Ruth and Herb Weiss next to their new boat, Ancient Mariners II, at The Dolphin Marina in Harpswell. (Philip Conner photo)
As they have done for many years, Ruth and Herb Weiss recently flew from their Florida winter home to Portland, where they boarded their new trawler for summer cruising to Harpswell and other ports in Midcoast Maine.
The Weisses, who boat alone, have a bigger boat this year, named Ancient Mariners II. And they’re a year older. Ruth’s 97th birthday was April 9. Herb is 104 years old and will be 105 on Oct. 2.
Their first stop was The Dolphin Marina and Restaurant on Basin Point. Owner Mimi Saxton greeted them with a big smile and hugs as the Weisses and two friends sat at a table by the window in the lower dining area, waiting for white wine, haddock and the special of the day.
“The crew is 200 now,” Herb told Saxton, grinning. Actually, their combined age is 201. Another restaurant guest, on learning Herb’s age, walked over to the table, clasped Herb’s hands and exclaimed, “God bless you!”
After several days in Harpswell, on June 25 the couple waited for the fog to lift, nudged out of the marina and headed to Boothbay. Herb said it was smooth sailing. From there, they’ll stop in Rockland, Camden and Belfast, then return to Harpswell and Portland in the fall.
Last summer they sold their 36-foot American Tug trawler, Ancient Mariner, and bought a 2005 41-foot trawler, also an American Tug. Herb said he really wanted a new boat but was told that would take three years and he “didn’t want to wait that long.”
The bigger boat is like a luxury yacht, with two large staterooms, two full-sized bathrooms with showers, and teak handrails for each of the four sets of stairs, all cushioned with thick carpet. The pilothouse has been outfitted with new electronics and the Stidd captain’s chair has soft, ivory-colored leather installed by the previous owner.
It’s taken some time for the couple to get used to Ancient Mariners II, but “now it’s home,” said Ruth. Herb steers the boat and Ruth charts their course. Both have given up their driver’s licenses (Herb turned in his this year), but operating the boat is less of a problem because there’s plenty of room in the ocean and the bays.
One morning, a friend drove Ruth to Walmart in Brunswick. She dashed from one end of the store to the other, stocking up on toilet paper, a casserole dish, and fresh and packaged food. Herb was waiting at the stern of the boat as Ruth handed him heavy bags.
The couple are celebrities everywhere they go in Maine. They’re an inspiration to everyone they meet because their age hasn’t slowed them down. They had sailed around the world before buying trawlers. Ruth is a Harvard-educated pediatrician. Herb was 15 or 16 years old when he enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In World War II, Herb was sent to England to install radar with a novel navigation system he and his team had developed at MIT for the Royal Air Force. Until then, he said, Great Britain was losing the air war. He also was part of a team at MIT that helped develop the North American Aerospace Defense Command on the East Coast of the U.S.
Even as a centenarian — plus four — Herb has not lost his quick sense of humor. “My balance isn’t as good,” he said, “but I’m good with checks.” He climbed off the boat and slowly walked up Dolphin Marina’s ramp with Ruth holding his arm.
Connie Sage Conner is a retired editor of The Virginian-Pilot. She lives in Harpswell and serves on the Harpswell News Board of Directors.