Swan’s Island, Maine

Burnt Coat Harbor, Swan’s Island, ME

After two days at sea, we made landfall at Swan’s Island this evening.

In the two days at sea between Provincetown and Swan’s Island, we haven’t seen another ship. The wind remained behind us, though restlessly shifted from port to starboard, forcing us to rearrange the sails at least a half dozen times. The current pushed us northwards as well, adding at least a half knot to our speed.

I didn’t sleep at all, either before or after my night watch. The wind kept shifting, slapping the sails back and forth. Lines whacked the deck directly over my cabin, and occasionally a winch ratcheted directly overhead. The ship’s motion underway had me rolling from one side of my bunk to the other. Shorty took the 0200-0500 shift right after mine, and I lay awake worrying about him. He didn’t have much sailing experience, and I was pretty sure he wouldn’t know how to trim the sails properly. I tossed, turned, went up to check on things, then returned to my bunk. By morning I was barely functional and seasick.

The seas were unfortunately confused, with no clear pattern of wave and trough. The surface of the water looked more like a frosted cake, with lots of spikes and curls. This made for rough sailing, and I was feeling queasy for most of the day. Nausea sucks. By noon I was ready to swim for shore (50 miles to the west), fly home, and never venture forth across water again.

We sailed for the first half of the day, and then switched to motor so that we could make landfall by daylight. At around 4pm I spotted land, and yelled out that there was an island off our starboard side. The skipper spotted a rock off the port. Shorty pointed out some trees directly forward. Simultaneously, land appeared all around us through the light fog. A large red and white buoy indicating the entrance to Burnt Coat Harbor.

We steered a course into the harbor, avoiding a minefield of lobster traps. Running over one of these would not only annoy the lobsterman, but it could foul our propeller. We’d hit one further out while sailing (in 200 feet of water), but luckily it had worked its way loose. The vibrations under our bare feet told us where it had caught on the hull, and when it worked its way loose.

Norman Rockwell could not have designed a more welcoming harbor. Several magnificent sailing ships were anchored out, and closer in were moored a picturesque assortment of lobster boats. Small houses looked down on the water, and an old lighthouse marked the entrance. Along the edges of the water were the bait shops, piers, and ramshackle structures that are the signature of fishing towns.

We bought 2-pound lobsters straight off the boat for $8 apiece. After anchoring, we steamed them up and had a lobster feast. Later, Cookie and I took the dinghy into town to buy some ice cream from the ‘Elegant Café’. We brought it back to the ship for dessert, and ate it around the salon table while talking about the last few days.

After everyone else had gone to sleep, I sat on the transom, looking out over the still harbor waters. Bioluminescent plankton flashed in the water at my feet. So far this trip goes from one incredible experience to soul-wrenching angst to another incredible experience. Being out at sea for one night was horrible. Could I do it for three weeks on a reach to Hawaii, and for another three weeks returning?

I don’t know, and I watch the plankton flash and sparkle below, for the moment comfortable, happy, and well-fed.


A note on time: In the grand seagoing tradition, I’m using 24-hour time, where 3am is 0300, noon is 1200, and 9pm is 2100. Times are spoken as follows; 0300 is ‘oh three hundred hours’, and 2200 is ‘twenty-two hundred hours.’


The surface of a ship facing aft. Many sloops, including the Phoenix, have a ‘swim platform’ here.
A ratcheted drum used to haul (pull in) lines. You wrap the line around the drum two or three times and haul until you can’t haul any more. Then you put a handle on the drum and crank. Winches are one reason that sailors all start to look like Popeye. The Phoenix has four, one motorized. A motorized winch is not only luxurious but decadent.

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