Posted by: Sand Squiggles -- Richard Modlin's Blog | October 21, 2016

Serene and Rugged Beauty – Grand Manan Blog I




North Head Community


North Head Harbor

In the first of my Jack Hollister novels, Newfound Freedom, the Royal Navy frigate HMS Buzzard takes up refuge off Grand Manan Island to wait out a weeklong fog event. Though I had seen the island from the coast of Maine—it is four to five miles away—at the time of writing this novel I had never visited it. From my perspective, I could see that the entire length of the island’s 25 mile western shore, from north to south, rose vertically from 100 to 200 feet from sea level to its forested summit. There appeared to be little evidence of protected coves or bays or any human habitation along this shore. Where could an 18th Century warship take sanctuary? A map downloaded from the internet suggested that the rugged western cliff-barrier gradually descended eastward to sea level.


Swallowtail Light North Head


North Eddy Light North Head

About a month ago I finally visited Grand Manan Island (GMI), the largest island in New Brunswick, Canada and located in the Bay of Fundy. Indeed the one and half hour ferry ride from Black’s Harbor, NB, Canada terminates on the east side of GMI at North Head, the picturesque community that developed along the rise where the coastal precipice rounds the north end of the island and declines to the Atlantic Ocean. From here the shoreline remain at or near sea level to just south of the community of Seal Cove, where it again uplifts rapidly to the maximum height of the spectacular western plateau.



Dark Harbor on the western side of GMI


Dark Harbor Bar from top of Cliff

Grand Manan Island is of volcanic origin with coves, bays, inlets, outlets, and marshlands along the eastern shore and a high-rise, ragged, tumultuous western shoreline. With its northern end lying in the Bay of Fundy and its southern toe in the Atlantic Ocean, the economy of GMI is centered in the fishing industry, Atlantic salmon aquaculture, lobster, herring and scallop fishing, clam and sea urchin dragging, whale watching (humpbacks, finbacks, porpoises, seals, and a variety of other larger marine vertebrates frequent the water around GMI).


Cliff at South Head of GMI


South Head Light

Though politically GMI operates as a single unit, its population is divided into six major commercial centers (communities), North Head, Castalia, Woodwards Cove, Grand Harbor, Ingalls Head, and Seal Cove. Each of these quaint, bucolic communities has its specialty:  North Head, tourism; Castalia, bird watching; Woodwards Cove, grocery store and gas station; Grand Harbor, entertainment, museum; Ingalls Head, ship building and large vessel repair, bird watching, and free ferry to White Head Island; and Seal Cove, picturesque remnants of early 20th Century herring processing industry. One minor enclave, the only community on the western shore, but of major economic importance is Dark Harbor. Access to this little ragtag fishing community is a drive down the 200-foot cliff to the beach. It is the center of lobstering and herring fishing in the gray zone, the body of water between Canada and the USA called Grand Manan Channel. But most important is the collecting of dulse, a nutritious red algae that is purported to be of the best quality in the world. And It is. I’ve tasted it. Great in salads, as a spice in soups, sauces, and seafood dishes, and when lightly fried, is the best tasting vegetarian bacon I’ve ever tasted. (More of the fascinating, poorly known dulse fishing industry in a later blog.)


Seal Cove 


Degrading Herring Processing Factories — Seal Cove

By the way, I haven’t forgotten, the HMS Buzzard anchored in the bay at Grand Harbor.


White Head Island scene


White Head Island Light

Newfound Freedom and Modlin’s other books are available from

© Copyright 2016 Richard Modlin




Posted by: Sand Squiggles -- Richard Modlin's Blog | December 26, 2015

Finding Nautical History at Moosehead Lake, Maine

This past September (2015) Marian, my wife, wanted to photograph some moose. So we decided to spend a couple of days in Greenville, Maine, a little city at the southern end of Moosehead Lake. This town is roughly located about midway on the southern perimeter of the vast northern fir/birch forest that extends almost unbroken across the upper part of state from I-95 on the east, and west to the Canadian border. Though photo-hunting moose can be exciting and great fun, Greenville and Moosehead Lake also satisfied my pursuit of nautical history.

Moosehead Lake, the biggest lake in Maine, functioned as a storage area during this state’s great logging period. Tree trunks from the forest, cut during the summer, autumn and winter months, were stored on the lake until ice-out in the spring, then rafted to the West Bay and the Kennebec East Outlet (a stream that connects Moosehead Lake with Indian Pond). From there the logs were then floated, with the aid of high water, to the headwaters of the Kennebec River. Once on the river, logs drifted downstream to sawmills.

