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View from the Porch - Issue 124

Issue 124

By Peter Bass
In mid-February, while those in the boating trade are heading for the Miami Boat Show for their midwinter fix, my reader and I are dreaming of a real boat show: the Maine Boatbuilders Show, which you may be stumbling through while reading this issue, a double dose of pure pleasure. This show, created by the Spragues of Portland Yacht Services (and the summer boat show produced by this magazine) has an audience far beyond the borders of our state. Both celebrate our traditions, skills, and culture, and show Maine in its best light. To see us in somewhat dimmer lights, read on. Booze Nooze The Lewiston-Auburn Sun Journal reported that Maine’s junior Senator, Angus King, broke new ground by having an online video chat with key staff at Shipyard Brewing. Although probably not the first use of Skype for constituent contact by a U.S. Senator, it is probably the first use of the service to contact a local brewery by a U.S. Senator. If I were a U.S. Senator from Maine, I would do my arm-twisting with colleagues by serving Maine brews and lobster rolls. Senator King may gain influence more quickly than he thought. In more sobering news, the former White Rock Distillery in Lewiston, bought by Jim Beam and now a division of that company, will close over the next 12 months, eliminating about 160 jobs. Some of the Maine employees will be able to apply for jobs in Jim Beam’s Kentucky distilleries after taking Kentucky-as-a-second-language (KSL) training. This spiritual news came from a Portland Press Herald article forwarded to me on the winter porch. White Rock has enjoyed great growth of late in its Pinnacle Vodka and Calico Jack Rum lines, which are the brands purchased by Beam. White Rock is a great Maine marketing success story; the acquisition by Beam of these brands for $605 million confirms that, though it is cold comfort for its employees.
All illustrations by Ted Walsh
The Ice Man Returneth Speaking of the cold, Ann Bryant, who covers Franklin County for the Lewiston-Auburn Sun Journal, wrote about something I remember well from my hometown of Wilton. I remember the excitement in early April when the ice in Wilson Lake would go out. Yes, it was an exciting time in an exciting place. The Wilton Fish & Game Association organized a contest every year, and all the local soothsayers would try to divine the exact date and time of ice-out; a local sport shop often provided a prize to the winner. The police chief would call the moment when no ice existed below a certain point near the lake’s outlet. The contest has not been held recently, but records have continued to be kept, except for the last couple of years. This year Fish & Game member and former winner Bruce Dyke volunteered to restart the contest and offered to call the moment. Entries have started to come in and will remain open until April 1, or until the ice goes out. Only once since 1889 has the ice-out date been in March. Bruce offered that it is nearly always within a few days of his birthday, April 23. For you statisticians who would like to factor in climate change, between 2000 and 2009 ice-out ranged from April 14th to May 4th. This year’s contest offers a $100 prize with a $5 entry fee. To be a part of this Wilton tradition, send your entry, with date, hour, and minute (and $5), to Bruce Dyke, P.O. Box 605, Wilton, ME 04294. Net proceeds will help the F&G Association’s programs to promote good sportsmanship and conservation of natural resources, fish, and wildlife. It’s a good cause and good fun, run by a good guy. Come on, there are still a couple of weeks left to get in on the fun. Snowmobile news and web cam views For every cross-country skier or snowshoer in Maine who loves the beauty and quiet of the Maine woods in winter, there are probably 10 who like to hop on a snowmobile (a.k.a. sled, snow machine) and put the hammer down. Fortunately there are areas where you can do your own thing separately. Certainly the great extent of groomed cross country trails would not have been possible without the snowmobile. Since the widespread popularity of the snowmobile as a recreational vehicle developed nearly a half century ago, a couple of healthy benefits have accrued to the state. First, a lot more Maine folks get outside in the winter on a regular basis and have a lot of fun. Second, a whole new economy revolving around the sales and service of snowmobiles has developed, and the northern tier of the state has a winter sport and tourism business in good snow seasons, and that means a lot. After a promising start to the winter with normal snowfall and temperatures, the “January thaw” put a real damper on the Sled Economy. However, at this writing, we are digging out of a big “dump” of snow from a storm dubbed “Nemo” by the Weather Channel. It did not do a lot for the northern part of the state but forecasts there are for a steady stream of smaller snow events. Known as “Aroostook County Flurries,” these seem to be anything