06/16/2012

Maine’s War of 1812

We are approaching the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. On June 18, 1812 President James Madison signed the declaration of war against Great Britain. This was to be our second war for independence. In Maine, a far eastern backwater (actually part of Massachusetts) surrounded by loyalist colonies New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, war fever was tepid, tempered by familial relations across the borders and a weak federal presence. Castine, Maine was a bulwark of the British with Fort George built and manned by the colonial power continuously from 1690 until the close of the War of Independence. It was the last British outpost surrendered [update...this is disputed by a Michigan friend who says Mackinac Island was occupied by British forces much longer].  In 1814 the Brits returned and once again occupied the fort from September until the following April.

Meanwhile, ordinary Mainers and their friends across the  border cooked up a way to peaceably profit. Privateers are pirates licensed by governments to harass and plunder enemy ships. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia privateers would head to Maine to do their dirty work, but had it worked out so that they would be “captured” by their Maine buddies. Crews would be released back home to collect their insurance, and their cargo and ships would be auctioned off in Maine by the Americans, with kickbacks going across the border. Everybody wins except the insurance companies. There’s a great blog article describing this chapter of Maine history here.

There were hot confrontations too. The most notable was a sea battle in 1813 off Pemaquid between HMS Boxer and USS Enterprise. The battle gained international attention because both captains, the Boxer’s Samuel Blyth and the Enterprise’s William Burrows were killed in the action.  The Enterprise ultimately prevailed and was steered to Portland with the captured Boxer in tow. Both commanders were given an elaborate funeral and laid to rest side by side in Portland’s Eastern Cemetery.  Before dying, William Burrows was offered the dead Blythe’s sword in surrender, but he refused, insisting it be sent to Blythe’s family. “I am satisfied, I die contented,” Captain Burrows exclaimed.

The war raged on. The Penobscot River was the effective new border, meaning our Acadia region was in British control. Britain had plans to rename Maine “New Ireland”, perhaps because it was to the west of Nova Scotia. The Battle of Hampden occurred in August of 1814, concurrent with the retaking of Castine. A particularly brutal British Captain Robert Barrie saw to it that after defeating a small local militia, Mainers would pay for their crimes. His troops sacked the towns of Bangor and Hampden, burning, smashing and looting. When local leaders begged him to show a little humanity he said,

“Humanity! I have none for you. My business is to burn, sink, and destroy. Your town is taken by storm. By the rules of war we ought to lay your village in ashes, and put its inhabitants to the sword. But I will spare your lives, though I mean to burn your houses.”

He only stopped when local leaders promised to deliver unfinished ships to Castine. Still, it was the last minor Maine battle of the War of 1812, by December of 1814 hostilities ended in Maine with the Treaty of Ghent, and the Brits withdrew to prewar borders with the exception of Eastport, which they managed to hold until 1818. From then on, with the minor exception of the Aroostook War, which wasn’t really a war, Maine and the entire US, Great Britain and Canada have been the best of friends.

Baltimore is celebrating the 200th anniversary with a tall ships festival.

In closing, to my family the War of 1812 was important for one other reason, the defection of one Peter Kinsley from the British side, by swimming across the Niagara River. The Dublin native was the founder of Kinsley’s Corners, Ohio (now named New London), and my third great grandfather.

 

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06/10/2012

Maine’s Time Problem

If I would change anything about Maine it would be the time. Not to make more of it, just to move the clocks forward an hour. We would then be on Atlantic time rather than Eastern time. I wake up when the sky gets light, and this time of year that seems to happen before 5:00 AM. Waaaay too early! At the other end it gets dark just after 9:00 PM. Good for fireworks, but still too early for midsummer. And those midwinter afternoons when the sun sets around 4 are not appreciated…

I can travel due west for 1200 miles (as the crow flies) before encountering a time change at the Illinois border. At a latitude of 45 degrees, which we are just under, the circumference of the earth is about 17,600 miles. Since there are 24 time zones that means at latitude 45 there should be one every 17,600/24 or 733.3 miles, not 1200!

