Hurricane Island in the Outward Bound years — so many stories

Posted:  Friday, November 17, 2017 - 8:30pm

OWLS HEAD – Author Susan St. John has been an instructor for Outward Bound for 30 years. Afrter meeting and knowing so many people associated with Hurricane Island she decided nine years ago to invite 100 of them to tell their stories. Her book, To Sail Beyond the Sunset, is a compilation of those stories, including her own.

Three hundred pages, 400 photos and almost a decade later her book is set to be released Saturday, November 18, at the Apprenticeshop, 655 Main Street, in Rockland at 5 p.m. The book is about Hurricane Island, the Outward Bound years and copies will be available for purchase.

"We had a lot of wonderful stories and everybody was passing these stories around," said St. John. "It was important to find out what the stories really were and not just what they were remembered as being."

St. John said the only way was to ask.

"We put together a gathering for my late husband's birthday in 2008," she said. "It was about 100 Outward Bound people at the Camden Snow Bowl. We picked 13 of them and said ‘Chris, I want you to tell this story,’ and ‘Peter, we want you to tell that story,’ and we filmed it."

St. John said that grew to involve 100 people.

"It's a collection of stories," she said. "I interviewed a number of people and a couple from Brunswick interviewed a number of people and some wrote their own stories. I had other things to do and last Christmas this was still setting on the shelf. I said, ‘the only way to finish something is to finish it.’"

St. John said she was fortunate to have all the stories and have all the pictures, but then to meet up with Philip Conkling, Page Parker and Bridgette Levitt, who assembled the book

The launch at the Apprenticeship, in Rockland, on Saturday is for those who have preordered the book. The book will be in book stores beginning Monday. The price is $40.

The roots

In 1964, the year Outward Bound settled on Hurricane Island, St. John said she saw a Reader's Digest story about it and thought what fun it would be, “but I didn't question it because I knew, back then, it was for boys.

"I had graduated from architectural school at Yale and went sailing with a family. We wound up in Mexico and tied up beside another boat," she said. "I started chatting with the fellow on the other boat and said I was from Maine. It turned out, he was the head of the waterfront, Roger Wayne, for Outward Bound on Hurricane Island."

St. John said Wayne told her to apply, that they were looking for women with sea experience.

"I've always been interested in being outside and with groups," she said. "It took me two more years to get there, but I started in 1973. As instructors, we all worked with students for the entire 26 days."

St. John said she taught other courses with her late husband on land for Vietnam veterans, but that 90 percent of her work was on the pulling boats.

"One of the most interesting things is not what you teach, but whom you teach," she said. "And I wouldn't even say it's teaching, but working with. I'm not teaching them something even though they are learning it. There is a difference working with 16-year-old boys and over-30 women or executives, even though you do the same things."

St. John said the vocabulary, conversations and analogies are all different. 

In 1964, the island was a beautiful place, despite the vestiges of the quarrying industry of the late 1800s and into the 1900s. The island lay quiet for 50 years and then Outward Bound arrived and began laying new buildings on top of some the old foundations.

One of Susan's own stories from the book as told by her; her except is entitled, "Cut Your Hair," from 1973.

"In 1971 I had recently graduated from the Yale School of Architecture. In June of 1973, Rafe Parker welcomed me at the Valley Cove pier on Hurricane and invited me up to his cabin for tea with Kate and the children. I thought hmm, how civilized. After tea, I joined 13 others aboard the 50-foot racing sloop La Penthe that was recently given to the school for a 48-hour training sail in dense fog. It wasn't difficult, a compass course and at least I wasn't responsible for navigating in the fog. In time, there would be other tests. On that staff training I alternately slept, took my turn at the wheel and lay with my head over the side throwing up. After two days, we hadn't seen a thing as we headed back into Hurricane Sound. To reach Valley Cove without being dashed on the rocks we needed to turn west after the ledge, but before the northern spur of Hurricane. I heard a tractor, the only other sound then the gulls and one experienced instructor asked another – ‘at this time of day would the tractor be at Valley Cove or by the main pier?’ – They decided on Valley Cove. When we were abeam of the sound of the tractor like a siren calling us in, we turned hard to port, saw Valley Cove looming out of the fog, saw the tractor piling up granite block and we were home. Several weeks later on solo break I visited my mother. ‘How's it going,’ she asked.

"I love it, but nobody likes me.

"Would you like to know what to do?


"Cut your hair.

“In logistics, at the boathouse, Ann Peyton cut off my pre-Raphael like tresses. Hair which took days to dry. I give my mother credit for knowing that the hair made a statement that had nothing to do with who I was or who I wanted to be at Outward Bound."

St. John said she keeps in touch with a lot of people. She said the book has been wonderful about connecting a lot of people who have known each other in different ways. Students to, she said, who I have kept in touch with since 1973.

The thing about Outward Bound, St. John said, is that it involves you in every way whether you like it or not.

"It's physical, it's emotional; you need to use your head, and it's a spiritually enlivening situation," she said. "We are involved in all those parts of ourselves and we never forget it. You might not always remember the best parts of your life, but we sure do remember the tough times. And that's when we learn."

"What I say is tell your stories and listen to each others stories," she said.

Enjoy the photo gallery of color pictures from the book.