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Down the Road

Over the bounding seas on the Monhegan mailboat
By Milt Gross
Sep 30, 2012 - 12:13:47 AM

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Dolores and I became a part of living history recently.

Of course, we didn't know this at the time. At the time, we thought we were just taking a ride on the Monhegan mail boat, the Elizabeth Ann, ten miles out to sea to Monhegan Island.

Just like any tourist. Naturally, we're not just like any tourists.

We have lived in Maine for years, which, of course, doesn't make us Maineiacs, according to the legendary truth that the past five or six generations of your family had to have been born in Maine for you to "earn" that title.

Dolores hailed from New York State but has forgotten much about it, except that it seems a lot more crowded than Maine and far away. I hailed from Pennsylvania, after having been a childhood tourist on a Maine farm back in the late 1950s and 1960s.

While we're not Maineiacs, we're also not tourists.

We apparently became "part of living history" because that's how mailboat passengers are described in the mailboat brochure.

Monhegan Island is a dramatically rugged island with slab rock at the shoreline, as many other Maine islands also boast. Milt Gross photo.

As non-tourists, we had decided that for once we'd take a few days off and do something for ourselves. It was too hot this summer and too crowded at the public boat accesses to put our canoe in, so it is resting quietly in our back yard awaiting next summer -- when, of course, it won't be so hot or crowded.

A few weeks ago we decided to combine a couple of overnights at the Craignair Inn at Clark Island with an ocean boat ride. The inn was really comfortable as usual, with its free breakfasts -- real breakfasts, not the typical muffins and hard boiled eggs motels offer -- and nice, relaxing suppers. The suppers, of course, are billed as dinners, since the tourists who stay at the inn have no clue that dinner is the old Maineiacs noon meal, which had to be hefty if you worked on a farm or in the woods, and supper is the evening meal.

They call it dinner. We call it supper. We're right, because we live here and have lived here for many years -- and are not tourists who don't know the difference between dinner and supper.

The suppers are nice, extravagant by our definition with a variety of menu items, all of which are wonderfully -- well, extravagant. They're also very good. Dolores, of course, had something saladly. I had something sea foodish, in fact a combination of seafoodish selections buried in a bed of pasta with spinach and some other extravagant stuff mixed in with it.

Being not-quite Maineiacs, we kind of understand English and a smattering of Maineiac. But the names of the supper selections were in some other language, perhaps Inniac, I'm not sure.

Joanne, the innkeeper, even made our reservations for the Monhegan mail boat excursion,* and her doing it gave us free parking right on the dock. I have to say, proudly, that our nice, shiny Toyota Scion with around 1,000 miles under her American-made tires, looked pretty good alongside those expensive touristy cars and SUVs also parked on the dock. (Better than those more expensive rigs, she got 39.2 miles per gallon on this trip up and down hills and around sharp curves with stops for picture taking.)

Before leaving the dock, the Elizabeth Ann's captain, held up a lifejacket for us to see and even strapped it around himself. He explained that should we tip over -- maybe diesel-powered vessels don't tip over like our canoe doesn't because we're careful and cowardly about being in Maine's cold, cold water -- those life jackets would save our lives.

I wondered why you just wouldn't hold onto the vessel as we would our canoe in the event it ever tipped over. Probably some Coast Guard rule.

The trip out, sitting near those tourists who spent their time talking and bragging to each other about where their money had taken them during the year, was pleasant. (Had we sat farther from them, we would have sat in the ocean.) We were on the top deck, so we could enjoy the breeze and feel of the ocean as it rolled the mail boat along.

We did meet a "tourist" from Somesville and his wife. This "tourist" I remembered, because for years he has directed bus and car traffic at the Jordan Pond House in Acadia National Park. When I'd drive my Island Explorer bus there, I'd give him a kind of understand look -- his having to deal with all these tourist drivers -- and he'd give me an apologetic look, I'd have to tote them around the park.

We shared a bit of conversation and didn't see them again after we landed at the island. I never thought about that until this moment. Did they make it back safely? Did they fall into that cold ocean without their life jackets? Did they get lost on that mile-long island?

The dock area at Monhegan Island is a busy, though friendly and relaxing area at the foot of a long gravel road that heads steeply up to the rest of the island. Milt Gross photo.

On the way out to Monhegan, we were challenging the waves as they rolled under the bow and lifted and dropped us back into the water. Felt kind of exciting. On the way back to Port Clyde, the vessel's home port, we were moving with the waves, so they didn't lift us each time they rolled under the stern.

I wrote that paragraph so you'd understand that, as a non-sea-going non-Maineiac, I understand where the bow is and where the stern is.

The landing at Monhegan was smooth. The captain apparently has done it many, many times.

