Haut Happiness

I apologize for the long absence in posting (I hope I’ve been missed!). It’s been a busy time aboard Hazel James on our way south as we visit historical and vibrant New England towns and cities, interleaved with days of challenging upwind sails into the the prevailing southwesterly winds. In addition, I’m trying to squeeze in quiet times to refine the Heeling is Healing manuscript. The good news is that we’re making progress on all fronts.

As I think through our upcoming route southward, favorable and unfavorable winds and weather, dodging tropical storms, our next ports of call, Hazel’s health, and our provisions—my mind keeps drifting back to one perfect day of solitude and hiking that I experienced on Isle au Haut in the Penobscot Bay area of Maine (“Haut” pronounced “Ho”).

The day was so perfect that when I returned to Hazel in the late afternoon, the first thing I did was to pull my father’s book, The Poetry of Robert Frost, off the saloon shelf where it’s nestled amongst other books in our modest ”library.” Visually and tactilely, the book is thick and hardbound in taupe fabric, and the pages are starting to yellow slightly—especially around the edges. While I’m sure that humidity and salt air is not the best environment for a classic book, none of us lives forever and I like to think that these pages—so important to my father—want to be voyaging, the way Tolkien’s ring wants to be found. While the look and fell of the book makes me smile, it’s the smell of the open pages that evoke the most vivid memories.

I turned to the index and hunted for the poem “Happiness Makes Up in Height For What It Lacks in Length” …

O stormy, stormy world, 

The days you were not swirled 

Around with mist and cloud, 

Or wrapped as in a shroud, 

And the sun’s brilliant ball 

Was not in part or all 

Obscured from mortal view— 

Were days so very few 

I can but wonder whence 

I get the lasting sense 

Of so much warmth and light. 

If my mistrust is right 

It may be altogether 

From one day’s perfect weather, 

When starting clear at dawn 

The day swept clearly on 

To finish clear at eve. 

I verily believe 

My fair impression may 

Be all from that one day 

No shadow crossed but ours 

As through its blazing flowers 

We went from house to wood 

For change of solitude.

Robert Frost, “Happiness Makes Up in Height For What It Lacks in Length”

While Acadia is one the US’s smallest national parks by area, it’s one of our most visited. However, the vast majority of visitors only see the parklands on Mount Desert Island. While Mount Desert Island is technically an island, only a narrow gut of water separates it from the Maine mainland and a bridge has connected “MDI” to the mainland since the early-1800s. Conversely, the relatively hard-to-get-to island of Isle au Haut lies about 13 miles southwest of Mount Desert Island—about half of Isle au Haut is also Acadia National Park land.

Mount Desert Island in the upper-middle of the map with Isle au Haut in the lower left (Acadia National Park land shaded in green).

While Acadia National Park receives about 3.5 million people per year, from some quick internet research, I estimate less than half a percent of those visitors are able to see Isle au Haut.

The day before my perfect day of hiking, I awoke aboard Hazel in Carver Cove, just off Calderwood Neck on Vinalhaven Island. Although only a 12-mile sail from Carver Cove to Isle au Haut, I wanted to get moving early as my destination on Isle au Haut was Duck Harbor and, according to my cruising guide, Duck Harbor was a “micro harbor” with room for only a few boats. Arriving early would increase my odds of finding an open spot to anchor and—failing that—having daylight to find a backup anchorage for the night.

Sailing downwind to Isle au Haut under spinnaker.

When I arrived in Duck Harbor just before noon, I was happy to find only one other boat in the harbor and it was a “smaller” power yacht (about Hazel’s length) and clearly only there for the day—they wouldn’t be staying overnight. The tiny harbor was both as beautiful and as small “as advertised” and I elected to set a secondary stern anchor off the back of Hazel to keep her from swinging and potentially bumping bottom at low tide as Duck Harbor experiences 11-foot tides.

Hazel James lying to anchor in Duck Harbor at high tide (the harbor is much skinnier at low tide). Note her main anchor chain and snubber ropes off her bow (front), and secondary stern anchor rode (line) sloping down to the right.

