In photos: Aboard ‘Scarlet’

Winding through Mussel Ridge Channel on a perfect September afternoon

Fri, 09/10/2021 - 4:15pm

Story Location:
Mussel Ridge Channel
St. George  Maine
United States

ST. GEORGE — Sometimes, life leads you around unexpected corners, and into boats of new friends. That was certainly the case in mid-July, when, laid up following knee surgery, I was sitting on the back deck in Rockport, watching the garden grow, and poking around Facebook.

A dash of colorful fabric caught my eye; it was a lovely blue Jane Derbyshire hand-dyed scarf and just one of the outstanding items for sale on the page dedicated to the annual Jackson Memorial Library art auction and raffle. 

Jackson Memorial Library is but one of so many Maine libraries that thrive in strong communities. But Jackson Memorial gets a synergistic boost with its strong directors, and corps of volunteers, all who care deeply about their local library. And what an exceptional auction they pulled together, made even more accessible by holding it online, as well as in person, over a foggy weekend.

That’s where I spontaneously caught up with them all. Not in any shape to hobble around an auction, but captivated by all the creative artwork produced by so many living on the St. George peninsula, I dove into the online listing, and started bidding from my perch in a padded lawn chair, one leg dutifully elevated and iced.

By the end, I had not only acquired that gorgeous silk scarf, but a handmade quilt, and.... an afternoon wine and cheese cruise around Mussel Ridge Channel with Connie and Tom Hammermeister, aboard their former working lobster boat, now day cruiser, Scarlet.

While I am life-long familiar with Penobscot Bay, especially East Penobscot Bay, the nooks and crannies around Spruce Head and Mussel Ridge are new territory. I’ve heard spots mentioned – Stallion Ledge, Hewett Island, Two Bush Ledge, but never slowly poked around the area. This would be a perfect chance to explore, and meet avid library supporters.

It takes genuine hospitality, generosity, not to mention gumption, to invite strangers aboard your boat for wine and cheese — but we were all in it together for the sake of books, and a community that adores its library.

It was Labor Day weekend when our schedules finally synchronized, and the afternoon couldn’t have been finer; not too hot, not too cool. The sun was lowering to the west when we climbed aboard Scarlet, off of a friend’s dock on Rackliff Island. The Hammermeisters keep Scarlet moored off of Spruce Head, but with the wind rolling out of the northwest, Skipper Tom Hammermeister chose wisely to board in the lee of Rackliff.

Scarlet is a story unto herself, originally from way Down East in Beals, and with the name Downhomer.

According to Virginia Aldridge, author of the book Maine Lobsterboats (published in 1998 by Down East Books), the vessel had been built by Clifford Alley, in 1971, for Philip Thompson, on Deer Isle.

Dinnie said, in her book, that she pulled out her old phone book and tracked down Thompson, who described the boat as painted Persian Red, and equipped with a 455 Oldsmobile engine.

“After lobstering Down East, the boat ended up in the Spruce Head area and is remembered by some locals,” said Tom Hammermeister. “It fell into disrepair and was bought by the captain of the research vessel for Jackson Labs.  He had a graduate of the Apprentice Shop (Nate Greeley) do a lot of work on the boat and it was repowered with a Ford Lehman diesel replacing the original Oldsmobile V-8.  I changed the name to Scarlet because Downhomer, although it is a Down East expression, I thought it sounded like the owner had a dog named Homer.”
 
The Hammermeisters bought the vessel in 2014 and have been using it as a picnic boat since then.
 
And it’s a fine picnic boat — wide and roomy, sturdy, and, in general, just pleasant to sit back and gaze at the islands ledges, and the rocks, which are tan and so different from those further up the bay.
 
The best aspect of an early September leisurely cruise is to see Maine’s summer life slowly shift toward an autumn peace, when the serious boaters are still out enjoying the wind and weather, but the churning of the high summer traffic has diminished. The Hammermeisters are longtime boaters, having graduated from sailboats and adventures around the Bahamas to a comfortable motor cruising pace.
 
The couple, married for 60 years and coming up on their anniversary, work seamlessly together on the boat, and the stories; well, we just barely scratched the surface.
 
Thanks to the Jackson Memorial Library for its annual auction, not only for building its endowment for future generations of readers, but for tossing strangers together out of the blue, and new friendships.
 
I’m hoping next summer the Hammermeisters will call me up, and say, “it’s a fine day to go out on the water for a picnic, and we know the best swimming spot on Mussel Ridge Channel. Get on down to Spruce Head!”
 
Reach Editorial Director Lynda Clancy at lyndaclancy@penbaypilot.com; 207-706-6657