Any teenager who reads this -- the few, that is, who can actually read -- will love this next part. The captain made the Elizabeth Ann do "Uiess," those strange abrupt turns that teenagers love to do in their old pickups and jalopies. It amazed me that a vessel -- giant ship to my way of thinking -- can make such a sharp turn. And while it's in the ocean!

But it did, earning my admiration for the captain.

I wondered if he was "burning propeller."

We had, of course, followed the instructions of those familiar with the sea and had carried with us a couple of jackets and a flannel shirt, because it's supposed to be cold out there. As had happened last summer aboard a schooner from Camden, it wasn't cold out there, so carrying our warm duds just became a nuisance.

Which matters to this story, because it was hot and humid on the island. And we were carrying these warm duds. We also hadn't thought about a knapsack, because, well because we weren't going hiking. So there we were, hot, carrying heavy duds, and facing a steep uphill walk from the dock to the rest of the island.

We saw what appeared to be a general store and went inside and asked them if we could leave our two jackets and flannel shirt for two or three hours. They smiled and said that we couldn't. Two of them did. Dolores still bought a bottled water. I decided I couldn't be thirsty enough to buy anything, if we couldn't leave three items of clothing there for two or three hours. I know they couldn't do that for all tourists, but the "all tourists" part included only the ones that arrived on the same boat as we did -- perhaps 30.

We toted our duds and trudged up the long gravel hill in the heat and humidity. We saw a map box. We looked at it, and it told us maps were available in a store. It named the store, which didn't help us at all, because we had no idea where the store was located -- even though the entire island is only about a mile long. We also decided, without knowing, that the store would probably sell us the map.

We had downloaded the map for free, just hadn't thought to bring it.

All we wanted was to see where the nearest trail was. When we got home, we found we had been about a five-minute walk from the nearest trail.

But it was too hot to walk, so Dolores suggested going back to Port Clyde on the 12:30 p.m. mailboat rather than waiting for the 4:30 p.m. trip.

A member of the boat's crew was passing in a golf cart of some type, saw my walking stick, and offered us a ride back down the steep hill. The first nice experience on the island. Dolores opted to walk back down, but I rode the cart.

I explained to the driver that despite the walking stick, we still volunteer for the Maine Appalachian Trail Club.

"We just volunteer a lot slower than we used to," I concluded.

He smiled, possibly wondering if all tourists were nuts.

Two other crew members flanked the gangplank, which was about five or six feet wide with rails on both sides. They stood where we had to step from the gangplank down onto the boat, giving me the impression their job was to make sure the old duffer (29.5 years old, remember) didn't fall in. Why would I do that? That water looked wet -- and cold.

Back on the top deck, we thoroughly enjoyed the ride back to Port Clyde.

I loved the feel of the boat and sight of the wake aboard the mail boat to Monhegan Island. Milt Gross photo.

As he approached the Port Clyde dock, the captain did another of those U-turns. Boy, I was impressed. I was also impressed that he didn't smash into the dock, which would have greatly disturbed our little Scion's afternoon, as she was parked about 30 feet away on the dock.

Looking pretty good alongside those expensive touristy cars and SUVs also parked on the dock.

We headed back to the Craignair Inn, completely relaxed from the boat ride, and enjoyed a great supper of something described in that other language that was not plain Maineiac.

We highly recommend the Monhegan Island mail boat and the inn, no matter that supper is called dinner and in some other language that was not plain Maineiac.

The island itself? Maybe, if you don't bring extra clothes you have to carry and if you bring your own map that you got for free by downloading it. Also, maybe, if you hide your money and stay out of the stores, which we didn't enter but were sure would charge way too high for anything -- especially trail maps that you could have downloaded for free on your own computer.

Okay, so that's another way you can tell we're not tourists. We see how little we can spend rather than how much.

But we could be called tourists, perhaps, if having fun is a criteria for being a tourist.

We had a seagoing ball.

* The Monhegan Boat Line also offers three other cruises on a smaller boat, the Laura B, an older "heavy-duty work boat" that began her service in 1943 and for the past 50 years has been carrying passengers to Monhegan Island and on other cruises, a puffin/nature cruise, a lighthouse cruise, and a sunset puffin/nature cruise. These three cruises vary their schedules during various parts of the summer, beginning June 11 and running through September 15, according to the company's brochure. Charges for the three cruises are $30 for an adult and $10 per child plus a $5 parking fee. (Fares for the Monhegan Island trip are $32 round-trip for adults and $18 for kids two to 12 years old.) No vehicles, except a couple of old unlicensed pickups, cars, and those golf-cart-looking vehicles are on the island. No other vehicles are allowed on the island. You can find the Monhegan Boat Line at, e-mail them at, or do it the old-fashioned way by phoning 207-372-8848. Sorry, they do not accept messages in floating bottles.

Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2012

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