Most people think Maine is a thumb of land which sticks up in the north. In reality it is more east than north; the perception is the result of viewing Maine as part of map of the US, where like any map projection the most distortions occur at the edges. Michigan goes further north than Maine, but you’d never know it to look at this map, where the northeast was cut out of a US map, to the right:

Look at this dedicated map of the northeast and you will see Maine start to stretch to the east. Notice on this map how the northern border of NY and VT have become level, but the eastern border of Maine with New Brunswick still tilts to the left as you go north. Now here’s the surprise, that eastern border runs due north and south! This shows that even on a map of New England, Maine is distorted northward.

The reason for this geography tangent is to show evidence for my previous claim that Maine is more eastern than northern, in fact the old ships which used to come from Boston used to be called Downeasters, since the captains knew they were sailing more east than north from Boston, and were sailing downwind.

Today (June 10) the sun rose at 4:41 AM in Eastport, Maine at the eastern end of our time zone. In Marinette, WI at about the same latitude and also at the eastern end of their time zone the sun rose at 5:03 AM. If Maine pushed the Eastern time zone to the NH border, then at the same latitude (Errol, NH) the sun would rise at 4:58 AM, much closer to Marinette’s time.  I don’t know if others have this desire to see Maine go on Atlantic time, my guess is that it would create all sorts of problems initially, but it sure would be nice to sleep in to 7 AM sometime before October. I wonder if I can declare SeaCat’s Rest to be officially on Atlantic time.

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05/28/2012

Eleccentricity Gets a Top

What I unabashedly call Lamoine, Maine’s first electric lobster boat, Eleccentricity, has just received a roof or “dodger” for the future installation of photovoltaic panels. The ultimate goal is to have a zero-emissions motor boat. A side benefit is shelter from the rain and sun, not to mention an elevated platform from which to spot pirate ships.

I put this robust structure together in my garage. Of course it would not fit through the door when assembled (I knew this, really), so after disassembling it and painting or varnishing all the parts I had to devise a way to lift the roof onto the supports.  I had integrated a lifting tab into the roof for this purpose. Two big trees in the driveway gave me the idea that I could run a line between them and hoist the roof high enough to bring the boat under.  The first attempt failed because I used nylon rope which stretched so much the roof only got about five feet off the ground. I quickly replaced the rope with cable and there was zero stretch as the roof climbed about 12 feet. Then I simply maneuvered Eleccentricity under, mindful of my sudden possible death from falling dodger. I forgot to mention my difficulty finding a thing to tie the block-and-tackle line to after hauling the top up. I settled on a hooky thing underneath the bumper of my Honda Fit. I had just used it to pull out a big ornamental plant root ball, but that’s another story.

Anyway, a little jockeying of the boat and backing up of the Fit and the top settled down nicely without me even having to climb into the boat. Since then, I reloaded the 7 batteries and the electric outboard and am nearing launch for the summer of 2012.

One of the pitfalls of designing and building one’s own boat is the knot in your stomach which reminds you of a possible huge mistake. What if the dodger makes the boat so top heavy it flops over in the first strong wind? It does look unstable on the trailer, but I wanted to achieve standing headroom, and I’m not THAT tall. The 400 lbs of batteries in the lowest part of the boat should help, and after all, sailboats are notoriously top heavy. That’s why they have lead keels, and I have a lead keel too. Another concern is the fore-to-aft balance. Last year, without a dodger I found Eleccentricity a little stern-heavy. This put the motor well too far into the water and created more drag than I had hoped for; I was trying for a transom above the waterline.  The extra weight of the dodger (probably about 150 lbs–I didn’t weigh it because I broke the bathroom scale weighing the boat last year) will shift the balance more toward the bow.

The trap hauler shown in inset

Last year when I first launched I wired up the motor in reverse and the steering too. I could only go backwards by steering the wrong way. I am not afraid to look like a fool. This year’s launch may be just as entertaining.

Trap hauling in my driveway

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04/28/2012

Moon Jelly Hatch in Acadia Waters

adult Moon Jelly, see picture credits below

There is currently an abundance of jellyfish in the world’s oceans due to the fact that humans don’t eat them (with a few exceptions), but do eat their competitors. One of the coolest things you can see in a kayak in front of SeaCat’s Rest in May is a hatch of moon jellies, Aurelia aurita. Imagine countless silver dollar sized transparent disks undulating in the waters all around you. Try to catch one on your paddle only to see it slip away, not surprising for something with the consistency of jello.

