5PM…stepping slowly…almost limping… across the threshold of home….the trees, eagerly scanned at dawn for wind, now rest quietly…..inside, the long rituals of refreshment, even rehabilitation, begin….this red and raw face, blasted by 7 hours of wind….these elbows and shoulders, once adrenalin-stoked, abruptly pulling miles of sheet…these eyes tired from squinting in the half-dome of intense sunlight for tiny objects in the distance….these ears deadened by the screech of runners turning, the bashing over hardened snow scabs, and yet assuaged too by the comforting thump of battens as they unambiguously cross the midline, in a new tack or jibe….feet and hands, hour after hour, on the limit of painful cold….and, in sum, the whole body bashed by the many sharp edges of iceboating.
gradually these insults will respond to the long hot shower, the starchy dinner–usually carefully rationed, but now eagerly scarfed down–and especially snuggling in bed under the quilt with a soft, warm body back to back, in the cozy yellow light of reading a treasured book….slowly every sense, so long overstimulated, will bask in the joy of ‘un-stimulation’….of dark, quiet, unworried, and warm containment….
every ice community probably has one special lake or pond, which more than any other has….with the layering of friendships and adventures… become ‘holy ground’….Damariscotta has become that for me….when Bill and I prospected it two days ago, even seeing the 40% scabbing of an otherwise beautiful surface, we hadn’t a second thought….this deepest of romances….this always open-ended adventure….was impossible to resist. Damariscotta offers the thrill of ‘big ice’ with a northern plate so big that other boats become unrecognizable specs on the horizon… but even more it offers the long, only-partly-known succession of bays, islands, and riverine narrowness of exploring.
1PM….after blasting around with buddies on the great broads, trying to zagg thru the scabs while match-racing, and having a light lunch; Bill and I tried to rouse interest in cruising South….we got no takers, perhaps because with the wind lightening up, this was the dumbest idea in the world. The straight line distance away would be 10 miles!
if the wind pooched, pushing an iceboat back to the pits, could take three hours, probably navigating by moonlight without food, our hand and foot warmers exhausted…..this is drawing cards for an inside straight….we thought Scott Woodman was sailing with us, but soon discovered we were alone, as usual. what made it riskier was the SW wind which, if it held, made getting there ideal. Unlike soft-water sailing, nothing beats a headwind for exploring…..You can easily bleed speed if there’s too much, and you have the best chance of “winding her up” if there’s too little….so, turn by turn, with nagging doubts pushed to the back, we kept going ever South.
The pressure ridges we’re so used to scouting carefully, were absent in their usual places. finally we were in the river itself, remembering fondly the landmarks, the past adventures, and secretly hoping something would justify turning around. But no….we finally came to the open water which always stops us. I was excited to see a hard section beside the open water….perhaps today, for the first time, we could sail the last 1.5 miles to Darmiscotta Mills…but as we considered prospecting the lead, Bill stepped in a slush pit near shore….and, with his wet foot, we were instantly brought to the grim reality of how far we were from support: 10 long, possibly-windless miles! So we began pushing the boats north in the initial calm bays…..praying, praying for wind.
and, as southerly fetch increased, a light tail-wind appeared, and Bill shot off in the distance….tarnation!….only occasionally could i get Icywood going, and as i became more and more frustrated, I forgot how to sail downwind. I made the beginner’s mistake of not remembering the fundamental priority: to hell with the destination; wind the boat up! Luckily, Bill saw my mistake, and came back and demonstrated downwind sailing, and I stayed right on his tail, until I remembered the drill.
Finally, at 3PM, back with relief in the broads, in the beautiful, yellow, almost-setting sun we rejoined Bill Bunting, and did some final racing. I could see that Bunting, with his spiffy new sail, was no longer in my league….But I was only half-there. I was a pilgrim….returned from the Holy City….these stay-at-homes!… how could they know the wonders I had seen?