NORTHEAST HARBOR, MAINE My wife Sally and I were aboard the chartered Sailing
Vessel Odyssey, a beautifully maintained Bristol 35.5 from Bucks Harbor,
Maine. We had rented a mooring in Northeast Harbor for two nights. We awoke to
some of the thickest fog we would encounter on our Down East sailing trip.
Odyssey is well equipped with radar and multiple GPS chart plotters, making
navigation in zero-visibility fog less challenging for the experienced sailor.
Brothers-in-law Charlie Sobczak and Andy Bonczyk arrived
via dinghy promptly at 5:20 am. Both of these men are inveterate fishermen. They
never miss an opportunity to fish for an edible species, so they brought along
basic gear and bait with the hopes of catching codfish somewhere along our
journey to and from the N 44 W 68 confluence.
We cast off the mooring at 5:57 am and motored past
ghostly views of moored boats, never catching sight of the shore only yards
beyond the boats. Sally stationed herself at the bow to warn me of lobster-pot
buoys in our path. The GPS chart plotter directed us to the red bell buoys
marking safe water between the Cranberry Islands and Sutton Island leading to
deep open water. As the sun rose, it remained completely foggy. Except for the
pinpoint brightness of the sun, we could only see a little circle of water
around us that dissolved into total whiteness. I once had a crewmember describe
this as: “Sailing inside a ping-pong ball.”
The confluence is about 20 miles offshore. Odyssey,
as with all displacement sailing craft, has a top speed of about 6 knots under
power. With too little wind to sail, we pushed on under power expecting to reach
our destination in about four hours.
Around 8 am, the fog started to lift and we could see
Mount Desert and Mount Cadillac towering behind us. Off our starboard side we
saw Great Duck and Little Duck Islands. Seals and dolphins surfaced occasionally
to check us out. We served breakfast of oatmeal and fresh blueberries while
observing the light wind rising. The wind was still too light and coming
directly from our intended course, dictating that we continue to use the diesel
engine for propulsion.
As we approached the confluence, our strategy was to find
the 68th west longitude and steer slowly directly south until we crossed the
44th north latitude. This sounds easy, but with waves, wind, and a spinning,
floating compass that varies from true north by about 18 degrees, it takes skill
and concentration to stay on the line. Sally operated the helm while I manned
the camera and the GPS chart plotter down below. According to the GPS display,
we hit the confluence within 37 meters. We proceeded to take our pictures and
then offered the ship’s bouquet of fresh flowers to the spiritual entities of
Meanwhile, Charlie and Andy barely noticed the confluence
arrival and were instead focused on the little speck of nearby land, Mount
Desert Rock. There, they were sure, was an underwater shelf teaming with hungry
codfish. The rock is about three miles from the confluence, so we set our course
to the rock and the fishermen rigged their gear.
We navigated to a 65-foot deep shelf south of the
lighthouse-adorned rock. The water’s surface above the shelf was covered by
lobster-pot floats, which are always a hazard to a spinning propeller. With a
current and rising wind from the south pushing the boat toward the rock, a
fouled propeller would be a big problem, indeed. I held Odyssey
stationary over the shelf by slowly motoring into the wind and current, allowing
the fishermen to bottom fish for cod.
Sorry. There were many bites and much lost bait, but no
fish took the hook. We packed up the fishing gear and raised the sails for the
long reach home. Just as we had our sails set on course and the annoying drone
of the diesel engine was silenced, Charlie sighted a whale blow off our port
stern. We headed up, tacked and sailed toward the whale’s path and straight
toward Mount Desert Rock. Straight ahead of us, we saw the long dark back of the
whale and then its tail rise high in the air as it dove into the depths.
Good winds and weather permitted Odyssey to sail
most of the way back. When the wind subsided, we furled the sails and motored.
We arrived back at our Northeast Harbor mooring in sunshine and clear skies at
5:17 pm., looking forward to the lobster dinner being prepared for us at the