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MV Katahdin


During Maine’s logging heydays, the lake was home to more than fifty steamboats of various sizes that conveyed loggers, fishermen, hunters, and others to camps around the lake. In the summer some of the larger steam vessels transported prominent New Yorkers and Bostonians from the railhead at Greenville Junction to the plush Kineo Hotel, a resort at the base of Mt. Kineo. This resort was located about twenty miles up the lake from Greenville. These larger vessels reverted to their normal towboat responsibilities in the spring and pulled massive log-rafts (some many acres in size) from around the lake to West Bay.

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Of the many steamboats that once plied Moosehead Lake only one remains, the MV Katahdin or the Kate as she is known locally.

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Kate is the second vessel of its kind. The first Katahdin was a wooden hulled steamboat launched in 1896. But in 1913, she burned while trying to remove a log-raft off Sand Bar Island. Within a year a steel hull, built by the Bath Iron Works of Bath, Maine, was shipped in parts by rail to Greenville. This hull was assembled by the Coburn Steamboat Company’s shipyard and launched onto Moosehead Lake. The shipyard added the superstructure and christened the hull with the name of the vessel that burned.

This second Katahdin was 115 feet long, had a beam of 26 feet, and weighed 250 tons. It drew seven and half feet of water and was originally certified to carry five hundred passengers. It went into operation in August of 1914 and continued operating as did the original wooden-hulled Katahdin and the other steam powered towboats in the Coburn fleet. At some point the MV Katahdin’s steam engine was replaced with a diesel engine. Kate continued to tow log-rafts in the spring and haul tourists in the summer until the Last Log Drive on July 12, 1975.

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Today the Katahdin is the last passenger-carrying towboat of its kind in Maine—an over 100 year old functioning relic from the past. In 1977 she was donated to The Moosehead Marine Museum. With the support of several benefactors, the Kate was restored and repowered. She was recertified to carry passengers, but this time only 225 instead of 500. In 1985 the Kate began again carrying tourists on day cruises.

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During my visit to Greenville, I was not able to take a tour on the Katahdin, because we were there on Sunday and Monday. The vessel does not sail on these days and only once on most other days. The shortest roundtrip is to Sugar Island, a three hour cruise. But on some days, a 4.5 hour tour to Kineo Mountain and back can be made. Then there is an all-day, circular voyage to Northwest Bay, which takes eight hours. It is best to check the cruise schedule by visiting the museum’s website before attempting to ride on the MV Katahdin.

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ʃ ʃ ʃ ʃ

© Richard Modlin copyright 2015



Posted by: Sand Squiggles -- Richard Modlin's Blog | August 11, 2015

Collembolan Insects of the Intertidal Zone


Yesterday (8/9/2015), while walking the shore off the cottage during low tide, I stopped to rest on a boulder. I scanned the gravel, stones, shells, and other debris that becomes exposed when the water recedes. At my feet lay a conglomerate mass of sand and small stones. This mass appeared to have formed when gravely debris became embedded in the glutinous secretions of filamentous alga and silt. The detrital ball, about the size of my fist, will become cemented together by a variety of processes and harden over many years to form the conglomerate stones found on ocean beaches.

“Once a biologist, always a biologist. Damn, one should never allow a retired marine ecologist beach combing privileges.”

I picked up the mass, examined it, and found that the granules could easily be broken off.  So this conglomerate seemed to be in its early stage of creation. Hyphae of a white mold formed a dendritic network over and through the moist area (underside) of the mass, which suggested the granules were still being bound together by an organic matrix. Also, after chipped off some grains, little millimeter-sized, gray, cylindrical organisms scooted around looking for cover. These I easily identified as some sort of insect. At first glance these little bugs looked like lice. But, no. Lice are very light colored and obligate parasites on mammals, birds, plants and other living things. Whatever these bugs were, they were feeding on the organic stuff in the gravel ball.

When Marian came by with her camera, she took some close-up photos of the mass, hoping that one of the photos might capture one of these little insects. And—three cheers for the photographer—the insects were photographically documented.

Though the extreme magnification made the images a little fuzzy, they were sufficient to ID the bugs as members of the insect Order Collembola that could possibly be in one of the following taxonomic groups: Ceratophysella, Hypogastura, or Proisotoma that are found in the U.S.A.

