National Geographic : 1985 Feb
HE MAY DAWN turned a bright orange spotlight on the rim of Casco Bay. It shone on what appeared, at first glance, to be a traditional Maine scene. Jeff Sawyer swung aboard the Island Romance at Cliff Island. He had piloted this boat and her sister ships through storms, snows, "blue dungeon" fogs, and those ter rors of summer-pleasure boaters. He had run his courses through twisting, rock bordered channels "in any combination of weather you care to choose." Another day's work was under way on the Maine coast, but Sawyer was no longer a skipper for Casco Bay Lines. He now worked in marine electronics for a ship chandlery. He was a passenger on his old ferryboat, a commuter. Nor was Sawyer's home, CliffIsland with its 90 year-round residents and one-room schoolhouse, truly remote. It is a part of Portland, Maine's largest city, an offshore neighborhood with municipal complaints about trash removal and rising taxes. If you look at it as theater, the Maine coast is a stage full of anachronisms. Scenes and props from the 19th and 20th centuries are jumbled together. The theme of this drama is people at work. The plot is simple. It car ries you along U. S. Route 1 from Kittery to Calais, going from up west to Down East and from the spillover of fringe megalopolis to blueberries, herring, and hard times except for the Indians. The action tends to wander in digressions down rivers and pen insulas, around coves and bays, and off shore among some 3,000 islands. The cast is tourists, summer people, transplants "from away," and natives. Each looks at the place in a different way. What do rocks mean to summer people and sun shine visitors who climb over them as waves splash and glitter? What do they mean to fishermen chugging along in fog who cannot see them at all? If you look seaward on a brilliant summer day, a mirage may appear: distant islands set inverted on the horizon's backdrop. An other illusion is casting yourself in a perma nent role: Why don't I live in this beautiful place? I could move here and find work, I guess, and.... Bill Cannell's boat shed is on the National Register of Historic Places. It slants down hill to Camden's harbor. Cannell builds and restores classic wooden boats (he used to build fiberglass surfboards in South Africa), hauling them up the slope with a gasoline engine installed in 1906. Many come by to look for work at Cannell's.