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My Column for Toynbee

PPH February 2017? ???

Thank you for looking at this, Toynbee..

The email said that the “St. George Community Sailing Foundation teaches sailing, seamanship, and water safety to young sailors, ages 9-18, of all skill levels in beautiful Tenants Harbor on the coast of Maine.” Five instructors were listed along with the fact that tuition is $190 for residents and $380 for youngsters from away.

“Scholarships are available for year-round St. George residents only.”

Learn how to sail a boat. What a fun thing for kids to do. In 1946 we had a few old neighbors who used to sail boats and a lot of neighbors who earned a living in power boats, but I can’t think of a single kid in St. George who wanted to learn how to sail a boat.

Do you know what kind of memories talk of sailing a boat invokes in an old man who was born into a community that went to sea?

When I was 10, I listened to old men who had learned to sail when they were children. Captain Thomas told me of hearing the mate's boots clumping down the ladder to wake him in the morning. --- And what it was like to work up in the rigging, who knows how far from the deck, trying to straighten things out in a gale --- when he was 12 years old. If you couldn’t hang on, they probably didn’t ask you to do it again.

I can still see Captain Thomas looking down at me with a smile as he shook his head and said over and over, “You don’t know. You don’t know.”

Can you imagine letting a 12-year-old work on a vessel hauling who knows what between New York City and Cuba? For generations of St. George people, going to work on a boat before you were old enough to notice girls was the norm.

By the time he was 19, Ardie Thomas was a captain. As I recall, the ship's owners wrote to St. George and asked for A. Thomas, who might have been his cousin --- I’m not sure --- but he got the letter and he took the job instead. Although he'd been at sea for 7 or so years by then, he said he learned celestial navigation very soon after he was captain of his own ship by some serious reading in his cabin.

He told me that he could come up from Cuba to New York City and, when he couldn’t read the stars, put his bow right on the Ambrose lightship with only dead reckoning and a lead line.

He said that the masts were so high on one of his ships that he cleaned off the topmost flag going under some bridge coming into New York.

When I was 10, I was related to almost every person in my village, so it was no surprise when I learned in later years that he was one of my third cousins.

Captain Thomas’s great grandmother was a sister to my great grandfather Gilchrest. On one side of his gravestone is carved, "Lost At Sea." Mother said that Andy Wyeth painted a close-up of that side of the stone years ago but I never saw it.

My mother's father was on --- I think it was The Gregory --- when it sprung a leak off Ireland and sank with a wet load of grain in 1882. The carpenter died trying to fix the leak. The captain went blind from going below and trying to rescue the carpenter and my grandfather, being the mate, was the last to leave the ship and had to swim to the ship that rescued them. I've got a copy of the log. Although he was 22 or so at the time, he must have been pretty young when he first shipped, too.

So now St. George kids who can raise the cash for a two-week class can learn how to sail. The course is taught by people I don’t know who can do things I can’t do. We appreciate their willingness to teach young people how to sail, and hope that the children will always have the time and resources to support their hobby.

The life of a sailor is not without risk. More than a few St. George people left the dock and didn't come back. I think I’ve already told you about Captain Freddy who went to sea rather late in life. When Captain Freddy was old enough to ship, one of his close relatives, a captain, asked if he’d help him deliver a load of coal to the west coast. Freddy’s mother had lost so many relatives to the sea that she wouldn’t let him sign articles. In telling about it 60 years later, Captain Freddy said, “She went down with all hands and was never heard of again. I suppose it’s just as well that I didn’t go.

Robert Karl Skoglund
785 River Road
St. George, ME 04860
(207) 226-7442


For availability and fee schedule drop Robert an e-mail at




© 2017 Robert Karl Skoglund

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