The KKK in Maine


Writing about Maine is fun. You never know what sorts of strange things you will find. Here’s a topic which is not spooky, exciting or glamorous, but downright embarrassing. Yes, bigotry and hatred made appearances in Maine as in other places, and it would be wrong not to acknowledge what happened or to sweep it under the rug. But isn’t it odd that the Klan would make an appearance in Maine since our African American population was and is so tiny? As it turns out, the growth of the Klan in Maine had little to do with skin color.

First of all, a little business. The main source for this story comes from the excellent website of the Maine Historical Society, the web address of which appears at the bottom of the Klan medallion. It’s a great one-stop for Maine history, so please visit.

Painting by John Hilling

So up here in Maine, since we lacked an easy-to-identify minority upon which to heap scorn whenever things were not going well, where did we turn? To the French, of course! In a past post I wrote about the history of the Acadians in Maine and how they still maintain their culture today. To the Anglo Mainer, the French minority, whether Acadian or Québecois, had two strikes against them. They spoke a foreign language, and they were Catholic.

Right here in Ellsworth, in 1851, Jesuit priest John Bapst was tarred, feathered and run out of town on a rail by members of the aptly named Know-Nothing Party. Today there is a high school named in his honor. In 1854, the same group burned the Old South Church in Bath, Maine, a Catholic place of worship. This tradition of persecution continued and flourished whenever nativism, the hatred of immigrants, rose.  The anti-Catholic part of this philosophy posited that if these immigrants obtained political power, they would answer to the Pope, and our Protestant, republican values would be compromised. The temperance movement was also an undercover slam against the wine-drinking Catholics. Maine went dry in 1851.

From the Portsmouth Herald, January 17, 1923

When the challenges of the 1920s: the rise of communism, anarchy and post war economic troubles, threatened Mainers’ sense of security, many of our citizens joined the Ku Klux Klan.  Once again the target was mostly the francophone Catholic community. The Klan phenomenon was here in most of its usual parts. The wearing of white robes and pointy hoods, the secret meetings and the rallies and marches all took place in the 1920s throughout Maine. But the parts missing from the Invisible Empire in Maine was, for the most part, violence and terror. In fact, violence was direct against the Klan. The Franco-Mainers fought back! In 1924 Franco-Mainers attacked a Klan rally in Fairfield with rocks and clubs and tore down a burning cross.

The goal of the Klan in Maine was primarily political. They wanted to make sure their nativist ideals were preserved in government, that no Catholics were elected or appointed. But all evidence suggests their effects were mostly short-lived. By the late 1920s, newspapers railed against them, citizens challenged them and politicians spoke out against them. Governor Baxter condemned them and although the Klan claimed next governor, Ralph Owen Brewster, was elected with their help, the election split the Republican party in Maine. Perhaps their greatest political victory was in Portland in 1923, where they influenced a referendum reorganizing city government to exclude neighborhood representation. This removed aldermen from Irish, Jewish and French parts of the city in favor of at-large councilors.  But in 1926 Klan-backed candidates were losing elections, and the Klan headquarters in Portland was seized for back taxes. By 1930 the Klan in Maine was only a memory.

It is thought that because of the appearance of the Klan in Maine, that the Bangor branch of the N.A.A.C.P. was established in 1921. Maine continued to value its anti-bigotry reputation by the passage of the 1989 Maine Civil Rights Act and the 2012 voter approval of gay marriage. Our governor is a Franco Mainer, I don’t think French, Irish Italians or any other Catholic minorities have anything to fear in Maine.

Klan rally in Portland, 1926. From


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The Allagash Abduction


The year was 1976. The place was Eagle Lake-not the Eagle Lake in Acadia National Park but another one in far north Aroostook county, Maine, about 30 miles northwest of Caribou. Art students Jack and Jim Weiner, Charlie Foltz and their guide Chuck Rak came for a fishing holiday and on August 20, the fish didn’t bite. They cooked up a plan. They’d continue fishing through the night and build a big bonfire as a beacon for their return. The night was moonless and pitch black, so the fire was built to last for hours. They took off in their canoe.

