|ROCKPORT Duffy Blatchford's white Sandy Bay Class sloop
still rides the winter waves in front of the yacht club like a big gull, but the rest of the yachts are gone from
the outer harbor. The Sandy Bay captains sit in armchairs reading yachting books, or show slides of cruising
and racing during the summer past. One Rockport navigator who cruised beyond Sandy Bay last season
was Dennis Ahern. Like many other Cape Ann navigators, he went Down East for his adventure. Unlike most
others, his cruise was in a 12-foot open sailboat known as a Firefly, or more affectionately, a Fruitfly.
It was just a week, Dennis recalled yesterday, although by the time it was over the time
seemed a lot longer. I started at a place called Beal Island, Maine. It's a property that the Appalachian
Mountain Club owns on the estuary of the Sasanoa River, a wooded island the club bought and maintains
as a camping area. I'm on the committee that maintains the property for the club and I went there for a
meeting. So what I did was I brought the boat there by trailer and stayed Saturday for the meeting planning
to sail afterward. Both Saturday and Sunday were miserable. It rained.
I spent Sunday night there on the island after the others had left and I started Monday morning. There
wasn't a wind and I sort of paddled the boat down the river and it ended up almost like white water. In the
narrow tidal channel with the tide going out, it was almost like white water. The boat spun in circles a couple
of times. It got to be kind of scary, going round in the eddies and currents. Then I got into the Sheepscot
River, got my sail up and started to go down towards the ocean. It was raining then and kind of drizzly and
misty. It was a very quiet, woodsy area. There were seals and all kinds of birds. I was a little bit scared when
I heard a hissing sound which turned out to be porpoises playing games with me. They hung around for
about ten minutes.
I went down the Sheepscot and north to Boothbay late Monday afternoon. There had been reports of
a hurricaneit was the hurricane that never materialized. But because I had been hearing about it, I had
a little transistor radio with me to listen to weather reports. Monday night I got to Boothbay Harbor and went
to the yacht club which was closed, except the locker room was open. So I hauled out my soaking wet gear
and spent Monday night in the men's room of the Boothbay Harbor yacht club. I was thoroughly ensconced.
I had my stove set up, fixed my supper, took a shower. I spent Tuesday night there also. On Tuesday night
I slept on the boat for the first time. I had it rigged up with a Navy canvas hammock. It just reached from the
mast to the transom, but it sagged right at the base of my spine over the centerboard trunk. I put some foam
rubber there to soften the spot and had a boom tent jury-rigged over the boat, open fore and aft. By that time
I was getting a little stir crazy from spending all day in the men's room and I resolved to pull out Wednesday.
I got under way around noon and sailed over to Boothbay Harbor to get some clothes washed and
driedI only had two changes of clothes with me, counting the one I had on. This is the kind of story
you hear about. At the laundry I had everything off but my gym shorts and my nylon windbreaker. The local
native ladies were looking at me a little strangely. But the really fantastic thing was running into Shorty Lesch.
[Harbormaster of my home port - Rockport, Mass.] I sailed up to a float in front of one of those hotel
complexes in my little Firefly and I hear this voice calling down, When you get done tying up, Captain,
come up and have a beer with us. I can't tell you how good it felt to hear a friendly voice after all that
wet and spending a day and two nights in the men's room. So I tied up and had a beer with Shorty and his
friends before going over to the laundry.
After that I ended up sailing out of Boothbay Harbor, and wound up getting in an hour after sunset at
Cape Newagen. There's a little harbor there just on the point of the Cape. This was the first night I cooked
and slept on board riding at anchor. I opened a can of chop suey and had that for supper. By this time I was
kind of cold and damp and it felt pretty good to get some hot food down. I crawled into my sleeping bag and
slept except every once in a while I looked out to make sure I was in the same place. The next morning it was
a little foggy. I cooked the rest of the chop suey and had that for breakfast, got everything squared away and
started to tack out of the harbor entrance. Thing is though, Shorty and his wife were all staying at a cabin on
a little island outside the harbor. So Shorty was out there in the surf swimming when I sailed by and his wife
came out and took a picture.
The rest of the day was pretty boring. In fact that was the day I fell asleep at the helm. The place I
wanted to get to next was Small Point. This was the longest stretch of sailing I had during the trip because I
had to get to Freeport Saturday. It was a long day's sail and I rigged up the boat to sail itself. As long as it
was going close hauled, I had some shock cord which would bring the tiller back when it started to luff up.
I spent a bit of time writing in my log, wrote some postcards, had some lunch and generally got very tired and
cramped. My bottom kept falling asleep from sitting on the bottom of the boat.
Finally I got into Small Point Harbor. I got a couple of things at the general store. I had plans to do a
little sailing at night, but just as it got dark, the wind died down. So I anchored in the little cove on the
landward side of the island. It had been sunny, so I didn't bother to set up the boom tent. Three in the
morning I wake up and see this lightning to the south and west over the land. I said to myself 'This is
September, it's a little late for heat lightning.' Five minutes later I started to hear thunderbut it was
so warm and cozy in my sleeping bag. Then the wind picked up. I had just enough time to unrig my hammock
and I had just got the top of my foul weather gear on when it started to pour buckets. I was getting a little
scared because this protected cove turned out to be a trap. When the storm came in the cove, I had the
rocks on three sides. There was no way I could have gotten out, with the wind blowing as it wasstraight
in the narrow mouth of the cove.
I had to ride that out for two hours. I heard later over the radio that that freak storm had winds of 50
miles per hour and blew down trees in Freeport and Portland. I wasn't afraid for myselfI could have
swum to the island if the anchor let go, but I could have lost the boat. And it seemed like I was moving. It
seemed like I kept getting further away from the lobster buoys I anchored near, and it was just a little four
and a half pound Danforth, but, boy, that anchor really dug in. The next morning I had a heck of a time
pulling it out. At one point I rigged up a flarethinking some fisherman might come out at four in the
morning and rescue meIt kind of cheered me up with its bright light and I started singing songs.
At five it started to get light and the wind died down, so I could rig up and get out. The wind was
still blowing 20-25 mph. So I proceeded to rig up and went back to Small Point Harbor. I set up camp on
the porch of the general store, with the natives walking back and forth, looking at this guy who had set up
camp cooking his breakfast on their porch.
So by then everything was all soaking wet again, and it was another miserable day and I had to make
it to South Freeport by the end of that day. So I set off, had sometimes a good breeze, kind of spookey with
a heavy swell. You would get knocked back and forth off course. The wind picked up pretty steady in the
afternoon and by the time I came to Casco Bay, I was riding along on a beam reach, going like hell, surfing
down those long swells. I got into South Freeport around five, and got in touch with some friends of mine.
They came down and picked me up and gave me a hot bath. It felt good. I was so tired and cold and
miserable and crampedit got to be too much of an adventure.
Dennis says that if he did the trip again, he'd go earlier in the season, so he would have the
company of other cruising boats. I could have pulled up in some cove next to one of those
40 foot cruising boats. I've always liked boats, he added. In fact you
might find a reference to me in the Gloucester Times of 1949 or '50. I was seven or eight then, and I
wanted to look at the cruising boats over at the yacht club. They fascinated me, I used to run my
fingers along their portholes when they were tied up. This was on a summer Sunday, I remember the
Legion Band was playing over in the park. I went down to the Granite Pier and borrowed a rowboat to
row across the bay. The only problem was I didn't know how to row. I drifted past Gull Island and the
tide took me out to sea. I got picked up the next morning by a lobster boat out looking for me. That was
one of my earlier adventures in boats.