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Voyage of a Captain from Down East
Frank Graham Jr.
August 22, 1966
He knew every treacherous trick of tide in the stormy waters between Maine and Grand Manan Island
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August 22, 1966

Voyage Of A Captain From Down East

He knew every treacherous trick of tide in the stormy waters between Maine and Grand Manan Island

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On a late-summer day, J. C. Strout of Milbridge, Me. set out aboard his cabin cruiser for the Canadian island of Grand Manan. Milbridge is an old shipbuilding town, today occupied chiefly with fishing and canning, lying nearly 200 miles beyond Portland along the coast; it is about 75 miles from there across the Gulf of Maine and Bay of Fundy to Grand Manan. The island's cliffs rise from the bay behind a treacherous embattlement of fogs, ledges and monstrous tides. A few Milbridge people own land on Grand Manan, but most of its residents have never been there. J. C., on the other hand, owns no island property, but he has loved Grand Manan and its surrounding waters since boyhood trips there with his father. When Milbridge itself lay in dense fog as dawn broke that day, he was not discouraged. He wanted to see his old island friends, and he had promised to take along a couple from Milbridge.

It was early afternoon before holes appeared in the fog and J. C. made up his mind to leave. Enough food for a couple of days, warm clothing and foul-weather gear were loaded aboard the Eugenia II at Milbridge's Smith Cove.

The man and his boat are familiar to everybody along that part of the coast. A descendant of Milbridge's first settlers after the Revolution, he is a commercial fisherman, machinist, carpenter, woodsman, hunters' guide, raconteur, land owner and village gadfly. As he approached the close of his first half-century he felt the time was at hand to fulfill an old dream. He had owned boats before, of course; he had been around them all his life. His dream had distinct bluff outlines, and it took the shape of the worthiest craft in eastern Maine.

The stuff of which J. C.'s dream was to be fashioned grew on his own land. He cut oaks for its frame, and pines and cedars for the rest. Then he trucked the lot, along with his own design for a 50-foot cabin cruiser, to shipbuilders in Black's Harbor, New Brunswick.

"I always wanted a 50-foot boat," he says. "One that would go anywhere, in any weather. I designed her to take a fearful pounding. Next I looked around for an engine. I bought a new 38-horse-power Caterpillar for $4,000, which was all I could afford. That was nine years ago, and they had heavy, slow-turning engines in those days. Even the Caterpillar salesman said he didn't think a 38-horsepower was big enough to push my boat. I designed her for economy though, and I knew this engine would do it."

J. C. has pushed the Eugenia II (it is named for his mother) for almost 2,500 hours through heavy seas Down East, and it has lived up to every standard of durability and economy. He believes that his Caterpillar will not need an overhaul until it has gone over 12,000 miles, which will probably be beyond the lifetime of both J. C. and his boat. It consumes, at a cruising speed of nine knots, only about two gallons of inexpensive diesel fuel an hour. "With the oil I put in, I figure this boat costs me 30� an hour to run, or less than $2.50 for an eight-hour trip. You couldn't run a 3-horsepower outboard on that kind of money."

At 2 o'clock in the afternoon the Eugenia II was brought to life by the old Caterpillar within her. J. C. nosed out of Smith Cove and swung southeast down Narraguagus Bay. The gentle head breeze barely rippled the dark-gray water. The islands all around us in the bay were invisible—their presence made known to us only by J. C.'s occasional comment about their history or ownership. At Flint Island Narrows he steered the Eugenia II on a northeasterly course, leaving Narraguagus Bay behind. Now he pulled a small black notebook from his hip pocket and looked over the notations he had made there on previous trips: times and courses from one buoy to another, scraps of information on the tides and their currents, observations not to be found on any chart.

"It's late now, and the tide has begun to ebb," he said. "We'll be fighting that devilish tide all the way to Grand Manan. I'm going to stay inshore and sneak up through the islands past Jonesport."

The picturesque route, past wooded promontories and fishing towns, was blotted out. But there was life in the fog and occasional glimpses of it for those aboard the Eugenia II. Sandpeeps darted past in small flocks, their endlessly turning little bodies that reflect light so vividly in the sun now nondescript in the fog. The round black head of a seal, its features almost simian, emerged from the water and returned our curious stare. Once J. C. cut the engine and went on deck, listening for the toll of a buoy he knew to be ahead of us. At length he nodded with satisfaction and returned to the pilot house, the fog a little less of a puzzle.

Soon we entered more open water. "We'll beat ourselves to death against this tide," he said. "It's coming to us about five, six knots." One does not have to be a seaman to be aware that the Bay of Fundy's tides are the most notorious in the world. At Grand Manan the tide drops over 30 feet twice a day; elsewhere in the bay the range is considerably greater.

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