Soon the globe-shaped light appeared overhead, described later as the size of a small house. Charlie aimed his flashlight at it, as if he were calling it over. It came like a puppy. The guys suddenly had a change of heart and began paddling like mad for shore, but the globe shot down a beam of light onto them. Next thing they knew, they were watching the object fly away, but the big fire was reduced to embers, and they were either sitting or standing on the shore by their campsite, depending on which version you read. I guess no one had a watch, since the fire is the only way they concluded that time had passed. The next day they reported the events to a park ranger who told them what they saw were searchlights, and to be careful what they smoked.


Here’s where the versions diverge again. Either they led normal lives for 12 years until Jim Weiner hit his head and started having nightmares about being examined by aliens on a metal table, or his twin brother Jack Weiner started having nightmares right away. Either way, somehow they decided to have high school English teacher Anthony Constantino hypnotize them. The four men had separate sessions and all revealed the same details, “regressed into their suppressed memories” similar to the standard alien abduction mythology. Fluids and skin samples taken, things inserted, standard stuff.


They became famous in the UFO world. They appeared on the Joan Rivers Show, had a book written about the incident and Unsolved Mysteries devoted an episode. You can even listen to a Snap Judgement sound file here (scroll down to “The Allagash Four”). Youtube has stuff too. By all accounts, the experience has been profitable for the four. Curiously, the tiny town of Eagle Lake, Maine does not mention the incident on its website’s history page. The only entry for 1976 is “Northern National Bank opened”.

My interest in this kind of stuff is more along the lines of human psychology, both individual and mass. I really doubt there are visiting aliens, or that men in black are working to cover their tracks. I stick with Carl Sagan’s rule, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.  The hypnosis testimony of four art students does not constitute extraordinary evidence. But somehow the telling of these stories fills a need in human consciousness. I certainly enjoy them. Stephen King has made a living from the paranormal. Eagle Lake could promote itself as the next Roswell. Let’s call it another Maine industry.





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Electric Boat Range Revisited

The panels arrive from China

About a year ago I laid out the range situation for my electric lobster boat Eleccentricity. I speculated about what the range would be if I added solar panels, and in other posts I wondered what speed I could attain under sunlight alone. Now I have added 480 watts of panels and can now update the speculation with hard data. I made this test today, the 25th of August, 2013. Not exactly the height of mid-summer solar radiation, but good for averaging over the boating season. First, the sunlight-only question. This was funny because I noticed that I could get an extra 36 watts or so by orienting my boat’s roof toward the sparkling water (i.e., the sun), where the headwind was unfortunately, strongest. With the motor off I could see 10.2 amps coming from the panels. Since the system voltage at the time was about 38 volts this works out to 388 watts. Not too near the rated 480 watts, but what I didn’t know at the time was that there were two blobs of gull poop on the panels, and rated wattage is just an ideal anyway. Now the speed test. I plugged in my car’s GPS and waited while it found satellites. Then I headed into the sun and wind to measure the speed while adjusting the throttle so that my amps were zero (inflow equaled outflow). I tried this in several directions and ended up with an average of 3.5 MPH.  Imagine, moving a 1000 pound boat through the water at a slow jogging speed on sunlight alone! I expect I could hit 4 MPH at the summer solstice at midday, with calm wind but I’m pretty happy with this. I increased the speed to 4 MPH and checked the ammeter: 2.2 amps, or 83 watts from the battery. So I could travel at 4 MPH for 7200 (my batteries’ capacity in watt hours)/83=86.75 hours for a range of 347 miles! Now, the clever reader will note that the sun will be not only weakening but also going down, so that 86.75 hours would be a fantasy, but it’s fun to do the math.

With the panels’ contribution I throttled up to 5 MPH using 16-20 amps or 608-760 watts, giving a range of 60-47 miles. At 6 MPH I was using 52-70 amps or 1872-2520 watts yielding 23 to 17 miles. All of these computations are of course subject to reductions due to wind, waves and clouds.

