Saturday, August 27, 2016

Ground School


Public Dock, Camden
I know it’s been a while since I checked-in here, but yes, I did indeed make it to Maine. And in the end, it was with the help I’d been looking for since Fort Lauderdale. 

Belfast. For a Minute.
After seeing my boat advertised online, a gentleman, potentially interested in buying Annie Laurie, offered to drive to Norfolk and help me sail the rest of the way to Belfast, Maine (he just happened to live in the Belfast area).  After waiting for a perfect weather window for over a week in Virginia, we finally headed out on a 5-day 4-night offshore extravaganza that would put us exhausted and dockside (and, as it turned out, with oily water above the floor boards) at the western end of the Cape Cod Canal.  I think that arrival was the final nail in the coffin, laying to rest any further interest in purchase of my leaky vessel.  I was very open with him from the get-go of the leaks that were present, but my first indication that he didn’t understand the extent to which the salt water was intruding, was the way, on day 3, about 100 miles offshore, he was watching the water pumping over the side, and he looked at me and said, in his very German way, short, clear and succinct, “Laura. This boat is pumping a shit-ton of water. The pump has not stopped in ten minutes.”  Uhhhh-huh. After ten years, I know.  “That’s normal,” I say.  “If it stops pumping, let me know. That’s when our problems begin.”
My crew, doubting the GPS

As kind, generous, gentlemanly, and endlessly fascinating as he was, he was also 6’8, and in my personal space, I quickly became claustrophobic and anxious to arrive in Belfast.  And when we finally did arrive in Maine, it was an interesting turn of events.

Our first stop was Camden, a tiny little harbor on Penobscot Bay, just a stone’s throw from Belfast, so my crew was able to disembark upon our arrival there. The next day, as I wandered around town and mentally prepared myself for my journey finally coming to an end, I stumbled upon a boat that I recognized. It was a sailboat I had sailed on for no more than a week, fifteen years earlier, a couple thousand miles away…

After asking around, I learned that yes, indeed, that was the same boat I sailed aboard from St Thomas to Antigua in 2002, and that the couple who were running it at the time were living in Camden, now running their own, beautiful 1918 schooner Surprise.  I eventually caught up with Ramido, who had little recollection of me. After a brief catch-up, and mentioning I sailed up here to work on my commercial pilot’s license, he said, “Oh, I have a friend you just have to meet… He’s a sailor and a pilot, he works for Penobscot Island Air, and I think they are hiring…”

Goats, looking for their mail
And so, 2 months later, though I did do a quick touch-and-go in Belfast, I ultimately landed on the island of North Haven, Maine, working for Penobscot Island Air. I am the UPS/FedEx girl, delivering via company van, and am sometimes lucky enough to go flying. No two days are alike, as I deliver everything from diapers to transmissions, queen bees to lawn mowers.  And the people I’ve met along the way… The stories I could tell. Though it might be more proper to save much of it for a future work of inspired fiction a few years down the road.

From the shenanigans that inevitably occur when lobstermen and beer coalesce,
to the anecdotal stories that come my way via the people I hitch-hike with from my anchorage to the ferry terminal or airstrip, it has been an interesting summer.

In many ways, it has been both the best of times, and the worst of times. I honestly, overall, could not have landed a better job with a better group of people (save one, there always has to be one).  With a kind, genuinely caring man as an employer, and the nature of the job being to go out and bring other people happiness in the form of Amazon packages, it is not the bar/cafe/boatyard job I'd been anticipating and dreading as I sailed north. I am frequently met with gratitude in the form of smiles and words, and other times in the form of fresh garden vegetables and warm pecan pie.

Take-off from Witherspoons
It may never have come to be, if it weren’t for sailing on a schooner named Bonnie Lynn from Massachusetts to the Caribbean in 2002, and owners Bonnie and Earl introducing me to Ramido, and all these years later running into all of them up here in Penobscot Bay.  The universe was definitely up to something when it allowed me to land where I am in this moment. And that is why it has been the best of times.

The worst of times are the lonely moments, the moments of feeling like I don’t belong, because, of course I don’t. I’m not from here, and nothing will change that, and some people here make it a point to ensure that I won’t forget that.  And having to put my flight training on hold while I repay my debts and try to save for an expensive endeavor, whilst listening and watching, daily from my anchorage, everyone I work with, flying in and out of the grass strip over the trees.  That has been a little touch of torture, as I struggle to figure out where I’m going to go from here, in terms of training, in terms of where to base myself, in terms of how to rid myself of the responsibility of a this little ship before winter.
Formal Rural Maine Signage

But, there's a lot more that I witness on a daily basis that serves as a good reminder to stop feeling sorry for myself. 

One of my stops on my route is home to a little feather-light Sheltie, who always tears out the door and across the yard to terrorize and intimidate (then, of course, lick my toes).  Her owner tells me, everyday that I stop to deliver, that the dog is very lonely, and wishes more people would come to visit.  I don’t know, of course, what’s in the identical yellow envelopes that I deliver on an almost-daily basis, but I can’t help but wonder if she is placing orders to receive items of importance, or if it’s just to see another human being come down that long road to her isolated house.

Lola, the Post Office Princess
And a few weeks ago, while sitting in the back room of the Post Office awaiting the ferry (which carries the bulk of my deliveries from the mainland), I could tell it was someone of considerable age who had come in to check their mail, by judging the amount of time it took from the moment the screen door opened, until the rattle of the keys finally settled into the key slot of their post office box . When the box door closed, without any sound of rustling envelopes, a delicate, fragile voice quietly said, “Mary, Mary dear… have you had a chance to sort the mail yet this morning?”  

“Oh yes, the mail arrived on the early plane this morning, it’s all been sorted” replied the postmistress.  There was a heavy sigh as the old lady turned to leave, and she was talking to herself as she slowly shuffled her way to the door, “But, there isn't anything in my mailbox...” 

I try to remind myself that I’m still young (enough) and that I still have plenty of time ahead of me to accomplish what I set out to do when I decided to move to Maine. And maybe, just maybe, I still have time to not grow old alone.