In Duck Harbor, a floating dock provided dinghy access to the shore for private boaters such as myself, and also a landing spot for the ferry from the Isle au Haut Town Landing.

Floating dock in Duck Harbor with the ferry Otter departing with day hikers and campers from the handful of primitive campsites in the park.
View down the floating dock gangway. Note Lil’ Dinghy tied to the floating dock in the foreground.
Setting foot on terra firma!

While I took a short hike the afternoon of August 15 when I arrived, I was sure to return to Hazel early and have a good dinner and get to bed early in preparation for my the next day—what would prove to be my perfect day of hiking. Upon reflection, while the setting of Duck Harbor and Isle au Haut, the solitude, and the weather of my perfect day was special, what took it over the top had nothing to do with the day itself and everything to do with the turbulent days that surrounded it. The August 16 of my perfect day of hiking was sandwiched between Colleen’s and my wedding anniversary on the 11th and her death anniversary of the 21st. In addition, the day was in the middle of Rhett’s weeklong trip home.

I hiked seven hours and, as a testament to the number of visitors to Isle au Haut, saw five other hikers the entire day. The hiking and terrain on Isle au Haut included scrambles up granite hilltops (the English translation of Isle au Haut being “High Island”), vistas of secluded coves with pods of porpoises, and a surprising number of swamps and bogs.

The National Park Service had done a nice job with trail maintenance, signage at trail junctures, and marking trails with occasional sky blue blazes of paint on trees and boulders. It was a ”baby bear’s porridge” of just enough blazes to not get too lost, but not so many that the path was too obvious.

Decisions, decisions.

The wetter sections of the trail were spanned with logs split lengthwise and the way they’d disappear around a bend reminded me of my path in life following Colleen’s death.

A path with an unknowable destination.

The solitude also gave me time to think about Rhett’s and my relationship on our sea voyage set within the larger voyage of life. While the two of us have done surprisingly well—thriving I dare say—together 24×7 in a space that measures 31 feet by 10 feet, we do have our moments and, unsurprisingly, most of those “moments” are instigated by me. Rhett’s week home came at a good time for both of us and it was healthy for me to hike alone on that perfect day and remember the feelings of being a single-handed sailor (aka, a creepy loner) and compare that with all the companionship and joy she brings to me (and I hope I bring to her).

Back in Hazel’s saloon after my perfect day of hiking and after I read Frost’s poem several times, it occurred to me that a peculiar aspect of the day was that I felt no guilt about the perfection. I say this because I remember distinctly the first time I felt good after Colleen’s death. It was October 2019, a couple months after her death, and I was visiting my father at his retirement community in Pittsburgh. I went out for an early trail run in a nearby park and midway through the run—from out of nowhere—I stopped, looked around, and just felt happy. However, as soon as the feeling registered in my consciousness, my brain brought me crashing back to earth with guilt. How can I feel good when Colleen is dead? I don’t deserve to feel this way. If I had just been better to her. While I will wrestle with these thoughts for the rest of my life, my bouts are less frequent and less intense—but there nonetheless.

Allow me to put these ideas to rest with a slide show of images that I captured from that perfect day’s hike.

I am so grateful to all of you for reading my thoughts. They are some of my deepest and darkest. Yes, I’m surrounded by so much beauty but—as we all do—I struggle with my thoughts and my perceptions of my past actions. I appreciate the opportunity to share them and find that each time I share, I heal just a little bit more.

As I write this post, we are sitting on a city of Newport (Rhode Island) mooring ball. The other night, we took a night off Hazel and left her on the mooring ball and stayed in a hotel with hot showers, robes, and (unbelievably) a bed that didn’t move. It’s funny that the city of Newport mooring ball costs $40/night and, when we were setting up the hotel stay, we were informed that if we had a car to park, the hotel offered valet parking for $38/night.