Insect in the Order Collembola

Insect in the Order Collembola

This is an order of small primitively wingless arthropods that are related to, or sometimes classed among the true insects. They have 6 abdominal segments, 3 pairs of legs, antennae, and sometimes a forked caudal furcula. Collembolans are found everywhere, especially in soil rich in organic debris, in rotting logs, on the surface of snow or water, and (a characteristic most important to me) in the intertidal zone—where I found them. Collembolans are commonly known as springtails. But the ones I found did not us their springer (an appendage found under the first abdominal segment called a collophore) that they can use to escape. Instead these little gray bugs scooted into crevices that separated the granules.

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Collembolan-like fossils have been found in material dating back 400 million years, so the group is considered by some to be very ancient. Other taxonomists think they evolved more recently as an offshoot of the true flies Order Diptera. Presently there is very little known of the biology and evolution of this group of organisms.

The exciting thing for me is that I found an insect in a saltwater environment, a place where insects are rare—except for the Diptera. There may be more out there than we know. Because of their extreme primitiveness, it is highly possible they can tolerate oceanic waters, and live quite happily in the intertidal zone.

Well back to the beach. Perhaps I’ll find something a little less crawly.

ʃ ʃ ʃ ʃ

© Copyright 2015 Richard Modlin




© Copyright Photographs 2015 Marian Moore Lewis

Check out Marian Moore Lewis’ recent book Southern Sanctuary, which contains many of her excellent nature photos. Southern Sanctuary is available from



Posted by: Sand Squiggles -- Richard Modlin's Blog | April 17, 2015

Review of Southern Sanctuary by Dr. Sue Brannan Walker

MEET MARIAN LEWIS.  Think SANCTUARY:   And thank you MARIAN LEWIS!  Sanctuary is not a word we hear much anymore – not before toast and tea on an ordinary April morning after a week of rain.  Perhaps we do not believe that there is such a place – a sanctuary – in our too busy, often too-frenzied world of meetings, assorted appointments, and daily to-do lists: call the Critter Getters; there’s a coon in the attic.  But wait!  Stop!  Sanctuary is a word synonymous with MARIAN LEWIS – who has just written a gorgeous book entitled “SOUTHERN SANCTUARY: A NATURALIST’s WALK THROUGH THE SEASONS” published in 2015 by the University of Alabama Press.  The walk begins in April – but here we are – or rather, here I am at my computer – and I haven’t yet had my cup of tea.  I’m too excited about this book called SANCTUARY. Indeed I am experiencing SANCTUARY – and I don’t have to leave my “perch” to take an excursion with MARIAN LEWIS as she writes: “Today I begin my first exploratory excursion into the bottom-land habitat that is to become my project and passion for the foreseeable future.”  A note says that her purpose on this April day is “to discover, photograph, and document spring in the Sanctuary.  I follow her words and scan the fabulous photographs, follow her “down the path past the red gates into the Sanctuary.  Song sparrows search for seeds. Listen.

In case you want to hear the Song Sparrow, it sings a rather loud, clanking song that consists of 2–6 phrases.  The song usually starts with abrupt notes and ends with a trill.  The song sparrow might add additional trills to a song that lasts a few seconds. The singer might add other adornments, other trills but note: the song patterns differ according to the species, and Marian’s birds might not sound quite like our birds – and especially so since we are listening vicariously through the pages of a book – a gorgeous book but WAIT!

MARIAN LEWIS will be giving a workshop at the Alabama Writers Conclave in Fairhope, Alabama (University of South Alabama Campus) on July 18, 2015.

Her workshop will show us how to employ Nature as a platform to creativity, to sharpen our observational skills, rekindle the thrill of discovery, and engage the senses in writing about Nature.  Attendees will have the opportunity to practice observational skills, explore approaches to publishing nature-nonfiction, choose a potential publisher, and write a book proposal, developing text, avoiding research pitfalls, and finally how to revise the final book.

I can’t wait!  Join the Alabama Writers Conclave.  We want to meet you in Fairhope – itself a SANCTUARY – especially with MARIAN LEWIS as our guide.

Dr. Sue Brannan Walker, President of the Alabama Writers’ Conclave and former Poet Laureate of the State of Alabama.

Southern Sanctuary is available from Amazon. Please visit

Information on the 2015 Alabama Writes can be had by visiting the AWC website at


Posted by: Sand Squiggles -- Richard Modlin's Blog | March 28, 2015


Broad Cove, located between Eastport, Maine on the east and Shackford Head State Park on the west, plays a minor role in my recent novel Newfound Freedom. This is where my fictitious Captain Francklin brings his frigate HMS Buzzard to anchorage at the very northern end of the cove known as Cony Beach. From here he sends off a contingent of Royal Marines to capture the survivors of the coastal schooner Pegasus, which wrecked on Maine’s Down East Bold Coast. The captain picked this cove not only for its location to the wreck, but also because of its extreme tides (18-22 feet). At low tide the frigate will sit high and dry on the mud and his crew can careen, clean, and repair the hull from the waterline to the keel.

