CHEBEAGUE ISLAND, MAINE -- Judging by accounts in the Portland Press Herald, President Bush hasn't relaxed much on his vacation near here in Kennebunkport.
All those Washington flights, visits by foreign leaders and conference calls to security advisers are wearing, no doubt, not to mention the press pestering him with "serious questions" while he tries to drive the golf ball. Then when he finally gets on the water, it's zoom! zoom! in a gas-guzzling muscle boat.
Herewith a little advice for the chief exec: Next time, for some real relaxation, zoom down east an extra 30 miles to Chebeague, tie that blasted noisemaker up and see if you can't coax a daysail out of Trudy Putnam. It's the ultimate calming experience.
I was dubious myself, of course, when my wife said she'd arranged a boating adventure last week with a 73-year-old retired schoolteacher from Cape Cod. I figured it'd be deadly dull, flogging around Casco Bay with old folks.
Prospects grew more daunting when she said there would be six aboard the little fiberglass 22-footer, all retired except us. A boatload! But the wind was up on one of those brilliant, cool, late-summer days for which the Pine Tree State is famous. Off we went.
I felt better once we met Putnam, who was wiry, tanned, fit and resplendent in a pair of castoff kids' sunglasses and a floppy hat, and better still when she said we'd walk the quarter-mile to the town landing where the boat was moored.
On a rock- and mussel-strewn beach, Putnam hauled her heavy wooden dinghy to shore hand-over-hand and helped her passengers aboard, then jumped nimbly in the stern and started the outboard on the third pull. The short run to the mooring was the last we heard of any motors.
Once aboard her Pearson Ensign, she had us remove the sail cover and hoist the main, and without ado sailed the little yacht sweetly out onto a glittering sea.
That's how it's done here. In the Chesapeake, where we do our boating, practically no one sails on or off mooring or dock. You use the motor. But New Englanders revere the old ways and consider it a depravity to motor if there's a breeze. Some here don't motor at all. The fellow who moors his 30-footer below our rented cottage sails up each spring from Woods Hole on Cape Cod and back again in the fall with no engine aboard.
Under way, Putnam settled into the stern, smiling, and turned the tiller over to the nearest crew member. "Everyone gets a chance to steer," she said, while she navigated, watched and enjoyed.
"It's amazing how calm she stays with some of the people she has steering," said Cathy Habig, an island year-rounder who crews frequently for Putnam. "Some of them don't have any idea what they're doing, but she never seems to get flustered."
Much of that has to do with the Ensign, a full-keel design that's forgiving, seakindly and predictable. Putnam bought it new in 1968 and has never wanted anything else, nor expects to. Whatever happens, she's seen it before.
When a line controlling the headsail snagged on a cleat during a tack and the sail filled on the wrong side of the boat in a gust, momentarily knocking the little vessel on its side, Putnam scurried to the bow and deftly freed the fouled line. But she trod so quickly and lightly you barely knew she'd moved, and was back in the stern before you knew she'd left.
In strong breeze, smooth seas and a bright sky, we skidded down east past the Goose Nest Ledge toward pine-studded French Isle, then tacked south past the rocky Goslings to Harpswell Neck, where the sea breeze gusted around Basin Point so hard it put the Ensign over on its ear, sending green water into the cockpit and dousing Putnam, shoulder to waist. Her eyes lit and she laughed like a girl.
Back at the landing an hour or two later, her husband waited with the car. "The walk down here isn't bad," he said, "but it's a bit harder going back up the hill."
We piled in. He asked how the sail had gone.
"Well, I'm not saying who," said his wife with a sparkle in her eye, "but someone in this car managed to put green water in the boat and get me soaking wet. I can't remember the last time that happened."
She proffered a flannel-shirted arm, still drenched with salt water. I could feel the color rising in my neck.
The other news from tiny Chebeague is almost all good.
For the first time in years there was no red tide advisory on shellfish this summer, meaning no harmful marine microorganisms were found by health officials so you could eat all the mussels and soft clams you could catch.
We captured several buckets of fat mussels, chasing the seals off rocky islands to get at them, and steamed and gobbled them greedily. Mackerel were thick off Great Whaleboat Island, an easy run in the fishing skiff, and we ate plenty of them. Or you could gorge yourself on fresh lobster, on sale at the Stone Pier at prices as preposterously low as $2.49 a pound.
The only disappointment was wild raspberries, blighted by early summer weather and small and scarce. But the blackberries came on with a vengeance toward the end of our stay, and wild blueberries were plentiful as ever.
Only the Coast Guard warnings on the VHF radio reminded us the Earth spun on its axis a few miles away, where the Western World's leader took his leisure while balancing a powder keg. Keep away from Walker's Point, the warnings said.