less than a foot. According to a Bangor Daily News article, sled registrations are up to 38,000 versus 33,000 at the same time a year ago. Most riders wait until the snow base is dependable to register, particularly with last season’s poor conditions in everyone’s mind. The season peaks in February and March. A couple of weeks ago I checked the Presque Isle Sky Cam to see what the snow cover looked like at the Crown of Maine and noticed a poll question: “Is the snowmobiling season in Aroostook County over?” “No” was the winner. Speaking of web cams, I recently ran a search on Maine Web cams and found allthingsmaine.blogspot.com, which has a lot of links to webcams around the state. You can take a statewide tour in 10 minutes. I found one maintained for Augusta by the United States Geological Service that included a river gauge height for the Kennebec. The change in river flow from January’s rain and thaw was starkly visible. There's a cam atop Blue Hill (bluehillwebcam.com), and cams on Brown’s Wharf in Boothbay. These last are the most fun, because you can control one of them. There was an interesting old rust-bucket riding at anchor the last time I looked. Boatbuilding in your own backyard Sam Rabl’s book of the same name provides an apt title for this news, which can only be viewed as unfortunate. The Town of Boothbay, one of Maine’s best known boatbuilding towns, has chosen to interpret a 2001 ordinance restricting boat manufacturing in a residential zone as preventing boatbuilding and repair on a property long used for that activity. It ordered well-known boatbuilder David Stimson to cease operations on his property, where he has worked since 1981, albeit with a pause while he was employed elsewhere. His principal business is repair, with the occasional new build. An article by Steve Cartwright in the Working Waterfront newspaper details Stimson’s struggle with the town, which had responded to the complaints of two neighbors, one of whom is a seasonal resident and has been quoted in the local paper as saying that boatbuilding is a “noxious use.” The issue is at a legal standoff at the moment, according to the Wiscasset Newspaper. Stimson feels that his activity is not in violation of the town’s zoning ordinance, and even if it were, it would be a grandfathered activity. He has hired an attorney to help him. In the meantime, the shop is closed and work has stopped on a schooner under construction. It is now up to the lawyers to parse the words of the ordinance, which seems to be the way of the times. Speaking of lawyers and lobsters I was doing a little research in the Ellsworth American on the final numbers of the 2012 lobster glut and ran across an interesting editorial. Lobsters weren’t the only creature in oversupply in 2012; there was a nationwide glut of new attorneys as well. In broad terms the U.S. economy provides about 22,000 new jobs for lawyers annually; I believe that includes the openings created by death, retirement, or incarceration. America’s law schools produce twice that number. Maybe momma should let her babies grow up to be cowboys after all. Back to the other glut. As expected, Maine lobstermen landed more lobster last year than ever before, 123 million pounds, a 17% increase over the 2011 record of 105 million pounds. The value, however, dropped by about 1%. Many lobsters died on the docks, Canadian processors couldn’t take them all, and Canadian fishermen physically blocked some shipments. Some Maine lobstermen flirted with antitrust violations by trying to organize a coordinated tie-up to raise the price. The chief of Maine’s Department of Marine Resources (DMR), Pat Kelliher, had an interesting course to navigate; usually his problems are overfishing and under supply. At least you can eat the problem in this case. Bad news roundup Several themes we follow on the porch are in a down cycle, although we are not sure when there will be an up cycle. Our reader will remember we like to shill for the Maine shrimp, Pandalus borealis. This season’s quota is a fraction of the catch of just a few years ago. Historically this has been a fishery with great fluctuation; this year’s season will be short. Warmer Gulf of Maine waters, which also had much to do with the glut of shedders early in the lobster season last year, are seen to be a big part of the problem. The Gulf is at the southern end of the cold-water shrimp’s habitat, and it may be getting too warm. Another related topic is our climate-change barometer, the extent of sea ice in the Arctic. There was a continuation of a downward trend in 2012. A compelling graphic from the National Snow and Ice Data Center website, reproduced below, speaks for itself. The scallop season got off to a great start, but the DMR acted to curtail the season in several zones, which had been closed until this year to allow rebuilding. Fishing pressure was intense, and the target percentage of the biomass to be caught was quickly reached. Around every silver lining there seems to be a dark cloud, at least in the fishing business.
