On my way to shore, I paddled past Ardelle, and as I gazed at her lines, I heard a voice. I looked up. Harold was sitting at the stern. I had no idea who he was, or that he was the builder and captain of the boat he was sitting on. “Interesting boat,” he said to me, which should have been my words, not his. (My dinghy drew a lot of attention. It was a 12-foot inflatable whitewater canoe, made by an outfit called Soar.)
After tying up, I walked out on the pier and looked Ardelle over more closely. Harold was alone aboard. He seemed too young to have had built the schooner, let alone a handful of them.
“You going sailing?” he asked me.
I wasn’t sure how to respond. “Headed south in a couple of days,” I said. “No, you sailing today?” I shook my head and told him I was just checking out the town.
“We’re leaving in 15 minutes if you decide you want to go sailing.”
So there it was. Fifteen minutes later, I was aboard Ardelle with a handful of charter guests. The wind was blowing 15 to 20 and gusting over that. Harold tacked the schooner around the outer harbor for a couple of hours, and I couldn’t help but smile to hear his stories of boatbuilding and sailing while feeling the sturdy grace of the pinky boat.
By the time we were tied up, the wind had strengthened, and the harbormaster offered me a ride to Jade if I didn’t want to face the wind and chop in my little canoe. I told him I was fine, and I was, but Jade was not. Someone had anchored so close to me that it was a miracle our boats hadn’t yet collided; I could have jumped aboard the other boat on an off tack.
It was getting dark, and blowing harder every minute. Gusting over 25 and supposed to hit 30 out of the southwest (not a good direction for Gloucester). I started Jade’s engine and did a mad dance between throttling forward and racing to the foredeck to hand-crank the anchor. I’d get a couple of fathoms with each round trip before the wind would jerk the chain rode tight. All the while I had to avoid the big boat that’d anchored beside me; as per the manual on bad anchoring (along with loud generators, barking dogs…), my new neighbors had gone ashore for dinner.
I finally got the anchor up. Sweat poured from me, and the muddy anchor dangled from the bow roller as I scrambled for the tiller, with Jade tacking side to the wind through the crowded anchorage. I got her straightened out and motored clear, looking to drop the hook somewhere, but by then it was dark, and the little anchorage was tight and the wind was up.
I eyed the city moorings. Paying for moorings wasn’t in the budget, but neither was cracking up my boat. I wasn’t opposed to poaching a mooring, but I hailed the harbormaster and told him the situation. In no time, he was out in his tender, leading me farther into the harbor, where he pointed out a mooring I could use free of charge. I grabbed the mooring and got it over the bit before the wind overpowered me, and the harbormaster waved and disappeared into the dark.
The next day, Benjamin and I took his loaner truck to nearby Essex for an open house at the Shipbuilding Museum, which was adjacent to Harold’s home, sawmill and boat shop. A tidal creek lined with wooden boats hanging on scant docks separated Harold’s place from the museum, but the two were clearly intertwined, and the entire scene made me realize that, in some pockets of the world, the age of wooden-boat building is still thriving.
I spent a few more days in Gloucester, working on my boat and walking the town and waterfront, then Benjamin and I buddy-boated across the western edge of Stellwagen Bank—the summer feeding grounds of the endangered right whale—to Provincetown. The following morning, we shot down through the Cape Cod Canal.
Benjamin’s one of those true sailors—a guy with everything he owns aboard his one small boat, happier and more at ease at sea than on dry land. I learned more from sailing beside him and asking questions over the radio than I had in a summer full of sailing around Maine solo. He corrected my whisker-pole use and sail trim so well that the athletic Jade quickly left him on the horizon. His Allied Seawind was no doubt an offshore-cruising vessel but didn’t have the legs of the Tartan. When I’d first anchored in Gloucester, I’d been amazed that Benjamin had settled there instead of gunning for Maine, but by the time I left, I understood; part of me wanted to stay in Gloucester as well, and I vowed to return. It was my kind of town. I wanted to go back to Short & Main for its dollaroyster happy hour, then walk the harbor, read about ancient sea serpents, and watch the workings of the massive fishing fleet. I wanted to go back to Virgilio’s Bakery to get a sandwich and hear the old guys chatting in Italian on the street corner. And I wanted to hang around on the historic docks near Ardelle and listen to Harold’s stories about wooden boats and sails.