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I was 13 or 14 when my father came home one day with a small, flat-bottom boat and a six-horsepower outboard motor.
My old man was a wheeler-dealer and it wasn’t unusual for him to show-up with an entire page of Uncle Henry’s listings on any given day. I still have no idea where that little boat came from and why my dad brought it home, but I loved that boat and even more so, the freedom it provided.
My house growing up in suburban Boston featured the Charles River as our backyard and it was the “Dirty Water” of the River Charles that taught me as much as any school of my youth. Long before the thrill of driving a car by myself, I was the captain of my own tiny ship learning to navigate lessons of the river, and lessons of life.
Libraries full of great literature have detailed stories of profound meaning in the ocean, of the soulfulness of the sea, and those found on all waterways, shallow or deep. For me, then and now, there is a specific moment when I’m on a boat of any size, on any ocean or lake, when the final line is cast off and in that exact nano-second, I’m removed from the certainty and stability of land, and must submit to the power, beauty and uncertainty of the water.
It’s a moment that demands respect. A moment that hasn’t changed for me in more than 40 years.
Lugging that outboard motor down from my house to the boat, untying the boat from the giant oak tree by the river’s edge, and dragging everything down the muddy bank into the water before setting off for adventure with my friend Kenny are some of the best memories of my life. The fact that we couldn’t travel more than five miles “up river” or one mile “down river” because of dams didn’t matter. In our teenage minds, we were the Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus of the day.
Since those distant years, I have sailed, boated and submarined across every ocean, traveling from Bora Bora to the Bering Sea, from Iceland to the Mediterranean Sea, and Caracas throughout the Caribbean. And each time I’m on the water, that same joy and the vivid memories of pushing off into the Charles River come back.
With those wonderful memories behind and future adventures ahead, I did the thing that my wife made me promise years ago I would never do (again), and bought a boat last month.
I know the old saying, “the two happiest days of a boat owner’s life are the day he buys a boat and the day he sells it.” Assuming this axiom is true, my rationalization was what’s wrong with pursuing a happiest day, especially if it’s followed by another happiest day?
So now that I’m enjoying the “happiest day(s),” phase 1, of boat ownership, let me share why: I love Maine for many reasons and our incredible coastline nears the top of my list.
Sometimes I think we all take Maine’s natural beauty and wonder for granted because we get to see and experience it every day. But there is a reason (many, actually) that millions of tourists are attracted to Maine every year, and our seascape and landscape are at the top of the list.
Do you know that Maine has more coastline (3,478 miles) than California (3,427)? Do you know that Maine has more than 3,000 offshore islands? And, since much of Maine’s coast is only accessible by boat, my new hobby will be to visit as much of Maine as I can by sea over the next few years.
Another important goal attached to my boating adventures beyond the environmental engagement has to do with human connections and emotional investment. Too many of us (myself included) are overly attached to technology and the digital world, to the detriment of how we connect with others.
All too often, the real world of human interaction loses out to the bits and bytes of an insatiable digital universe that increasingly takes away the time and vital experience of humanity in favor of data transfer. There will be a “no-electronics” rule on our boat. (That and “no shoes” are my only rules.) My thinking is that if nature provides this incredible gift to us here in Maine, let’s respect it and pay attention.
If you’ve never seen Casco Bay or other parts of Maine’s coast from the ocean, you should; it’s spectacular. And you don’t even need the “happiest day” element of owning a boat to cruise around.
Casco Bay Lines runs year-round and for just $7.70 round-trip, you can be the King or Queen of the world as you head out into the ocean (briefly) to Peaks Island or the other Islands.
I can’t wait to cast off the lines and feel the salt air heading out of port next month. It won’t be the Charles River of my youth, but that’s OK. To paraphrase Heraclitus, “No man ever cruises in the same river (or ocean) twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
Steve Woods is from away, but fully here now, living in Yarmouth, working in Falmouth, traveling the world, and trying his best. His column appears every other week. He can also be heard each Saturday at 11 a.m. on WLOB-AM 1310.