I would not want to drain my batteries down to zero. In fact, going down to 50% is about the lowest I would ever go because deeply draining batteries shortens their lives, so the above range numbers should be cut in half. However, the nice thing about going somewhere is that when you get there, you let the boat sit in the sun until you go back. There are no trees or buildings blocking the sun on the water! If you voyage two hours at 5 MPH and use 1300 watt hours, the charge percentage would be 1300/7200 = 18% , 100%-18%=82% in reserve. Let’s say you do something on shore for 2 hours. During that time you get 380 solar watts, so that’s 380*2=760 watt hours. 760/7200=10.5%. So when you shove off your state of charge is now 82% + 10.5%= 92.5%.  So you get home from your 20 mile round trip with 92.5%-18%=74.5%. Real numbers would be lower due to reduction in solar radiation over the six hour time, but this is the kind of planning a solar boat owner has to go through. This virtual trip brings up an important point, that a trip should be planned around the strongest sunlight (midday) for the greatest range. So that six hour trip left us with 74.5% at the end. If we wanted to be left with 50% instead, we could use an extra 24% (1728 watt hours, or 2.2 hours at 5 MPH with no solar help because the sun is weaker) This would add 2.2*5 MPH or 11 miles to our 20 mile trip, for a total of 31 miles.

No watts today!

Now the down side: Rain and clouds. It’s a day later and the sky is as dark as predawn. These panels use monocrystalline silicon cells and they’re supposedly the best, converting 18% of the sun’s energy to electricity. Will there be any watts flowing into my batteries at 8:30 AM on a very cloudy day?

No! What was I thinking? Still, I came back with six lobsters, so the trip was not wasted. The battery level started at 100%, so the sun did its job yesterday.

I think owning an electric boat will not require complex projections every time I want to make a trip. Eventually I will develop rules of thumb regarding the range question like, if it’s sunny I can make a 20 mile round trip at 5 MPH, no problem. It won’t be more complicated than figuring out where the next gas station is, and a lot cheaper. And the nice thing about a solar electric boat is that I can slow down or stop in the sun to extend my range, and best of all, it’s a zero-carbon trip.

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Lobster Fishing Goes Solar in Maine

My new photovoltaic panels on Eleccentricity’s roof, with Cadillac Mountain in the distance.

It’s been a few years since I hatched the wild idea of building an electric boat I could use for lobster fishing. Phase one was in 2011 and consisted of planning, building and powering up. Except for an initial problem of backward steering things went pretty well. That fall I was already preparing for phase 2, the roof. That would allow me to build in a boom for hauling lobster traps and the roof would serve as a platform for eventual photovoltaic panels. I was unsure if the boat would take kindly to the added weight aloft, but all went well. By summer of 2012 I was hauling traps and enjoying the shade and shelter of a roof. I also added reverse.

Controller and junction box. Cables poking through hole in roof.

Now it’s August of 2013 and I finally decided to bite the bullet and try to come up with a way to use the sun’s energy to allow me (more or less) unlimited range. I rejected conventional panels, which use heavy frames and glass, in favor of new ultra-thin plastic panels. These have only been available for a few years, and the marine version is incredibly expensive (of course!). If you want a panel made in Germany or Italy marketed to sailors it will cost you $900 for 70 watts, or nearly $13/ watt! This at a time when rooftop panels are closing in on $1/watt. Fortunately, the Chinese are making them too, and I was able to buy six 80 watt panels for $1.60/watt plus shipping from Hong Kong. I don’t know if these lightweight panels are going to last more than a few years, but I don’t have a lot of choices.

When you work with solar, you need to cover the panels to avoid shocking yourself!

I had a heckuva time arranging the right sized panels to my roof area and power requirements. I wanted 400 watts. I also needed a charge controller to safely get the solar power into the batteries. All these things made me give up several times. I’d find panels that worked but couldn’t match the voltage. I’d find a 36 volt controller but it wouldn’t do 15 amps. And on and on.  I learned a lot too, like you can’t mix different sized panels, and you need a panel output (VOC) of around 20 volts to charge a 12 volt battery. Finally it all fell together with help from Jason Huang at Sacred Solar, John Drake at and the folks at Solar Converters, Inc. The whole price tag was just under $1400, about $400 more than my limit, but I ended up with 480 watts. And now it’s done. After part of two days in tossing seas I completed the installation, and today I found out what it was like to cruise on sunlight alone.  The controller is taking the output from the panels, boosting up the voltage to a maximum of 44 volts and keeping my batteries happy and well fed. I left the boat with the battery bank at 92% and returned two hours later with it at 98%. That’s about 432 watt hours from a partly cloudy day, or 4 miles at 4 MPH. Now all I need to do is to figure out a way to keep the gulls from pooping on my panels.