In reality Broad Cove has a doleful reputation. Between 25 October 1901 and 13 May 1920, five proud decommissioned Civil War warships of the Union Navy were sailed into the cove, stranded off Cony Beach, stripped of useful items, and burned to their keels. Once the tide extinguished the flames and cooled the ashes, much of the metal used in the construction of these wooden vessels was easily salvaged.

Map of Broad Cove, ME

Map of Broad Cove, ME

The oldest of these ships was the 74-gun ship of the line USS Vermont, the only full sailing vessel to be burned. Her keel was laid on September 1818 in the Boston Navy Yard, but the Vermont saw little action during the War of 1812. During the Civil War the USS Vermont was re-commissioned and assigned to the South Atlantic Blockade. During this time she functioned as a receiving ship (warehouse, hospital, supply, etc.) in and near her home port of Port Royal, SC. The USS Vermont was burned 23 June 1902.

USS Vermont

USS Vermont

A steam powered 47-gun frigate augmented with sails, the USS Minnesota was built in the Washington Navy Yard. Her keel was laid in May 1854 and she was launched 1 December 1855. The Minnesota carried about 650 men and most notably saw action in the battle against the ironclad CSS Virginia (formerly the USS Merrimac) off Hampton Roads, VA on 8 March 1862. The Minnesota ran aground and suffered bombardment from shore batteries, but continued to fire against the Virginia, but to no avail. After the Virginia sank the USS Cumberland and forced the surrender of the USS Congress, the ironclad turned its guns on the Minnesota. However, because of shallow water, the confederate vessel could not close on the Union frigate. After dark the USS Monitor came to the aid of the Minnesota. In the morning, Captain John Worden of the USS Monitor shouted his famous words to the captain of the Minnesota, “I will stand by you to the last if I can help you,” and steamed his little iron vessel toward the oncoming CSS Virginia and blocked all but one of the shots the confederate vessel lobbed at the Minnesota. By noon the famous battle of the ironclads ended—better known as the battle between the Merrimac and Monitor. The Virginia steamed away and the Minnesota was refloated and repaired. She remained in service for the balance of the war as the flagship of the North Atlantic Blockade Squadron. Her end came by fire off Cony Beach on 25 October 1901.

USS Minnesota

USS Minnesota

The keel of the USS Wabash, the sister ship of the USS Minnesota, was laid 16 May 1854 at the Philadelphia Naval Yard. Launched 25 October 1855 and commissioned about a year later, the Wabash did duty in the waters off Central America and the Mediterranean Sea before the Civil War. The 44-gun steam-powered sailing vessel moved about two knots faster than the USS Minnesota. Assigned to the North Atlantic Blockade Squadron, the Wabash saw action from Cape Hatteras, NC to St. Augustine, FL. Some of her crew were put ashore and manned the guns that fired upon Fort Pulaski, GA. In 1864 the Wabash returned to the waters off North Carolina and became involved in the attack of Fort Fisher, which guarded the entrance to Wilmington Harbor. After this battle she returned to the Boston Navy Yard and was decommissioned. But in 1871, the Wabash was overhauled and became the flagship of the Mediterranean Squadron, where she remained for three years. When this tour ended, the frigate returned to Boston and converted to a receiving ship. Her end came at Cony Beach on 26 June 1913.

USS Wabash

USS Wabash


Ten years elapsed from the time the keel of the USS Franklin (May 1854) was laid at the Portsmouth Naval Yard and the vessel launched on 17 September 1864. Another three years passed before the Franklin was commissioned, 3 June 1867. This wooden hulled, 44-gun, single screw steam-powered, sailing vessel had the distinction of having two smoke stacks that could be raised and lowered. Being commission after the Civil War ended, she did not serve during this conflict. However, the Franklin became the flagship of Admiral David Farragut during his command of the European Squadron. USS Franklin remained with this fleet until 1876, when she returned to Norfolk and was converted to a naval receiving ship. Decommissioned in 1915, this frigate met her demise at Cony Beach on 2 October 1916. Interestingly, the USS Franklin was the only of cremated vessel viewed by a future president of the United States. Franklin D. Roosevelt and his family came to Cony Beach from their summer home on Campobello Island—located across Friar Roads, the body of water that separates Campobello Island from Eastport, ME—to watch the burning. At that time FDR was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy.

