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the working life of a dory and its harbor

Posted: June 7 2021
Illustration by Caroline Magerl

Written by Paul Molyneaux for Maineboats.com

One evening before a storm, all the water seemed to drain out of the harbor. Rocks that were coated in pink coral and the hold-fasts of storm-torn kelp got a chance to breathe air, maybe for the first time. Then the big swell filled the harbor again, well above the tide line. The sea touched sun-baked gray rocks that seldom tasted salt water. It was like a mini-tsunami, but more fascinating than deadly.

You have to be really lucky to see something like that, or spend a lot of time in a place. For me that place was Haycock’s Harbor, a narrow fjord that slices into the Maine coast close to Canada—far from yacht clubs and waterfront dining. Haycock’s is a half-tide harbor, you can only get in and out twice a day for six hours at a time—three hours before high tide and three hours after. The handful of people who work out of Haycock’s Harbor always become very tide conscious; they watch the phases of the moon and plan accordingly.

It’s not a place you can just go to. On another rare evening a sailboat hove to in Grand Manan Channel, sails luffing just off the mouth of the harbor. The solo sailor hailed me as I rowed by with a few bags of periwinkles—wrinkles, as we call them. He had shaggy black hair and ragged clothes, and he stood with one hand on the shrouds. I looked over the boat, a thirty-something foot wooden ketch named Atlantic Parrot, painted a fading green and looking a bit rust streaked and sea-worn.

“Do you know the way in here?” he called.

I shrugged. “Sure.”

“Can you guide me in?”

I looked at the harbor, and considered how to do that—me in a little dory, him in his big boat. “I’ll come aboard,” I said, and he agreed. We furled his sails and he started his engine. I started off giving him directions, but then I ran to the bow and with an upraised arm, showed him which way to steer.

The entrance to Haycock’s Harbor begins with a passage between two jaws of jagged rocks into the outer harbor. There a couple of lobstermen keep moorings to use while they wait for the tide. I piloted the boat to the right of the big plastic balls floating on the surface, and hugged the right-hand shore to get over the deepest spot in the bar at the head of the outer harbor, and then up through the gut to a line of weir stakes driven years earlier by Colie Morrison. I’d rowed past and talked to Colie when he and his brother Maynard were driving those stakes. Colie had an awkward eye that went adrift when he looked at you so you had to focus on just the one he had trained on you. A more amiable man you’ll seldom meet. He was a first-class rigger and a master welder. “I can mend anything but a broken heart,” he used to say. I couldn’t help thinking about him as the motley sailor—Steve, he’d told me—backed the engine and I threw a clove hitch round one of those stakes.

“You’ll have to work this out with Wayne,” I said, pointing to the lobsterman’s skiff. “He’s got a 36-foot lobsterboat he ties right there.”

I jumped back in my dory, cast loose and rowed up to my mooring at the very head of the harbor.