All illustrations by Ted Walsh
Roll tide The Bay of Fundy and the amplifying effect of its shape on the tides have long fascinated us here on the porch, as it has spawned many porch conversations along our coast. An article by Leslie Bowman in the Working Waterfront newspaper caught our interest lately. In it she reported on a paper by Dr. David Greenberg of Fisheries and Oceans Canada at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Nova Scotia. Titled “Climate Change, Mean Sea Level and High Tides in the Bay of Fundy,” it lays out the science that suggests there could be an increasing tidal range in the bay, whether there is climate change involved or not. There is evidence that the amplitude of the bay’s tides has varied sharply over recent geological time. Changes in amplitude can affect the environment and habitability of the bay, altering current velocities and biodiversity, thus changing where we can live and work. The scientific facts cited were interesting to those of us on the porch, but the article introduced another element that was good for another evening of prattle. Dr. Greenberg cited oral tradition from the Micmacs about the inundation of the Minas Basin, the finger of the Bay of Fundy south and east of Cape Split, 3,400 years ago. He referred to the record of these tales in “The Legends of Glooscap,” which sent us to the bookshelves of cyberspace. Who was Glooscap? All I will tell you is that when he slept, his bed was Nova Scotia and his pillow, Prince Edward Island. Keeping the lights on For many years, the Robinson Point lighthouse keeper’s cottage, the Keeper’s House on Isle au Haut, was operated as an inn. When it was closed and offered for sale recently, some worried that the property might be transformed by a new owner, and the nature of the property and its place in the community might be forever changed. The Keeper’s House, under longtime owners Jeff and Judi Burke, had become a well-known stop for travelers looking to experience island life as it was a century ago.
All illustrations by Ted Walsh
An Isle au Haut summer resident and friend of the Burkes, Marshall Chapman, has purchased the property and plans to reopen it as an inn. Mr. Chapman, a college professor from Kentucky, shares the Burkes’ interest in sharing the past with others. When the sale was consummated, Jamie O’Keefe, the listing agent with The Knowles Company, a Northeast Harbor real estate firm, sent out a press release that piqued the interest of several state news outlets, this magazine included. As were the Burkes, who are staying on as consultants, Mr. Chapman sounds like the perfect innkeeper, a “banjo-plucking host, full of stories and bubbling cheer,” according to Jeff Burke. There is currently no other inn on Isle au Haut, so the reopening of the Keeper’s House should provide a boost to tourism and economic activity in this small community. Sounds like a good solution all around. Conclusion Well, this is a big month on Capt. Pete’s calendar: the Maine Boatbuilders Show, the coming of spring, and the Equinox itself, making the days now longer than the nights, and the annual change-over to clear liquor. So keep an eye on your brown-liquor stocks; no need to carry over too much until September. It’s simply “bad form,” as my friend Samuel W. Johnson would say. All your friends who yachted south Must soon now swing their bows about And start the dreaded northward ride To colder water and swirling tide. Not so bad this journey though We start it toward a land of snow Melt-water spreading into bays Call men and fish on their ways. Soon we’ll sit on creaky rockers Freshly filled our liquor lockers The smells of summer wafting heady Feet up, binoculars at the ready.


Long-time MBH&H Contributing Editor Peter Bass is a freelance writer and raconteur who divides his time between porches in Maine and Virginia. Click here to read other articles by Peter Bass » To submit your comments... newsy tidbits, photos, illustrations, clippings, rants, and raves for possible use in this column, use the form below. Or mail to “View From the Porch,” P.O. Box 566, Rockland, ME 04841 or fax to 207-593-0026. Items may be edited for length and clarity; materials become the property of Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors, Inc.