I have no illusions that local commercial fishermen will see my set-up and immediately convert their roaring diesel lobster boats to solar, but it’s a start. I only have 5 traps and would not try to fish 150 traps with this solar boat. Still, the lobster boat of the future may indeed have a few features of Eleccentricity. Besides, I’m having fun. Oh, and when I reported earlier that I could check my traps for 2¢ worth of electricity, well now that’s 0¢, unless you factor in the $1400.

Quietly charging…..


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The Wreck of the Princes Mia?

This can’t be good…

Yesterday I did a double-take as I walked down my stairway to the shore. I was on my way to haul my lobster traps when I noticed a sailboat a mile away on the opposite shore. It was obviously aground, at a very unhealthy angle as the photo shows.

I thought I’d swing by after hauling traps with Eleccentricity but the wind picked up and I needed to use more power than normal, so I decided to save kilowatt hours and drive over instead. When I got there (Hadley Point public access) I saw pretty much what I expected, the owner painting the bottom with anti-fouling paint. In other words, the grounding was totally intentional and no aquatic mishap had occurred.

I began a conversation with the owner and immediately detected a Dutch accent. He told me that he was from Zeeland, in the south of the Netherlands and that his ship’s hull was steel. I walked around to the other side and checked out the steel edge visible on the deck weld. It looked thick, I guessed 5 mm. I asked him the thickness and he said 8 mm. I was amazed, this is in the battleship realm. My father’s steel sailboat was I believe, 1/8 inch. 8 mm translates to almost 3/8 inch! No wonder he let his 45 foot sailboat just flop over on its side. It’s indestructible!

The owner, whose name I didn’t ask, told me a bit about his life. His last boat was a little smaller, but he used it to cross the North Atlantic anyway, so he was no stranger to large scale cruising. He saw the Princes Mia for sale back in Holland and decided to buy it. In Holland, sailing craft are usually shallow draft, and so the very deep Princes Mia was a deal because no one wanted it. He is now able to fit all his tools and family in the cavernous hull for extended cruising, and the whale-collision proof hull ensures safely. He pointed out that a big hulled sailboat is not that much different than a smaller one to operate, so except for the extra amount of bottom paint required, not much had changed.

He related stories of his voyages, like about the native people in canoes in the mouth of the Orinoco in Venezuela, coming to trade with him. He said it was like going back 100 years. His next stop was the Dutch West Indies. He should reach there just as we start to get chilly.

Today, a day later, I looked again and saw that the ship was now on its other side. The seas were flat calm so I cruised over to take some more photos, this time from the water. The spectacle has gathered a bit of attention, plenty of cameras were snapping on shore. My guess is that our Dutchman was becoming a reluctant celebrity.

It’s nice to live on the coast of Maine and occasionally run into someone with a completely different, exotic and adventurous life. Hard to believe we could possibly seem that way to others, although sometimes our guests tell us so!


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Blagden Preserve on Mount Desert Island

This is part of my compilation of the secret, little-known parts of the island where visitors can escape the crowds. By all means, make sure to read about my top ten things to do in Acadia. But if these activities are on everyone else’s list you may be ready for someplace more remote. Blagden Preserve is such a place. Also, it serves as a reminder that not all that’s wild and beautiful on the island belongs to Acadia National Park.

Blagden Preserve is owned by the Nature Conservancy and was donated in 1968 by summer residents Donald and Zelina Blagden. It consists of 110.6 acres of mature red spruce, white cedar, and balsam fir. This area of the island, in the northwest corner near the causeway, escaped the devastating fire of 1947. The prevailing winds off the ocean keep the forest floor moss-covered in contrast to dryer parts of the interior. The land slopes gently down to the shore, accessible by a well maintained trail.

Snow white lichens share the floor with sphagnum.