Moon jellies are one of those life forms you might imagine to find on a different planet or maybe in the ocean of Enceladus, Saturn’s ice-crusted moon. As aliens, they seem to fit the bill: no brain, no heart, no eyes, no lungs or gills, just a flattened sack of fluid with a few differentiated body parts. Pretty simple plan for a 650 million-year success story. At it’s center is what looks like a four leaf-clover, it’s gonads. Unlike our usual picture of jellyfish, the body is more like a disk than a bowl and the stinging tentacles (at least 240 of them) are very small–almost invisible to the naked eye, at least when they’re young. Although they flex their bodies back and forth, their movements do not propel them in any purposeful direction. They flow with the tide and move up and down in the water column by regulating their buoyancy.

captured prey by Moon Jelly, from wikipedia

Their diet consists of plankton, a catch-all term which includes all very small sea creatures such as mollusks, crustaceans, tunicate larvae, rotifers, young polychaetes, protozoans, diatoms and eggs. The tentacles trap the tiny prey and then twist and contract them to pull the creature to its margin, where it is digested. Sea turtles, birds, ocean sunfish and other jellyfish feed on the moon jellies, but even without predation they only live a few months. Jellyfish in general can have a profound effect on fish populations since they eat fish eggs and hatchlings. A big bloom of jellyfish can decimate a fishery, and getting stung by some species is a hazard for humans too, killing 40 people annually. Shark attacks typically kill 8.

Lion's Mane Jelly, see picture credits below.

My kayak outings have uncovered other jellyfish. Occasionally a large reddish mass of jelly will wash up on shore. It’s hard to identify a blob, but it could have been a Lion’s Mane jelly, Cyanea capillata, considered the world’s largest jellyfish. Another time I saw what looked like a gelatinous light bulb. It turned out to be a comb jelly, Bolinopsis infundibulum. This creature is not a true jellyfish and has no stinging tentacles, but looks similar.

Comb Jelly, see picture credits left

We are so lucky to live on the ocean. At our doorstep is the world’s biggest aquarium. And right now it is starting to wake up after a long sleep. The moon jellies are hatching. Pictures and info from Marine Life of the North Atlantic by Andrew J. Martinez

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04/25/2012

Maine is the Most Peaceful State

On April 24 the annual report from the Institute of Economics and Peace ranked Maine as the most peaceful state for the 11th consecutive year, followed by Vermont and New Hampshire. The institute quantifies peace throughout the world in an attempt to show that a peaceful society has profound economic benefits, with the reverse also true.

There are five components on which this peace index is based:

  1. rate of homicide,
  2. rate of violent crime,
  3. police presence,
  4. rate of incarceration and
  5. availability of small arms, or the lack thereof.

For the 20th year, Louisiana is the least peaceful state, and the Detroit metro area the least peaceful urban area. Globally, Iceland ranks as #1 with Somalia at #153, with the U.S. at a disappointing #82. Read more at http://www.visionofhumanity.org

While our low crime rate has long been known, the state ranking poses  some interesting questions, like how does Maine do so well when gun ownership is so high? Our guns are for hunting, and Maine has done a lot to make hunting safer. Handguns remain less-preferred firearms. The study also links education level to peacefulness, but Maine’s average education level is slightly below the national average according to luminafoundation.org. Also, our economy is not the greatest. The study posits that peacefulness should be correlated with an economic benefit, yet even with our 11 years of being #1, Maine average household income is about 90% of the average in the U. S., unchanged since 2000. http://quickfacts.census.gov

There must be other reasons why Maine is such a peaceful state. Could it be the natural beauty of our state? The ample elbow room? The end-of-the-road location? The cool summer breezes? Whatever it is, I’m not leaving. If you want to have a peaceful week in Maine, we still have space on our calendar.

