Bonnie James and Jim Miller sailed their Newfoundland-registered Victoire yacht ‘Vagrant Sea’ from the Queen City Yacht Club in Toronto via the ICW to the Bahamas
Continuing on from the Gosling Islands
Sailors have a saying about making plans to meet someone on shore: “You can choose the time, or you can choose the place, but not both.” In full knowledge of what might follow, the boat’s owners, Frans and Mary, had accepted an invitation for Saturday night dinner at a friend’s house near Biddeford, Maine. Frans also succeeded in reserving the sole visitor’s mooring at the nearest yacht club.
Early Saturday mooring we slipped our mooring at the Gosling Islands and passed by Seal Island, home to hundreds of fat and smelly seals. Our course took us southwest in a stiff NW breeze, 15-25 knots with gusts 30-35. We flew down the coast doing 10 knots and more under full genoa, observing that few other boats were out there with us. Cape Elizabeth slipped by; now we had left the relative shelter of Casco Bay. We navigated the entrance into Biddeford Pool and Frans hailed the yacht club on VHF radio. They calmly notified him that, “Sorry, there is no mooring for you. The boat occupying ‘your’ mooring couldn’t leave because of the high winds. There’s nothing else available.”
Well, this was a fine state of affairs. To our knowledge, the next alternative was 25 miles away and the last thing we wanted to do was go back out in the ever-increasing blow. (Not only that, we didn’t want to miss dinner.) We jockeyed around in the confined space while Mary grabbed a cruising guide and her cell phone and started calling. In just a few minutes she was giving the thumbs-up signal. She resumed her role as navigator and directed us to the mouth of the Saco River, just out around the point. She had located a yacht club up the river that assured her they had space. All we had to do was follow the river inland for four miles.
Remedios has a 7-foot draft, so we had a few anxious moments at the entrance to the river when depths dropped to 10-12 feet. As we ventured upstream we found as much as 50 feet of water under our keel. Now that we were away from the open ocean, wind was no longer an issue and we were charmed by the novelty of a river cruise. The farther upriver we ventured, the more surprised people were to see us. Day trippers innocently fishing in small open boats were startled to glance up and find such a big boat bearing down on them. At long last, the end was in sight. We could see falling water ahead, not a natural waterfall, but a dam. We secured the boat fore and aft between two moorings.
There were more obstacles to overcome before dinner at a grand old seaside cottage, but not of the nautical sort, so that’s a story for another place. One unexpected surprise: our host was excited when he heard where Jim and I were from. He spent his early teens in St. John’s at Fort Pepperell Air Force Base where his father had been posted. He has very fond memories of those years and was glad to have the chance to reminisce.
Next day we explored the twin towns at the head of the river. Saco is the more gentile side, with graceful old churches, public buildings and spacious homes. Working-class Biddeford is home to massive industrial facilities. In the mid-1800s as many as 9000 women, men and children worked in the mills, mostly in the textile industry. Nowadays a couple of the factory buildings have been retrofitted as condominiums, retail businesses and restaurants, but most sit empty.
Not only did the river power the mills, Biddeford was also a construction site for the famous China Clippers. Back 150 years ago, 1200-ton vessels reaching almost 200 feet in length were launched here in the deep pool and began their sailing career with that 4-mile jaunt downriver. Bringing a 59-foot sailing yacht upstream under engine no longer seemed such a huge feat. Full disclosure requires us to admit that our departure from Saco was delayed unexpectedly.
We awoke Sunday morning to discover that the boat was surrounded almost entirely by sandbars. In our great relief to secure a mooring the previous afternoon we had not asked all the right questions. Yes, we could make it up river at the moment Mary had phoned because it was high tide. Eighteen hours later, when we might have wanted to move on, all the water had drained out and there was little option but to spend the day sightseeing until the river filled up again!
Fair winds and snug harbours,
Bonnie James – Vagrant Sea
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