September 25, 2011

John Christie: There's peace in Friendship

The birthplace of the famous sloop has turmoil in its history, but now it's a prime midcoast spot for protected paddling.

By John Christie

It's hard to believe, on a quiet September morning in a kayak in Friendship Harbor, that this was the same place that was raided twice during the French and Indian War in the mid-1700s, where settlers were killed and scalped as they sought refuge in a fort on Garrison Island.

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John Christie paddles by Friendship Long Island, which shelters the waters off the midcoast town.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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Christie passes a Friendship Sloop moored in the harbor. The classic sailboats were used for fishing in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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Or that this picture-perfect coastal Maine community bustled in the late 1800s, with a population not much less than its current 1,200 or so people, and featured two shipbuilders, two gristmills, a shingle mill, three sawmills and assorted manufacturers of sails, carriages, boots and shoes.

It was those shipbuilders who incorporated the lines of Gloucester fishing vessels into the world-renowned Friendship Sloop. The early sloops ranged in length from 20 to 50 feet, with the average running between 30 and 40 feet. They shared the same elliptical stern, and most had a clipper bow and were gaff-rigged. The one thing they all shared was a preset formula: the beam equaled one-third the overall length, and the length of the mast equaled the overall length plus half the draft.

So did Muscongus Bay earn a special place in the eyes of fishermen and sailors for the abundance of this now-classic craft. At the turn of the last century, they were used in seining for herring, hand-lining for cod, sword fishing, mackereling and, of course, lobstering.

I can only imagine what it must have been like to haul and bait traps while managing the sail and staying off the rocks with a boat that drafted about five feet.

On a recent morn, I paddled amongst some of these classics as well as modern-day lobster and cruising boats, as I drank in the beauty of the harbor, the village and the islands. Although it was "thickafog," in the lobstermen's vernacular, the ghosts of Friendship's past appeared as I paddled past, not the least of them being Gladiator, a still-beautiful sloop built in 1902, lying on her mooring.

Kayaking Friendship and Muscongus Bay is a special treat, regardless of the weather, and it's easy to get there. From the south, it's only about a dozen miles down Route 220 from Waldoboro, and about the same distance down Route 97 from South Warren/Thomaston if you're coming from the north.

When you reach the center of the tiny village, take the Bradford Point Road at the Hahn Community Center for about a mile to a public launching site, where one can walk to Garrison Island at low tide. I like launching there, instead of the town landing on the harbor, as this gives you a wonderful view of the harbor as you pass either inside Garrison Island when the tide's in, or out around it if it's out.

Friendship Long Island provides great protection, so you'll often find placid paddling even when the seas outside are running a little high, and exploring its entire perimeter is a half-day of some of the best coastal Maine kayaking you'll find anywhere.

Ospreys circle and cry, seals bask and other sea birds fill the air. You'll see lobstermen at work, pulling traps or unloading their catch and taking on bait at the Co-op.

Out around the south end of Friendship Long, you'll pass inside Cranberry Island and back along the east side to your launch site.

If the seas are favorable, and you're up for a little more serious ocean kayaking, you might consider paddling six miles out to the Franklin Island National Wildlife Refuge. The 12-acre island, part of the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge, supports nesting gulls, eiders, black-crowned night herons, Leach's storm petrels and ospreys.

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Additional Photos

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A sign outside Archie Wallace’s store in Friendship lets visitors know they can fill up their car or bike tires for free.

Staff Photographer/Gregory Rec

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Cormorants gather on a float in Friendship Harbor.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer


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