Charts compiled from data at http://www.maine.gov/dps/cim/crime_in_maine/2010contents.htm

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04/17/2012

Salt Water Fishing in Acadia

Mackerel: great for kids

One of my best fishing memories was from around 1990 when I went fishing near Belfast, Maine with my two brothers-in-law for mackerel. One mackerel rig, available anywhere around here, consists of several hooks all tied to a stout central leader. I thought it odd that the design of this rig was so optimistic; after all, how likely would you be to have more than one fish on at a time? I was to find out. The fishing was great, and we did indeed get more than one on at a time. Mackerel are splendid fighters and they are beautiful too. Their streamline shape and iridescent coloring are however, better than their performance on the dinner plate. Many recipes attempt to improve upon the sad reward for your fishing effort. Figure on one meal per year, and keep them alive or as cold as possible. Mackerel are a little mushy, fishy and oily. They can be caught at mid summer right from the dock at Lamoine State Park, a mile away from here.

There are other options for the Acadia visitor to experience salt water fishing. Right from Bar Harbor you can take a 4 hour fishing trip aboard the fifty foot Tiger Shark. According to their website you might catch one or more of the following:  “cod, cusk, pollock, mackerel, cunner, sculpin, black sea bass, red fish, and the occasional wolf fish.” All tackle is provided. Presented as fun for the whole family, a half day of fishing aboard the Tiger Shark will set you back $45 for adults or $35 for children or non-fishing adults.

One anonymous board poster recommends avoiding Bar Harbor’s Tiger Shark in favor of Southwest Harbor’s Vagabond. (207.244.5385). The prices are a little higher but apparently there is greater likelihood of fishing success, and they haul lobster traps too. Their fish: “cod, cusk, cunner, school pollock, mackerel, sculpin, redfish and occasionally a wolf fish or a mako shark”. One fun part of this trip is a trap lottery, where you are given a number corresponding to a lobster trap, and you get to keep any legal lobsters in that trap when it’s hauled. Find out more here.

Neither of these options are the white-knuckled alpha male versus man-eater fishing experience you might be used to in other places. But don’t despair! If that’s your thing, how does shark or tuna fishing sound? To “tussle with the bad boys” (not my words), you need to shell out bigger bucks for private charters. Try http://www.obsessioncharters.com/ME_fishing/maine.htm, http://www.mainefishingcharters.com, http://www.gofishmaine.com, http://www.biggernbetter.com, or http://www.fishinganddiving.com. All of these charters are outside of the Acadia area but within a few hours’ drive.

Finally, if you just want to get an educational cruise with sight seeing and contact with sea life, consider the following options. Island Cruises leaves from Bass Harbor and for $29/$18 offers sight seeing and trap hauling. Find out about hauling lobster aboard  Lulu here and especially for kids, check out Diver Ed’s story here. There are many more opportunities for experiencing nature, but if it’s saltwater fishing you want these are the choices. Two other fish should be mentioned, bluefish and striped bass. Stripers are tightly regulated and deserve a post of their own. It is against the law to catch them beyond 3 miles from shore and so they are thought of more as a river fish, where they spawn.

Bluefish from wikipedia.com

Bluefish seem to be usually further south. I have fished for them out of Rockland and can attest to the fun of catching them, but like mackerel, they are not a tasty fish. In fact they’re even less tasty! Do not associate Bar Harbor’s Cafe Bluefish with bad tasting fish. It’s just a name!

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04/13/2012

Spring Makes a Weird Entrance in Maine

These crocuses are still lookin' good

Like the rest of the country, Maine had a few freak days of summer-like heat. It was in the 80s for a few days in March. While in April this would normally induce a giddy euphoria, most Mainers were heard spouting End-Of-Days-like comments. We’re already used to being at the end of the earth, so the end of days is nothing unusual.

No sap from this red maple

Since then things have returned to normal. The heat shock brought a quick end to the maple sugar season, reason enough for some to reserve a condo in Oblivion, but unlike Wisconsin, our grapes at SeaCat’s Rest have not produced exploding buds (the horror!).  But still, there’s change afoot. On my daily trips to the mailbox, where I sometimes find checks from future guests, I have recently been meeting up with Br’er Fox, who was obviously upset by my mail quest. He (or she) slid ever-so-elegantly into the puckerbush before I so much as registered his (or her) presence. Not so subtle were the mating-crazed frogs in our culvert’s headwater. These creatures are vocally demonstrative, with variations not unlike the Vienna Boy’s Choir at puberty.

