Charter boat captain and fisherman Jay McGowen speaks as Jordi St. John, of the Maine Island Trail Association and Merritt Island Oysters, looks on during a panel conversation about etiquette on the water at Bailey Island Library Hall, June 15. (J.W. OLIVER PHOTO)
Etiquette is more than a fancy French word. It translates as “ticket” — a ticket for those who want to coexist with others in an appropriate way. This can apply to many scenarios, including how to operate safely and respectfully on the water. For community members interested in learning more about this topic, it involved a ticket to a June 15 panel conversation at Bailey Island Library Hall.
The panel about etiquette on the water was the fourth in “Living and Working in a Waterfront Community: A Conversation Series.” The series is a collaboration among the Cundy’s Harbor Library, Harpswell Anchor, Harpswell Heritage Land Trust, Holbrook Community Foundation and Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association.
While Emily Post, in her famous 1922 book, “Etiquette: The Blue Book of Social Usage,” focused on topics like the elements of a properly set table and how to navigate a conversation, the Harpswell panel addressed issues like proper equipment and how to navigate a channel around other boats. It did begin, however, with a couple of picnic tables on the Library Hall’s lawn properly set with seafood samples, including Maine Coast Monkfish Stew from the Fishermen’s Association; oysters from the New Meadows River Shellfish Co-op; and appetizers made with tuna, lobster and cod, prepared by Cundy’s Harbor Library Director Heather Logan from recipes in the Fishermen’s Association’s seafood calendar.
After the sampling, the 40-plus guests moved inside to listen to the conversation moderated by Monique Coombs, director of community programs at the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association. Panelists were Monique Coombs’ 17-year-old daughter, Jocelyne Coombs, captain of a 21-foot Privateer lobster boat out of Orr’s Island; Jay McGowen, owner of Westwind Lobster Tours; and Jordi St. John, business engagement manager with the Maine Island Trail Association and owner of Merritt Island Oysters.
As the presentation began, St. John said the Maine Island Trail Association has seen the number of boaters rise significantly since the start of the pandemic. With more boats, he said, comes more shared responsibility to operate in a respectful and safe way, for both recreational and commercial vessels.
Speed is a significant concern for all of the panelists. Jocelyne Coombs lobsters with her younger brother as sternman. “When a power boat comes by and makes a big wake, I have to tell my brother, ‘Hold on,’ because it makes our boat rock back and forth a lot,” she said.
“I try to keep my head on a swivel so I’m always aware of what’s around me — my traps, other buoys and boats,” she added.
Navigation was another concern. McGowen said the area around the Cribstone Bridge is a bottleneck for boat traffic and can have a strong current.
“There’s a real need for additional marking for those who aren’t familiar with the area,” he said. “It’s a busy place in the summertime and people need to be careful around the ledges.”
Safety is paramount on the water. All panelists pointed to the need to have proper equipment on board, like life jackets, flares and an anchor. Kayakers can make themselves visible by putting flags on their kayaks or adding reflective tape to their paddles.
The overarching message from the evening was the focus on shared values among different members of the community who spend time on the waterfront. Proper etiquette on the water is an expression of these shared values and is the ticket to getting along on the water.
To read about or watch the conversation or any previous conversation in the series, go to tinyurl.com/2p8ratrs.
Susan Olcott, of Brunswick, is director of operations for the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association. She has a weekly column, “Intertidal,” in The Times Record, and writes for Maine Women Magazine.
A grant from the Broad Reach Fund supports the Harpswell Anchor’s reporting on the working waterfront, as well as the waterfront conversation series.