First some deep background: the term “death cruise” was coined during the 1980s to describe a series of outings under sail enjoyed by the editorial staff of Offshore, a now defunct New England boating magazine. Said staff at the time consisted of three people: myself (managing editor), Michael Csenger (assistant editor), and Marc Thibodeau (proofreader). The first cruise was actually a delivery, undertaken for an advertiser, and involved a very unreliable engine (dirty fuel, mostly), hence the dark moniker. The last took place in May 1990. I remember I blew off my law school graduation to attend. (Obviously, by then some of us weren’t working for Offshore anymore.)
The three of us set out from Belfast, Maine, in a chartered 30-something-foot sloop (sorry, I can’t remember what make) and roamed around Penobscot Bay for a week. Our ultimate goal was to go all the way out to Matinicus Rock, some 15 miles offshore, to hopefully see a puffin. We did actually get out to the rock and sailed around it, and we did actually see one puffin, and generally had a fabulous time.
For Michael (see photo up top, on the left) it proved a life-altering experience. He had come from Chicago to join us, and the night before leaving engaged in some poignant farewell bone-dancing with his girlfriend. This resulted in the conception of his first child, a daughter, Alexis. Michael married Alexis’s mother and some years later (in 1997, the night before Michael flew out to the Cape Verde Islands to join me for a transatlantic passage to Antigua!) they conceived a second child, a son, who–in recognition of Alexis’s conception, etc.–they named Matinicus.
Flash-forward a few decades and Matinicus (see photo up top, on the right) is now a full-grown college student. Over the years he and his dad have had various watery adventures together, mostly killing fish in Florida. Earlier this year, his dad and I decided he also needed to have at least one watery adventure in Maine, so he could see the rock he was named after. And so the Deth Cruz (with updated rap spelling) was reborn.
We actually pulled out all the stops on this one. For we not only visited Matinicus Rock and Matinicus Island during our week afloat together, we also visited the other four principal offshore islands on the Maine coast: Seguin, Damariscove, Monhegan, and Metinic. Conditions were very nearly ideal. We had enough wind to sail most everywhere we went, save for half of one day spent motoring. We had bright sun and clear skies, save for one mild rain squall to keep us honest. And at night things were calm enough that we could lie safely in the sometimes tenuous harbors of the islands we visited.
First stop, after a long morning provisioning the boat in Portland, was Will’s Gut, at the north end of Bailey’s Island. Marc (left) and Michael seen here in the cockpit checking connectivity prior to libating
Wing-and-wing approach to Monhegan Island the following afternoon
Monhegan shore as seen from the mooring we picked up in the early evening. Anchoring here is not an option. Fortunately we found a mooring for rent belonging to a local B&B, appropriately named Shining Sails. When we went ashore in the morning to pay the bill ($30) I had a nice conversation with the proprietor, John Murdock, about the difference between the islands of Monhegan and Matinicus. “We have tourists,” he noted. “They have an airport.”
Michael checks out the wreck of the tugboat D.T. Sheridan during our morning stroll
Later that same morning we departed Monhegan and took off for Matinicus Rock, some 20 miles due east, arriving in the mid-afternoon
Same rock and lighthouse as seen during the last Death Cruise in 1990, with your humble narrator at the wheel. Matinicus Rock is the southernmost nesting site for Atlantic puffins
Our sail-by track, courtesy of Navionics. In 1990, cruising by in May, we saw but one puffin. This time, at our closest point of approach at the rock’s northeast corner we saw dozens of puffins. Conclusion: if you’re coming here to see puffins, July is better
Michael on the wheel as we sail south away from the rock up toward Matinicus Island
In the harbor on Matinicus Island. You see that wharf behind the lobster boat on the left???
Here we are rowing away from it in 1990. Marc somehow found a newspaper on shore so he could catch up with the Red Sox news
The moment we all came for: Matinicus ashore on Matinicus, seen here standing outside the post office to prove it. He went around introducing himself to everyone he met as Matinicus and was well received
This is what passes for the emergency room on Matinicus. The “Please Note” sign (hopefully you can read it), basically explains that you are screwed if you actually need emergency medical treatment. There are 74 year-round residents and civilization is a 20-mile boat ride (or air taxi ride) away
We hauled Matinicus up the mast so he could get a better view of things… and take photos, of course
View from on high after Marc and I hauled Michael up the mast in 1990
Next stop Metinic Island, a short 10-mile sail to the west. Anchoring is the only real option here, and it is a bit tenuous. We dragged anchor through a thick forest of weed and kelp on our first attempt (that little kink you see in the track), then got a bite when we moved further up into shallower water closer to Hog Island. The bottom here, we were told, is hard sand
The anchorage feels exposed and is exposed. You don’t want to be here in strong conditions, or in a northerly breeze. The island is privately owned by lobstering families that maintain bases here during the summer. Visitors are welcome to roam around, but you should ask permission first. No one was here when we first arrived, but a lobster boat with a couple aboard pulling traps showed up the next morning. We dinghied out for a chat, which they appreciated, and they graciously invited us to go ashore for a walk
The true owners of the island are the feral sheep (more than 100 of them) who have been living here for more than 150 years
From Metinic we moved on to Tenants Harbor, just five miles to the northwest on the mainland, where we spent one night, took showers, visited a grocery store (which fortunately sold rum), and ate in a restaurant. The following day we took a long sail west, about 25 miles, to Damariscove Island. Marc by now was in the habit of taking an afternoon nap on the aft deck while underway. To me this posture looks uncomfortable, but he pronounced it ideal
Tied off between two mooring balls at Damariscove. I’ve been visiting this place since I was a boy and had never seen so many moorings here before. Between the mooring balls and the lobster pots there seemed to be little or no room to anchor. It is a very narrow harbor and the moorings were well offset to one side or the other. I felt we needed to be secured bow and stern to keep from bashing into the rocks (not visible here) that were close aboard to port. It is a small place for a big boat, though this is belied by the historical fact that Damariscove was an important seasonal fishing camp back in the 17th century, with as many as 30 vessels moored here at a time
Wild flowers on Damariscove
Deth Cruzers on Damariscove
After a peaceful night at Damariscove we headed to Popham Beach, where I hoped to hook up with more old friends, who unfortunately were AWOL. Here I snapped a shot of Lunacy on a mooring from atop Fort Popham
Matinicus captures a glorious Popham sunset on his phone
Next morning we headed just three miles offshore to Seguin Island. A sketchy destination with a tiny cove and only a handful of moorings and, again, no chance at anchoring. Last time I was here the mooring I was on dragged and I banged up my rudder on the rocks. This time we were fortunate and snagged the biggest mooring, which had just been vacated as we pulled up
The lighthouse at the top of the island
To a geologist this must seem meaningful
We did not spend the night at Seguin, but instead plunged west into Casco Bay, where we spent the last night of the cruise dining ashore at the fabulous Chebeague Island Inn. Here we see Marc looking forward to the prospect while en route
A final blast from the past! The original threesome way back when