Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Twenty Five Years Lead to Boothbay Harbor in August

What do you suppose Key West, Florida, Charleston, North Carolina, Ketchikan, Alaska and Twin Bridges, Montana have in common with Boothbay Harbor, Maine?

They were all Charles Kuralt’s choices of places to be for a month in his book “Charles Kuralt’s America”. He suggests Key West for January and Ketchikan, Alaska for June. However, his vote for August was Boothbay Harbor, Maine.

Tired of the competitive, deadline driven news world, Charles Kuralt persuaded CBS to let him try out traveling and interviewing regular people from a motor home. He was given three months and it turned into a quarter-century project. "On the Road" became a regular feature on The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite in 1967. Famously enough, Kuralt hit the road in a motor home (he wore out six before he was through) with a small crew and avoided the interstates in favor of the nation's back roads in search of America's people and their doings.

Much like John Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley” Kuralt looked for and found interesting people and places.

Here is a short selection from the August section about Boothbay Harbor, Maine from “Charles Kuralt’s America”.

I didn't get over my boat dream the whole time I was in Maine. I'm not over it yet. I am drawn to shipyards and anchorages wherever I go. If there's a bit of a breeze, the sound of a halyard slapping a mast arouses a great yearning in me.

In the perfect harbor …one late afternoon, no less than eleven of the passenger-carrying windjammers of Maine sailed in for a rendezvous. There was the last of the three-masted schooners, Victory Chimes, a survivor of the days when Maine bought its groceries in the West Indies and sent to China for afternoon tea. Anchored nearby was the pilot schooner Timberwind, which was launched in Portland in 1931 and has never left Maine waters; if you are born in heaven, her caption once said, why go anywhere else? There was the J. & E. Riggin, an eighty-nine-foot oyster-dredging schooner dating to 1927; and American Eagle, a gorgeous ninety-two-foot fishing schooner from the 1930s; and the oldest documented American sailing vessel in continuous use, the Stephen Taber, launched in 1871; and there were all the others, a maginificent show. These boats are captained by happy men and women who cannot imagine what else they'd rather do with their lives. I understand them. The passengers, most of them, return year after year for the sweet passages through the coves and islands, the quiet nights at anchor, the sea chantey concerts on deck, the lobster bakes ahsore. I understand them, too.

I went out to Nathaniel Bowditch, an eighty-two-foot topsail schooner which left the fleet in her wake in the Bermuda Race of 1923. Her captain, Gib Philbrick, is a wonderful man whose enthusiasm for what he does is written all over his face. Gib was once a fishing guide in te Rangeley Lakes. He was the basketball coach at the University of Maine. All the time, he wanted to be a schooner captain. He and his wife, Terry, took a deep breath and bought Nathaniel Bowditch twenty years ago.

"If a schooner ownes you," he said, "it owns you all year around. In the late fall, we go over every line and block, we have new sails made if we can afford it, we care for every tiny thing. We keep her in the water where she belongs, and throw salt water on her deck every day to keep the seams tight. In the winter when I'm feeling edgy, I come down and sit aboard.

"And then -- oh, man -- then comes the spring!"

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