We’re proud to announce the story winner of this year’s Tales of the Trail contest – MITA member James Li! We loved his beautiful tale of a tough little dinghy so much that we’re posting it here in its entirety, as well as publishing an abridged version in our Winter 2016 print newsletter. Thanks so much for your submission, James!
Check our Facebook page to see the winner of the photo contest, and stay tuned for another post later this week introducing our video winner. And now, without further ado:
STORY FOR A SMALL BOAT
by James Li
We’ve been long-time MITA members and for the past 15 years have had the unique opportunity to live year round on one of the smaller spruce-and-ledge islands in Muscongus Bay. We heat with the softwood we cut on island and use renewable energy to power our home.
Island living requires a lot of boat maintenance, particularly since we keep our boats in the water through the winter. Over the years, we’ve come to depend on a small hybrid rigid inflatable dinghy made by Walker Bay. Built from a virtually indestructible plastic polymer, the additional inflatable side tubes make it extremely stable and unsinkable. Because of these features, it serves as both our primary tender and safety boat.
The dinghy also is popular with local wildlife. Several winters ago, a local used it as a fishing base.
The Walker Bay was a spontaneous purchase in late fall many years ago. After experiencing a few close calls and one sinking incident with other skiffs, we found it on the season end sale rack outside the Rockland Hamilton Marine. It fit in the back of our pickup and came home with us that night. The dinghy proved its mettle the first winter it shared with us and continued to serve us through the years and winters that followed.
Then came the freeze up of February 2015. I had to go ashore for work. A combination of calm and cold caused a significant buildup of sea ice in Muscongus Bay. The ice blocked passage for the lobster boat so I left home in a small 17-foot outboard, threading a passage around the islands to Friendship Harbor. Given the conditions, I wore a dry suit and carried a kayak as a backup.
Within a few hours of making it to shore, the ice pack solidified and Friendship Harbor was rendered unusable to further boat traffic. Over the next month, the harbor ice remained solid enough for fishermen to walk out to their boats.
Combined with the cold calm air, nearly daily snowfall buried our home. Indeed, the woodpiles that we had stacked six feet high were buried under two feet of snow. To bring wood to the house required snowshoes, a sled, and a shovel.
Most importantly, sea ice made Muscongus Bay impassable for the next month. I was stuck on shore while my wife spent her days tending the fires, animals, and off-grid systems at home.
Sometime during the early morning hours of February 13 — our anniversary, no less — my wife called me at work to tell me that the large ice pack encasing the Walker Bay dinghy had broken up and was being pushed east in moderate winds. Despite her attempts to keep it clear, the dinghy had become completely icebound and the ice pack had torn it loose from its mooring line. She recorded its progress as it disappeared eastward, trapped in a large ice floe.
Here, our story diverges, for the tale is actually not about us but the Walker Bay dinghy.
(For interested readers, ten days after reporting the loss of the dinghy, my wife called to let me know our lobster boat had also been carried off her mooring by a second large ice pack. Not being able to bear the loss of another boat, she donned a dry suit, life vest, VHF radio, and head cam, and kayaked out in pursuit, rescuing it later that day. I made it home in March when the ice broke up.)
Over the next season, we searched Muscongus Bay for the lost dinghy and notified local harbormasters to keep an eye out. After months without news, we figured it had probably drifted into the Atlantic, permanently lost.
Then in August, we received a message from the Hog Island Audubon camp: “At the local MITA stewardship picnic earlier this week, there was discussion of July’s beach cleanup and they mentioned a dinghy washed up on Bar Island south of Louds this spring. It sounded like your type of dinghy and they said they would send photos of it. Apparently it was pretty beat up with a large hole.”
Eventually, we learned that Brian Marcaurelle, MITA’s program director, had rescued our Walker Bay from its intended landfill run and was planning on turning it into a backyard sandbox for his young son. Brian generously offered to bring it back to the midcoast when he next visited. The handoff happened in October and our worn unhappy dinghy returned home, where it went into our barn for winter repairs.
Several large holes in the hull lined the short keel where it had been repeatedly ground by Bar Island’s ledge and beach rocks. Over the winter, I cleaned, scraped, and prepped the hull for repair. I contacted Walker Bay and was encouraged to attempt hull repairs using a specific fast-setting plastic epoxy. The recommended repair product turned out to be a two-part urethane/isocyanate compound that sets up in 90 seconds and is manufactured by Fusor for automotive applications. I used fiberglass cloth mesh to reinforce the repair and added a metal rub strake to the bottom as well.
After the repairs, my wife and I rechristened the dinghy “Snow Star” and got her ready for relaunching.
Since she’s returned to the water, the Snow Star has proved worthy of her repairs. She’s lost her inflatable tubes but is just as nimble and agile as before.
Two months after her return to work, I brought her to Criehaven Island on the Tiny Barge. I was serving as navigator and mate on the 70-mile freight run. She served as our tender.
A heartfelt thank you goes to the Muscongus Bay MITA cleanup crew of 2015 as well as the MITA officers who lugged the Snow Star all over the state for us.
She’s our serious little dinghy.