When I last posted, Hazel, Rhett and I were in Northeast Harbor, ME on Mount Desert Island. From there we sailed a short distance to Somes Sound (also on Mount Desert Island), one of the few fjords in Eastern North America. We enjoyed a stunning anchorage surrounded by cliffs that plunged into the clear Maine water, and hiking over the talus at the bottom of the cliff face. After Somes Sound, we caught a couple days of northeast wind (opposite of the prevailing southwesterly wind) and sailed 160 nautical miles downwind to Salem, MA. On that sail, about 10 miles east of Cape Ann, MA and Gloucester, we had our best whale sighting to date! The closest was four to five boat lengths from Hazel and clearly a humpback. It was humbling to see an animal bigger than our boat nonchalantly swimming past. Among other things in Salem, we visited The House of The Seven Gables (made famous by Nathanial Hawthorne’s eponymous novel), and visited Boston and walked the historic Freedom Trail. We then sailed south to Cohasset, MA and stayed with friends in this quintessential New England town for a few days and proceeded south through Cape Cod Bay and transited the Cape Cod Canal into Buzzard’s Bay. From the head of Buzzard’s bay we sailed upwind to the historic whaling town of New Bedford, MA and on to Newport where we are today. If your head is spinning with all the geography (as mine is). Seeing the route on our satellite tracker may help. Please note that the tracker, when first opened, defaults to the ”Map” view (the current wind map), clicking on the “Satellite” view makes it easier to understand the geography.

Fair winds and following seas!

18 thoughts on “Haut Happiness

  1. Sounds like a great trip all around and beautiful photos as always!

    I’m so happy you are continuing to heal slowly, but surely Dan. It’s like losing weight – a pound or two a week is the way to get healthy for the long run.

    Love you much!

  2. Incredible thoughts, photos and adventure! Cath will be in Acadia in October camping with her sister. I dare them to make it out to Isle au Haut!

  3. Dan you should be a tour guide! I think anyone reading this would jump at the chance to follow you. You might need a bigger boat though. Thank you for sharing your pictures, observations and feelings. It is all terribly interesting. So glad you and Rhett are on this adventure!

  4. Hello! I love the honesty and vulnerability of your writing; thank you for sharing your inner-self and your healing journey! I love reading about your sailing adventures (I’m a sailor, too!), as well as about your hiking adventures and travels, yet what makes your writing even all the more extra special is your ability to relay, to express the human experience within these activities. I’m a newcomer to your blog — and a relative newcomer to blogging, myself, on WordPress. I am moved by your stories and I’m also inspired — thank you, again, for your openness in sharing such an intimate and personal part of your journey in life! I feel sharing our stories and connecting with others is such an incredible way to help not only ourselves heal, but to help others heal as well. Sending you fair winds, following seas, and well-wishes! ~ Chelle and SV Sunflower (Sunny)

  5. Dear Dan,
    What a wonderful expedition!!
    We were just on cape cod (north Chatham) to be exact,.. loved it!!

    But your perfect day sounded PERFECT!! You deserve that happy feeling .. so good of to hear it’s coming back.
    We’re still here In asheville.. loving life..
    Sending love
    Kathy g

  6. I can relate to your writings of your walks in the woods alone. There is something so special about traveling solo, with nothing to do other than put one foot in front of the other, observe your surroundings, and get lost in your thoughts. I remember when I was a teenager (19) traveling and working out all of my brooding thoughts about my self and life itself on an 8 month solo trip. On my last (unexpectedly) solo trip in very quiet Iceland I was alone with my thoughts again and it struck me how little neurosis there were in them, all my thoughts were just about gratitude and exploring my interests. I don’t think I would have gotten there without all of the groundwork the other solo travels laid. “we travel initially to lose ourselves, but keep at it to find ourselves.”

    1. Jess, Agree so much about solo travel. I read an interview once with guitarist Richard Thompson and he said he loves performing solo because he doesn’t have to worry about leading or following any other musicians. He can just do what comes to mind. Thanks for all your comments!

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