer is approaching. Technically we have until September 22nd before the Autumnal Equinox. Practically speaking, on the coast of Maine summer ends in the middle of Labor Day weekend.

The town is quiet. Eighty percent of the summer jerks [Ed. note: aka “people” but I let it go. – Debbie] are gone. By Sunday another ten percent will depart. By Monday five more percent will depart and only the extended summer folk will be left. I am trying to become one of them.

Stonington’s Main Street has been packed for the last six weeks. Parking on both sides of the road has narrowed it to a single lane in many places. Tourists, treating it like a pedestrian mall, have further snarled traffic. The restaurants have been crowded for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Now there is room to spare and traffic flows smoothly.

The weather is cooler. The days are shorter. Autumn is in the air.

Trying out loneliness

I feel lonely. I want to try loneliness.

I have had the six summer weeks of my dreams including weeks of perfect weather, boating, sailing, island hopping, golf, birding and planning. Never before have I had so much of Maine. The previous pattern was one week here, two weeks there and fighting weekend plane traffic. It has been no more spectacular than before, and some memories have already been lost as the days blend together, but the absence of travel hassle has been wonderful.

Now we get serious, however, as we look into the future of beautiful autumn weeks with far fewer people to share them. This was part of the Gap Year plan; to test a quiet time; to step into another void.

Matinicus Island: 22 miles offshore

Matinicus-Island-600x314This week we cruised to Matinicus Island. It is described as a “godforsaken rock” by many. Indeed, it is a small community of lobstermen, their families and minimal support services, twenty-two miles off the mainland.

It was the first time that I personally steered my boat away from shore and to an invisible point out in the ocean. I was alone with Debbie. We looked toward the horizon. Nothing was there. [Were we looking at empty ocean all the way across the Atlantic? – Debbie] We had every advantage of modern nautical instruments that allowed us to “see” over the horizon so we knew, intellectually, the island was there.

Pointing to the unknown

Debbie and I have traveled beyond the horizon many times with others at the helm. But emotionally and metaphorically, this was a special moment. We were steering our own little boat into the unknown. The next morning, making our way back through pea soup fog it took no extra strength to sail home on instruments alone. We had already taken the big step of sailing away.

Of course, hundreds of thousands of people set sail over the horizon everyday, mostly for work, sometimes for pleasure. I will do so again, someday. It may seem like just another day to them. I suspect they remember their first turn off shore.

The total engagement of coastwise piloting

All of my personal boating has been coastwise piloting. This is the term for making one’s way from place to place around the shoreline. In Maine the coast is particularly unforgiving with granite ledges, spirited seas, tidal changes and ephemeral, often violent, weather. It takes the use of every sense (and supplementary technology: radar, plotter, depth sounder, radio) to do it safely.

It can totally engage, and in my case, satisfy the intellect. I had a random thought while returning by boat from dinner on another island last week. Monitoring the horizon, the compass, the radar and the seas I was completely “connected” in a way that social networking can’t replicate.

Today I toured the Sunbeam. She is a 75- foot vessel operated by the Maine Sea Coast Mission that supplies medical, spiritual, economic and youth development programs to the Maine island communities, including Matinicus. The captain and crewmembers were a pleasure to meet. I am jealous of the never-ending wonder of the ever-changing coast that they get to enjoy.

Looking for new safe harbors

As I poke my nose into health care issues both large and small around the Coast of Maine I am looking for a place to resume my life’s work. As I turn away from my former routine, indeed, as I turn from former shores and safe harbors, I am looking for new challenges and new safe havens.

I have just learned that I will never sail solo around the world. [When we were scanning the horizon for Matinicus, I believe I said I didn’t think we were destined to sail around the world together. – Debbie]

The challenge of coastwise piloting in a boat, or in life, suits me fine.

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