USS Franklin

USS Franklin

Last of the warships to be torched off Cony Beach (13 May 1920) was the sloop-rigged USS Richmond, the smallest of the five vessels, but the most notable. Differing from the other three larger wooden-hulled, steam-powered, single screw, sailing vessels, the Richmond only carried twenty two cannons on her deck. Her keel was laid 27 July 1858. She was launched 26 January 1860, and commissioned in October 1860. After a short tour of duty with the Mediterranean Squadron, she became part of Admiral Farragut’s Gulf Blockading Fleet and saw battles in the lower Mississippi River and along the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico. When the USS Tecumseh struck an underwater mine—called torpedoes at that time—at the beginning (5 April 1864) of the Battle of Mobile Bay and sunk, the attack line of Farragut’s fleet was disrupted. Having no choice but to forge ahead into the bay, Farragut yelled his famous command, “Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!” The fleet regrouped. Farragut’s flagship, the USS Hartford, led the Richmond and the other Union ships of the line into Mobile Bay. The Battle of Mobile Bay extended for nearly a month. During this time the USS Richmond’s cannons almost continuously bombarded Fort Morgan. The little sloop of war sank or successfully blocked several Confederate ships from escaping to the open sea. The Richmond sustained little damage during the Battle of Mobile Bay, but returned to the Boston Navy Yard to be repaired and refurbished. For the next thirty four years the USS Richmond served duty in different Atlantic ports, e.g., as a member of various squadrons, a training ship, receiving ship, etc. In 1903 the sloop was sent to the Norfolk Navy Yard where she functioned as an auxiliary receiving vessel. The USS Richmond was decommissioned in 1919.

USS Richmond

USS Richmond

I have scoured Cony Beach for artifacts on many occasions. On one particular visit the tide was low, exposing a rockweed covered section of the keel of a large wooden vessel with pieces of its ribs still attached. Assuming that the USS Richmond was the last vessel to be cremated off Cony Beach—about ninety five years ago—these may be the remains of this proud vessel. Perhaps so, but I’ve asked around and no one seems to know or remember. I’ll keep checking.

Keel and Ribs of Wooden-Hulled vessel exposed at low tide off Cony Beach.

Keel and Ribs of Wooden-Hulled vessel exposed at low tide off Cony Beach.

ʃ ʃ ʃ ʃ ʃ

© Richard Modlin Copyright 1915

Newfound Freedom is available in hardcover, trade paperback, and electronic versions from



Posted by: Sand Squiggles -- Richard Modlin's Blog | September 17, 2014

Poem for Today


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Nearby air trembles like a drum.

Diaphanous wings beat with dazzling speed.

A greenish bird the size of my thumb.

Flits up and tweets,


and tweets again.

Zips down,

and zooms to the reddish tube,

impales the center dot in the plastic yellow flower,

and sucks a sweet shot to keep its power.

ʃ ʃ ʃ

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© Copyright by Richard Modlin, 2014

Check out Chasing Wings, ForeWord Reviews’ 2008 Finalist for the Book of the Year Award in nature writing, for more of my encounters and experiences while bird watching. Click on My Books

Posted by: Sand Squiggles -- Richard Modlin's Blog | August 26, 2014

An Ephemeral Net

Yesterday I woke around 7:00 a.m. to a dense fog hiding the bay. The fir trees along the edge of the cliff were spookily visible. The fog intensified during breakfast. But by my last cup of tea, the sun began sneaking through. The firs again began to appear, as did the bay waters and the far shoreline. Looking toward the sky, the blue deepened with every passing minute.

Scanning the scene created by the beginnings of a beautiful day on the west side of Little Kennebec Bay, I notice spider webs in and between the tops of the balsam firs that grow above the cottage’s shoreline. In the light southerly sea breeze, these nets were sparkling and glittering against the deep azure sky.

For a few minutes after the fog burned off, condensation coated these webs. The droplets of moisture rendered the beauty and intricacy of several orb spiders’ fantastic spiral nets.

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I wondered how an orb spider weaves such an artistic trap forty feet above the ground and sometimes one suspended between the tops of two trees four to six feet apart. And, if all conditions are proper, they can construct them in an hour or less and usually take them down the next day.

Web suspended between two trees. Primary cable visible on left, as is the left branch of  perpendicular Y-cable.