Elsewhere the odd flower or foliage is popping up. The crocuses have mostly come and gone. Tree buds are swelling despite the occasional dip into the 30s.  Two days ago it snowed. The annual road heavy load restrictions have been removed, a sure sign that the frost is losing to the forces of warmth. The Portland Press Herald reports that ticks are out early, a fact our cats can verify.

Green lawns are just starting. Not enough to satisfy the craving for green. For that we must visit the woods, where mosses are hogging all the chlorophyll. Just down the trail is a little pond where clumps of frog’s eggs are floating.

Not exactly a riot of color, sunlight and warmth, but these things take time in Maine. Even when it gets to 80 degrees in March, nature takes it’s time.

Frog's eggs

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04/10/2012

Elvers Sighted in Maine

Hey, that’s Elvers, not Elvis. Still, there’s just about as much excitement this spring caused by the baby eels as The King caused back in the ’70s. What is this all about?

Elver is a name given to a small baby eel (American eel, Anguilla rostrata) which is craved by the Japanese. The local sources of their version of the snake-like sea creatures (Anguilla japonica) have all but disappeared. They like to get them from nature and raise them in captivity and then eat them. What makes everyone excited these days is that the price per pound has now exceeded $2,000, so those lucky 400 with licenses to catch eel babies in Maine can often make their entire year’s income in a few days.

from BoatingLocal by Tom Richardson

Catching elvers consists of staking out a good spot on a riverbank at night. You need a small dipnet, a 5 gallon bucket and a Colman lantern. Besides the license, that’s it. The other trick is to get your catch to a broker while they’re still alive and healthy. Once you get to know your buyer however, he can arrange to come to you. The translucent, pencil-like eels squirm like a young Elvis on stage, but each one is worth $5. Our preference in food may be more like Elvis’s fried peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwiches, but eel is quite a delicacy in the Orient, and some Mainers are very happy about that.

The American eel starts its life in the Sargasso Sea, that huge swath of the mid-Atlantic east of the Bahamas and south of Bermuda. It also returns there to spawn and die in the fall. In between, it lives in fresh water, but it takes a year before the tiny larvae become elvers, also known as glass eels. It is these glass eels which are sought after now, and which the Japanese, Koreans  and Chinese raise to adulthood for the dish pictured on the top right. I have also had smoked eel from Larsen’s fish market in Menemsha, Martha’s Vineyard, MA., but I’m pretty sure it was caught at sea. It was boney, but good. A quick check of Larson’s webpage showed no smoked eels for sale now. So it’s off to the nearest Japanese restaurant if you want some. Otherwise it’s Heartbreak Hotel.

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04/07/2012

Red Lobster’s “Maine Lobster”…NOT!

Dear MLA,

I just wanted to voice a concern about an advertisement of Maine Lobster. I again just saw the Red Lobster commercial depicting them as selling Maine lobster. The most recent commercial even portrays Maine lobstermen on it.

I have boycotted this business for the past few years after eating at two separate Red Lobsters while on vacation in Florida because every lobster I saw there had “product of Canada” bands on the claws…..

Mike Drake

Cuddy’s Harbor

Reprinted in shortened form from the Maine Lobstermen’s Association newsletter, April 2012.

Another letter in the same issue is from Mainers who took a Carnival cruise out of Florida and were served “Maine lobsters” without claws! Clawless lobster species are from warmer waters and could be a number of other lobster species, but not Homarus americanus, our north American lobster. Why should we care about whether a lobster is from Maine or not?

First, let’s hear from Red Lobster’s parent company, Darden Corporation:

….we are also the largest buyer and promoter of North American lobster in the world.In order to meet our annual usage needs, we must source North American lobster from both the United States and Canada. The term “Maine lobster” is commonly used interchangeably with North American lobster and Atlantic lobster. The USFDA also refers to the Homarus americanus species as “Maine Lobster”. Given that “Maine Lobster” is the most recognized and accepted term among consumers, that is the term we use.