The area has taller trees than most of the island.  In fact, a line of old oaks stand at the entrance. Don’t miss the plaque on the biggest, which relates that they were planted on the day of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865, making them 148 years old! The old spruce trees along the Big Wood Trail are falling frequently from age and are allowed to lie where they fall. The trail, while cleared of obstructing timber, is rocky and in some spots a bit of a climb, so good shoes are needed. Listen for the haunting call of the wood thrush. The trail is 1.2 miles long and it takes less than an hour to get to the shore. There is over 1000 feet of rocky shore from which to view eagles, osprey and seals. The return trip to the parking area can be made up Higgins Farm Road for variety and speed.

Other trails in Acadia may be grander and more popular but Blagden Preserve has most of what you come to the coast of Maine for: a chance to be alone in nature (I encountered two people in two hours on August 11), cool ocean breezes, abundant wildlife and clean air. In addition, if you stay off island (like here for example) this spot is pretty close to the bridge and the route breaks off soon from the heavy traffic. Just take the right fork after the bridge, travel for 1.9 miles and take a right onto Indian Point Road. Drive 1.7 miles where you bear right for another .2 miles and look for the sign pictured above. Blagden Preserve also shows up on google maps and your GPS. At the entrance pick up a map and go hike!

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Stephen King’s House

Occasionally a guest will email me before arriving asking if there are any sights not to be missed in Bangor. This is when they are either flying in to Bangor International airport or driving through to get here at SeaCat’s Rest. While I don’t like to compromise anyone’s privacy, stopping to take a gawk and picture at Stephen and Tabitha King’s house seems to be such a common thing (based on the cars frequently stopping there) that I can only conclude that it is tolerated by the community and I hope, the Kings.

I can’t help but think that the creepy 270 foot long wrought iron fence design with bats, spiders and dragons, the blood red house color and other touches like the leaping frog are calling for photography, and proclaim to all passersby that this is indeed the House of King.

It’s such a short detour from the airport that a quick stop in front of the horror novelist’s house is almost hard to not justify, especially if it’s a nice day…or a dark, creepy day. The King house is interred at 47 West Broadway, Bangor. If you are leaving the airport go straight through the traffic circle and take a right onto Union Street. Drive for 1.7 miles and get ready to turn just after Hayford Park on your right. This will be West Broadway, and now you just need to drive another 1/10 of a mile, just after Cedar Street and look to your right for the big red house.

Stephen and Tabitha King are generous and respected members of the Maine community, have contributed much to many charities and have created the STK Foundation to distribute grants to Maine community organizations. Stephen has also involved himself in workshops for young Maine writers at the middle school level and above. While in Bangor tune into his rock and roll radio station, WKIT at 100.3 (“streaming live to the undead”).

They have had some problems with nutty people and stalkers around their house, and even someone who drove her car through the gate, so please keep your visit short and respectful, and maybe buy one of their books!


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Lamoine’s “Life of Pi” Connection


Many of us have seen “Life of Pi”: an Indian kid is saved by luck while his parent’s ship goes down in a storm, only to end up sharing his lifeboat with a menagerie of zoo animals. One by one the animals are eaten or ejected, leaving Pi and an amazingly ferocious Bengal tiger. Soon they develop an uneasy coexistence and in the end (off the coast of Mexico) they both end their voyage very much alive. Dreamlike interludes and surreal but beautiful images suggest altered consciousness during the telling.

That’s the story we spend 95% of the movie viewing, but at the end Pi is forced to retell the story to investigators. In this version he is on the lifeboat as before, without animals, but forced to watch his mother killed by the ship’s cook and finally ends up killing the cook himself. The viewer is asked to wonder if the animal characters were stand-ins for the humans in the second version. We had to choose the more likely version and also to answer questions about the existence of God/faith as a side issue to which version we choose.

Despite the confusing ending the cinematography and special effects are dazzling, since the tiger is entirely computer generated. Claymation it ain’t. What does this have to do with our neck of the woods here in Lamoine, Maine?

Our own Steven Callahan was a consultant for this movie, his credentials are why. Steven spent 76 days in an inflatable life raft adrift in the North Atlantic 30 years ago after a probable whale collision sank his boat. He knows about catching and eating raw fish, dealing with storms and keeping his wits. In 2002 he wrote a book about it called Adrift, Seventy-six Days Lost at Sea, a New York Times best seller.

