from Sturge: A Memoir by Sanford Phippen
Red and Silver
July 26, 2003
Yesterday was the final race of the Southwest Harbor Fleet’s July series. I skippered a beautiful 26-foot sloop in the Luders class—which was revived last summer after a hiatus of some 30 years. These exquisite, sleek racing boats are especially pleasing to the eye. The Mount Desert fleet traces its origins back to 1946 when most of the original Luders were purchased new for island summer residents. At one time the two fleets, Bar Harbor and Northeast Harbor, numbered some 36 boats. When competition ceased about 1973, a number of Luders were sold away, though perhaps a dozen remained in local waters. Several of the boats have continued under the ownership of their original families and, almost without exception, most have been professionally maintained in extraordinarily fine condition. Over this winter, a number of remaining boats were refurbished; and others snatched from very distant places (i.e., two from Mississippi).
Last Friday, the owner of the boat I race—a wonderful woman—invited an old friend who was a major racing skipper in two of America’s Cup efforts and who had won a bronze medal in the Olympics; to skipper her boat—which had been purchased over the winter from the Greenwich, CT Luders fleet. Because of an accumulation of postponed races (due to foul weather), three races were sailed that day. In the series, I managed a first and a second (I was leading when I hit a marker buoy and had to pay a penalty) and he a first and two seconds. No other Luders did this well and we won the series.
This was due in part to our efficient crew which consisted of the owner and a handsome local man, a welder and former professional boatman (for Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison, the U.S. Naval Historian); Malcolm Forbes, (the late business magnate), etc. At the end of today’s race, at our mooring, his handsome son, perhaps 20, tanned and shirtless, sped up in his Boston Whaler and ferried us to our dock. For the past several years he has worked as a fisherman on Isle au Haut, but now will attend college in Portland. His father gently chided him for not landing on our boat’s starboard side—according to yachting etiquette the owner and guests are always debarked from the starboard side of a boat. We are a rather spiffy crew as our host provided us with red crew shirts with the name of our boat embroidered on the left front. From time to time I crew for Ms. Rockefeller aboard her racing boat (in another class on other days)—there are no coordinated tee shirts there, only custom caps of the boat’s colors with the name of the boat emblazoned on the front. It seemed indiscreet to wear this hat on another’s boat. And besides, the bold red shirts clashed with the muted lavender and green pastel of the hat. There are standards!
The Southwest Harbor Fleet sponsors four racing classes: two divisions of Bullseye (junior and senior) and something called a Tempest. Races are followed at 4 by teas at members’ homes. Today’s tea was held at the home of two Hinckley women (of the famous Hinckley Boat Company) who summer on a quiet side street in a delightful old 19th century cottage.
On the other side of their wooded street were several winding driveways leading to waterfront properties. These teas, which are well attended, are favored largely by older members of the club. The format is the same: a dining room table laden with tiny tea sandwiches, simple cookies or cakes and someone at the further end presiding over the tea pot. There is also lemonade. It is all quite genteel and fun and there is much lively conversation. After an interim of mixing, the Commodore urged us to the porch and adjacent shaded lawn for the weekly announcements and race results. We were, he confirmed, the winners of both the day’s race and the July series. Later, at next week’s tea, we will be presented with a silver bowl. The name of our boat will be engraved on the cup, and it will be returned next summer to be awarded to that season’s winner. It was purchased over the winter by the Luders’ fleet captain, a gay man, who could not race this day because of a leg operation several days ago in Boston. This local Luders fleet is perhaps unique in that both the class captain and the secretary (me) are gay. Of course, this is irrelevant—though probably known—to other club members. Another Luders member, a Gaynet subscriber, is also gay. Alas, he has failed to enter his boat in any of our races this season.
The owner of the Luders 1 boat owns a relatively new, very nice, waterfront house—complete with private dock and especially lovely gardens. She fronts a panorama of Southwest Harbor with the full range of Mount Desert mountains rising blue and dark immediately beyond. Greenings Island, punctuated with a small white c1800 cape is slightly to the right. It is a much painted and photographed view. After each race, our crew assembles on our host’s front porch and indulges in a bit of Mt. Gay rum before traipsing off to the club tea. We muse and sip and delight with our good fortune. We also watch the comings and goings about the harbor. A small Coast Guard station lies directly on the other side. Yesterday, after tea we returned for a boiled lobster dinner, with our host’s house guests—who consisted of a lesbian niece, her partner and their new tiny son. It was wonderful and the latter proved a diverting presence. The niece leaves today (she works at Harvard) and her sister, also a lesbian and a mother of two, arrives for the weekend. This is a very gay-friendly household!
As I left after dinner (which ended with locally made ginger ice cream and coffee), I turned on my car radio. Beethoven’s great and glorious 7thSymphony was just beginning, and it accompanied me right to my town line—by which time I was so euphoric I wonder now how I managed to stay on course. But it was hard, too, arriving home to a dark and silent house. My mother died unexpectedly two weeks ago. Always, no matter how late I returned, she had been there to greet me, make hot cocoa, and ask how my day went. Now, I sit alone in the dark. Missing my mom. Wanting her to be there, wanting to share the highlights of the day. The silence is deafening and now, quiet and immobile, I sit for half an hour staring out at the faint twinkle of Bar Harbor’s lights across Frenchman’s Bay. Slowly, calmed and sad, I leave for my bedroom. Strangely, I have developed an odd little habit since her death—biding her good night as I pass her room.
But it was a nice day. Mother would have been pleased for me. And I am appreciative for all that happened—even my sadness at the end.
Sturge: A Memoir is a compendium of writings, reminisces, articles, and photographs written by or relating to Sturgis Haskins, the Maine State sailing champ and instructor who died in September 2012. Haskins was also a photographer and pioneer in gay rights. In 1974 he co-founded co-founded the Wilde Stein Club at the University of Maine, which received national attention in Newsweek, the Washington Post, and across the country. “Hiding our Heroes” was an op-ed submission to Ellsworth American.
Sanford Phippen, editor, was born in White Plains, NY and raised in Hancock, Maine where he was educated in the local schools, graduating from Sumner Memorial High School in 1960. He earned his B.A. in English from the University of Maine and his M.A. in English Education from Syracuse University. An English teacher for 50 years at both the high school and college levels, he has received the Distinguished Teacher Award from Bowdoin College and Teacher of the Year from Orono High School. He was also a finalist in the Maine Teacher of the Year program in 2004. As a writer he has published one novel, Kitchen Boy, and two books of short stories: The Police Know Everything and People Trying To Be Good. He is also the editor of The Best Maine Stories and High Clouds Soaring, Storms Driving Low: The Letters of Ruth Moore, as well as The Sun Never Sets on Hancock Point. He served on the Maine Humanities Council (l984-1990) and the Maine Arts Commission (l990-l994).
For information on ordering Sturge: A Memoir contact Sanford Phippen at email@example.com.