The Heartbeat of a Harbor

The Heartbeat of a Harbor

(October 26, 2010)

Rockland Harbor

Rockland Harbor's fish pier was bustling with activity both on the pier and in the water (Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.)

With the previous day being overcast and drizzly, and heavier rain on the way for the following twenty-four hours, my wife Ann-Marie and I decided to spend our lunch break by the water in Rockland Harbor and tarry a tad outside in the surprisingly comfortable temperatures.

The sun was not expected to peak through the clouds on this day, let alone reign high in the sky as it was, but with stretches of blue dominating above and a gentle breeze carrying the smell of fish waffling through the air, the moment seemed to whisper a secret of its own.

Mooring barge works Rockland harbor

A barge works to remove moorings as wispy fog lurks overhead (Photo by Ann-Marie Trapani)

As we walked to the edge of Buoy Park on the western end of Rockland Harbor, I sensed there was something interesting – even different, about the harbor on this day. But what was it?

Looking out over the nearby water, I spotted a small barge and crew working to pull moorings that were vacated by the departure of summer’s sailing craft and recreational boats.

No sooner had I determined the purpose of the barge, I heard the humming sound of a boat’s motor growing louder behind me. Curious, I glanced to my left and noticed a two-man crew plying about and detaching sections of floating dock from a system of tidal-stained pilings.

Rockland Harbor Fish Pier

A close-up of a fishing trawler and lobster boat at the fish pier with a fog bank on the horizon (Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.)

After briefly observing the annual efforts to clear the harbor of its seasonal appendages, I assessed the waterfront once more – specifically the City of Rockland’s fish pier on Tillson Avenue.

That is when I discovered the answer to my question as to what was so different about the harbor on this day.

Though the summertime hulls had gone missing, sounds comprised of trucks, machinery and voices could be heard working in concert and filling the air about me.

Not to be out done, and in complimentary fashion to the unfolding scene, relentless gulls patrolled the skies – driven to excitement by the plethora of feeding possibilities associated with the day’s fresh catch being landed on the pier.

Fishing trawler passes ferry

A fishing trawler head back out to the bay as a Maine State ferry returns to Rockland (Photo by Ann-Marie Trapani)

I could not discern the human voices, but it was clear from the flections of those at dockside and aboard vessels that a mixture of salutations, instructions and brief bursts of shop-talk were being bantered about. The no-nonsense tone of the communications, and the speed at which the operations moved, belied any perceived romance that I could be conjure of the bustling activities.

Yet wait – that was it!

I finally realized that I could once again hear the un-muffled “heartbeat” of Rockland Harbor.

Not only could I hear the traditional sounds associated with landing a day’s fresh catch, I could also admire the efforts of those who make a living at sea without the visual obstructions of an armada of hulls, masts, sails and docking assemblies that otherwise clutter the view of the seascape during the boating season.

Rockland Harbor in the fog

Fog begins to envelope Rockland Harbor (Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.)

One might say that I was now able to see the trees from the forest – and the clarity of this traditional Maine maritime scene was delightful.

Yet, the scene’s drama was hardly confined to the fish pier. On the northern horizon of the seascape loomed a menacing dark fog bank, and out over West Penobscot Bay, the wispy fingers of the fog were slowly creeping in from the east past Owls Head and reaching deep into the harbor.

Fascinated by the fog’s silent but steady approach, I quickly gazed out over the harbor to see if Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse was still visible. It was, but the view was ever so hazy. Moments later, the gray murkiness concealed all but a silhouette of the stalwart beacon.

USCGC Abbie Burgess returns to Rockland

The buoy tender USCGC Abbie Burgess emerges from the fog on its return to port (Photo by Ann-Marie Trapani)

Still farther out over West Penobscot Bay, visibility was now shut-in altogether, which triggered a battalion of lighthouse fog signals and vessel horns aimed at combating the shroud of wet mantle.

Though the bay was socked-in and the harbor had a less-dense fog touch every corner of its confines, the “heartbeat” of Rockland Harbor remained in full vigor. A fishing trawler, having unloaded its catch, set out once again and disappeared into the fog. In its wake, lobster boats quickly nudged up to the pier to carry out their business, before they too pulled away in clockwork fashion.

In the middle of all of the wharf action, the Maine State ferries, bound to and from the islands of Vinalhaven and North Haven, ran with their usual precision. The business of transporting people, equipment and supplies across the bay seldom ever takes a break, and certainly not for an autumn fog dancing about.

USCGC Abbie Burgess

USCGC Abbie Burgess (Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.)

Just then, as if it appeared out of nowhere, I noticed the U.S. Coast Guard cutter ABBIE BURGESS coming through the fog as it passed Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse on its way back into port. The unexpected but wonderful sight capped off my lunch break with a slice of patriotism and pride, but now it was time to go back to the office.

On my way back to the car I relished the thought of Rockland’s maritime traditions and how this legacy remains alive and well today – a “heartbeat” that keeps going as strong as ever – through fog and all!