Newspaper photo after Callahan’s rescue in 1982

Steven lives on the east side of Lamoine, near the Skillings river and is a Naval architect. The author of Life of Pi, Yann Martel and the film director Ang Lee, who would soon begin shooting the film of the same name, paid Callahan a visit in 2009. They went sailing, spent some time picking his brain and returned to Taiwan to start shooting. But before long they invited him to help with the movie. Steve flew to Taiwan in 2010 and expected to sit in the back and answer a few questions about obscure details, but instead became a major player in the production. As the Bangor Daily News article says,

…he ended up spending long hours on the set working closely with the film crew. He helped to craft props, monitor the operation of a giant wave tank built especially for the film, and advised the film’s star, Suraj Sharma, on the mindset and physical challenges of being adrift at sea.

“I didn’t have a clue,” Callahan said of the workload he would assume. “I got sucked in more and more.”

Life of Pi received the Oscar award for Best Picture in 3013, no doubt some of this belongs to Lamoiner Steven Callahan.  I’m always amazed at the talented people within a stone’s throw of SeaCat’s Rest, I wish I were one of them. About the biggest challenge I have is occasionally sharing my electric boat with an unbanded lobster.


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Maine’s Chanterelles, Our Best Forest Edible

Page 250 of Mushrooms of the Northeast by George Barron

Morel mushrooms used to be my fungal focus in springtime back in Michigan, but the Maine woods just don’t produce them, so for many years I have tried to find a local substitute. Chanterelles now fill that need. My requirements for a morel replacement are:

  1. Easy to spot in the woods. Chanterelles are yellow-golden and stand out “like stars in the black heavens” on the forest floor.
  2. Easy to tell apart from any toxic look-alike. The closest one is the Jack-O-Lantern, Omphalotus illudens, which grow in

    Jack O’ Lantern

    clusters on buried dying wood. These mushrooms are much larger and the gills are much sharper, Chanterelles have blunt, forked ridges rather than gills. Their similarity is decurrent gills/ridges–they run down the stem.  Also, the Jack-O-Lantern is not a killer– it will just make you wish you were dead.

  3. Good eatin’. Chanterelles are known the world over for their awesome flavor. Why go to the trouble of bushwacking through the Maine woods if the reward is only mediocre? They have a fruity aroma and are a delicate addition to eggs or white wine sauces.
  4. Long season. In this sense they beat morels. Chanterelles fruit from early July (as I write this on July 6, there is a cluster next to my stairway to the shore) to late fall.
  5. They stay put. The chanterelle is in a stable symbiotic relationship with trees wherever it grows, it is not a decayer. That means the fruiting bodies (mushrooms) will pop up at least once a year in the same spot. You will not diminish the huge underground part of the chanterelle (mycelium) by picking the mushrooms.
  6. Slow growing. Here’s another way they beat morels. You can leave tiny chanterelles alone and come back in a week and they will be much bigger. Don’t try that with most other ‘shrooms. Bugs don’t like them, but watch out for slugs. We all know here in Maine slugs are at the top, the bottom and everywhere else on the food chain.

The best way to become comfortable with picking wild mushrooms is to take it slow and stick to easily identified species. Get a few good identification books specific to your area (NOT just the internet, do NOT rely on search engine pictures) like George Barron’s Mushrooms of Northeast North America, The National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to Mushrooms or Maine’s own Dave Spahr’s Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms of New England and Eastern Canada. Find an expert in the locality who gathers edible mushrooms if possible or join a mushroom club like our Maine Mycological Association. If you’re pretty sure you have an edible mushroom (other people say 100% sure, but are we ever really?) then begin by eating a very small, cooked portion (never eat raw mushrooms from the wild) and waiting to see if you get an adverse reaction, at least 24 hours. Now comes the fun part: You now have found an edible mushroom and you have taken photos and recorded the date and place. Now all you have to do is check the same spot next year or in the case of chanterelles, every week or so until late fall. With a few more species you’re well on your way to becoming a Maine fungal gourmet.

Sadly, the only way most of us have access to chanterelles is by buying dried ones in little bags at outrageous prices from the grocery store. Here’s the sad part: unlike the king bolete (porcini, steinpilz), chanterelles don’t dry well. Their delicate flavor is lost unlike stronger flavored mushrooms. You might as well not bother. However, some grind the dried ones into powder and use it to flavor sauces, but do that with your own harvest, not with store-bought.