Rich Jeffers

Directer of Communications

Darden Corporation, Orlando, FL

Also reprinted in shortened form from the Maine Lobstermen’s Association newsletter, April 2012.

The industrious journalists at MLA did some research and found Mr. Jeffer’s claim to be wanting; the FDA uses the word “lobster” as the “Acceptable Market Name” and “American lobster” as the Scientific common name. In fact, according to the FDA you can legally use the word “lobster” to describe Homarus gammarus, the European lobster. The word “Maine” was not mentioned anywhere. When Melissa Waterman from MLA wrote back to Mr. Jeffers with these observations, she got no response by press time.

So why should we care about this? After all, New Brunswick lobster is every bit as good as Maine lobster…probably. Why then would Red Lobster find it necessary to attach the Maine brand to Canadian lobster? Why would Carnival try to pass off spiny lobster as Homarus americanus? Could it be our reputation for clean cool waters? Our remarkable sustainable fishery? Or maybe they just want to evoke happy memories of that last time you came to Maine. I’m not advocating a boycott of anyone, no one wants a collapse of the lobster market, but a few words to the manager of your favorite lobster restaurant might be in order.

Excuse me, I need to go dig in my garden for a few Idaho potatoes and stop in my greenhouse to water my Florida oranges and prune my Georgia peach tree.

Filed under Acadia, Good Food, Out on the water, Restaurants by on . 8 Comments.

03/16/2012

What’s New at SeaCat’s Rest?

We anticipate a busy summer of providing an affordable Maine seaside apartment to our guests. We have made a few improvements since last year, the most important of which is a second well. This was a tough decision since we had to weigh the very existence of the apartment against the substantial cost of the new well. Our own needs were met by the old well, but on a few aggravating and embarrassing occasions we ran out of water during the height of tourist season.  Now that has changed. We no longer need to wring our hands, forgo showers or flushing when we have guests.

We added a little button for guests to push when they are disturbed by activity above their heads. It is basically a doorbell which we hear in our kitchen and tells us to tone down our activity. We don’t get a lot of complaints (actually, only one so far) so it’s more for our peace of mind. Occasionally we have guests who need to catch an early morning flight, so with this little button we will know without the guest having to bother with a phone call or personal visit.

AT&T coverage here is excellent

Since we started the apartment rental, we have included a land line phone. This phone costs us around $20/month and we were under the suspicion that just about nobody used it. Recently, Lamoine got a new cell tower, and it seems every guest uses their cell phone. We can reconnect at any time, but for this year, we are going to wait until we get a request for reconnection from one of our guests. Even with a seasonal connection, we are ahead of the game compared to year-round, so we consider it an important cost savings. Cell coverage remains less than ideal (you may have to stand outside) but that varies by your cell company.  Our US Cellular phone gets only one bar inside and two outside, but our tracfone gets four bars in and out. A Verizon phone will do fine since it’s a Verizon tower. According to company reception maps, t-moble’s reception here is “moderate” (outdoor only), Sprint’s is “off network roaming”, Nextel’s is zero, AT&T’s is excellent. Since we have very good broadband, skype is another possibility.

Digging the soft shell clam

Much of the exciting changes have to do with the shore. First, with the new local law about licensing clamming, the clam population has rebounded. This is great for guests who wish to try their hand at digging clams for a $12 recreational license (from the town office).  Concurrently I have become a much better clam digger, so I am happy to offer free lessons and equipment (you may want to bring your own rubber gloves and boots, but we have some).

The other big news is, of course, my lobster license, boat and traps. I can’t claim to offer the full-blown Maine lobster fishing experience, since at this point I still don’t quite know what I’m doing, but by mid-summer of 2012 I should know more. I will have to check my 5 traps at least every other day, so guests could arrange to come along. Laws forbid any active participation; trap handling, baiting or boat steering, so guests can observe only.

Being involved in providing vacation accommodations is like skipping over all of the stress in most people’s lives. I get to be the one to bring you relaxation and fun and sometimes, show you how to have more. It’s what I want to be when I grow up!

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