BRUNSWICK – Everything in James Melcher’s life revolved around sailboats.

“He just always wanted to keep sailing,” his son Charles Melcher said.

When asked why, Mr. Melcher said it was rooted in his childhood on Cape Cod. “All my dreaming revolved around boats,” he told his son.

Mr. Melcher died April 2 at age 88.

He learned how to sail from his mother when he was just 8 years old. His passion was also his livelihood — he founded the South Orleans Pleasant Bay Camp in Massachusetts and ran it for about 25 years. But he never let running the business get in the way of being with his children, his son said.

“He was very much present as a father and mentor,” Charles Melcher said.

That included teaching his children how to sail. During his son’s junior year in high school, the family took a three-month sailing trip along the coast, sticking to rivers and tributaries and avoiding the open ocean as much as possible.

The journey stretched along much of the East Coast. Charles Melcher said he and his siblings took their school work with them.

The family also did sailing trips during summers. Charles Melcher said they would typically sail up the coast from Cape Cod, landing somewhere in Maine. He remembers trips to Port Clyde and Camden.

After retirement, Mr. Melcher continued to dedicate his life to sailing.

“He did what he wanted to do and set out to do. He was driven to sail, travel and meet people on his boat, and that he did it always inspired me as his son. He’s doing these things that people talk about doing, but don’t necessarily do,” his son said.

Mr. Melcher married Diane de Grasse in 1998, and the couple would embark on sailing excursions for months at a time. Mr. Melcher had lived in Maine since the mid-1990s, but never owned a home here. He would stay on his boat, or live with his son, friends, and later de Grasse.

At age 80, he was still sailing. Mr. Melcher and his wife decided to attend a festival of classic boats in France in 2000. They shipped his boat to England, because at the time, de Grasse said, she had little open-ocean sailing experience. From there, they sailed around Europe and the Mediterranean Sea.

At the end of their two-year journey, they had planned to ship the boat back to the United States and fly home. But the cost of shipping the boat had tripled, so they decided to sail it back.

While de Grasse lacked experience, her husband’s background as a sailing instructor helped greatly, she said.

“He was used to teaching and helping people learn. He was quiet, thoughtful and a gentle teacher,” she said.

Despite strong winds from the northeast and other trials, the couple returned safely.

“It certainly built a team,” de Grasse said. “It was a team thing all the way. When you manage a boat together, you build a relationship like that.”

 

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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