I hope someday to have guests from Italy or Poland whose favorite activity is to hit the woods and look for mushrooms. I remember when the first Russian fishermen came ashore in the late 1980s everyone assumed they’d go to the bars or retail outlets, instead they took to the woods, looking for mushrooms. I could learn from those folks.

Fiddleheads, clams, chanterelles, lobsters, wild blueberries…don’t miss a taste of Maine on your vacation. If only there were a good way to prepare slugs!

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Electric Boat Update 2013

Caution: Geek alert! This article may be wicked boring to anyone who is not interested in the minute details of electric boating.

One of the fun things about lobstering with an electric boat is that weird things happen all the time. Few people know how to put together an electric boat, so things go wrong when amateurs like me build one. So far I’ve managed to avoid sinking, but last October I was motoring to Lamoine State Park to meet the guy who pulls out my boat when all of a sudden, the motor quit. Nothing I could do seemed to bring it back to life, so I decided to tow Eleccentricity with my dingy. Normally I could use the rowing set-up on the big boat, but it was full of traps and I had no room. Fortunately, the wind was blowing the right way, so the job was not that difficult. When I got home I found the problem. I had made a splice in the heavy #6 cable which runs from the battery to the motor. The splice was an aluminum tube with set screws from Home Depot and was rated for outdoor exposure, but it couldn’t handle the marine environment. In fact, it simply turned into powder (aluminum oxide). I had done the wiring on the cheap anyway, using old jumper cables and cheesy splices when the pieces weren’t long enough. Now it was time for marine wiring! Besides replacing all the heavy cable I also increased the size from #6 to #4 (lower numbers are heavier). Marine wiring is tinned to withstand the salt exposure and of course, is more expensive.

Motenergy ME0909, from

The other thing that was going wrong was the motor was making chattering noises like it was having trouble getting power. It also had “dead spots” on start-up, so that I would have to manually turn the prop and try again. When I opened up the cover this winter I saw why. The brush holders were so corroded that the brushes were seized  and not making contact with the commutator. More corrosion. I pressed out the brushes and cleaned out the corrosion, sanded down the brushes a bit, applied to them a generous coating of grease and resolved to pay more attention to this issue. I also replaced as many parts with stainless steel as I could and painted the aluminum parts where possible. Now that Eleccentricity is in the water I also put a shower cap over my still-warm motor when I’m done with it. It runs smooth as silk now and is also much quieter. So much so that I thought the motor was using more power for a given speed. When I did the power VS speed test however, it was the same as last year. Thanks to the motor manufacturer, Motenergy, for their tech support.

Stancor 586-915 solenoid

My 4 KW powerplant

My old trailer broke in half as the boat was being launched, but that had nothing to do with it being electric, just another launch disaster. I did have a real breakdown however. One of my reverse solenoids stopped working in the forward mode. The problem was easily fixed by reversing the wires to the motor, although now I have no reverse. A new solenoid is on order. The real problem may be that I exceeded the amperage rating for the solenoid. My approach was to use a SPDT solenoid and make the forward mode the unpowered one (contacts made by return spring force). This is because it didn’t make sense to me to have to power a coil just to go forward, which is what you do 99% of the time. The problem with this is that solenoids are always rated higher on the coil (powered) side. The one I have is 100/300 amps. The 100 amp side (forward) was badly carboned up and no juice was getting through. I think that’s the biggest solenoid I could find for 36 volts. If this continues to be a problem I will have to once again reverse the cables to the motor and make it permanent, so I go forward on the 300 amp side. The other option is to watch my ammeter to prevent me exceeding 100 amps, I have gotten up to 120 amps at full throttle. That’s 4.32 kilowatts or 5.8 HP.

Unlike my rosy prediction last year that I would have my photovoltaics ready for this summer, it didn’t happen. Too many trips to Michigan and money spent on fixing up a house there. Maybe next year. I’m still charging with shore power; it could be worse! I could be riding in a noisy, smelly boat. Next year I should be cruising at 4 MPH on sunlight alone. If the sun ever comes out around here!

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