Web suspended between two trees. Primary cable visible on left, as is the left branch of perpendicular Y-cable.

All spiders have one to four pairs of spinnerets—the number depends on the species—projecting from the end of their abdomen. Spinnerets produce the threads or silk that forms the web. Each spinneret ejects a filament thinner than a hair that combines with others to form the silk of the individual cables of a web.

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To construct a web between the tops of trees, a breeze is required. Initially an orb spider climbs to a secure branch, a high point, and releases a long, sticky thread. Wind catches the thread and carries it across the open space to another branch where the thread sticks and becomes anchored. The spider then tightropes across this initial cable (the primary or horizontal cable) to the far end, emitting silk along the way strengthening the cable. Then the weaver returns to the middle and drops down to a third anchorage point directly below the primary cable. As it falls, it pulls a portion of the primary cable with it to a taut point, then releases more silk as it continues to fall to a third anchorage point. This forms a Y-shaped perpendicular support cable. From this point the spider climbs back to the original anchorage point and begins to produce the web’s radial cables. Once these are complete, the spider begins spinning the spiral cable between the radials. When it reaches the center point of the spiral, the orb weaver strengthens it and sits, then waits for its prey.

Amazing! Orb spiders make high-wire preforming a matter of routine.

ʃ ʃ ʃ ʃ

© Copyright by Richard Modlin August, 2014

Posted by: Sand Squiggles -- Richard Modlin's Blog | June 27, 2014

Margaretta Day in Machias, Maine 2014

“Huzza! In the face of Great Britain’s retribution, the people of Machias have voted to maintain their Liberty Pole that stands to commemorate the Patriots of Concord and Lexington.” This impassioned decision made 239 years ago led to the first naval battle of the American Revolution. On June 11 & 12, 1775 the Patriots in the vicinity of Machias, Maine attacked and captured the Sloop of War, HMS Margaretta, which was ready to bombard the village because the residents refused to remove the pole as ordered by the crown.

Artistic Interruption of First Naval Battle of American Revolution -- HMS Margaretta portside, Transport Unity starboard.

Artistic Interpretation of First Naval Battle of American Revolution — HMS Margaretta portside, Transport Unity starboard.

Margaretta Day commemorates the battle that took place between the colonial Patriots in and around the village of Machias, a logging village at the falls near the mouth of the Machias River, and a group of British sailors and marines aboard the HMS Margaretta. This heavily armed shallow draft vessel, crewed by a well-trained, disciplined crew, escorted two commercial transports to Machias. When the captain of the man of war spotted the Liberty Pole, he ordered the town fathers to remove it. “Immediately!” If they didn’t, he proclaimed that he would bombard the village and lay it to waste. In a series of quickly called town meetings the majority of residents voiced their decision—the Liberty Pole would stay erect. Additional secret meetings of the Machias Committee on Safety (the town “rebels” or militia) planned to defend the village by capturing the captain and the other officers of the Margaretta. Their plan didn’t work and the officers escaped to their vessel. With anything that would serve as a weapon (muskets, pitchforks, axes, pikes, clubs, etc.) the militia, composed of rapidly recruited men and women from Machias and the surrounding communities, attacked the fleeing vessel from shore and small boats. Under the direction of Captain Jeremiah O’Brien, a major leader in the Committee on Safety, militiamen commandeered the two commercial vessels and pursued the Margaretta. Through a series of sailing mistakes, the British warship went aground in Machias Bay. A sea battle ensued, the captain of the Margaretta was killed, and the vessel and her crew were captured by the American Patriots.

Birchbark Canoe Maker's  Camp

Birchbark Canoe Maker’s Camp — Photo by Marian Moore Lewis



Fine Construction Detail of Birchbark Canoe

Fine Construction Detail of Birchbark Canoe — Photo by Marian Moore Lewis

The Birchbark Canoe

The Birchbark Canoe — Photo by Marian Moore Lewis











Blacksmiths Photo by Marian Moore Lewis

Photo by Marian Moore Lewis



Woodsman's camp Photo by Marian Moore Lewis

Woodsman’s camp
Photo by Marian Moore Lewis













Discussion with Jeremiah O'Brien  Photo by Marian Moore Lewis

Discussion with Jeremiah O’Brien
Photo by Marian Moore Lewis

The Margaretta Day Festival brings together many from the Machias River Valley:  historians, re-enactors, craftsmen, artisans, food vendors, promoters of children’s activities, and even the US Postal Service, which set up a booth to cancel letters and postcards with a commemorative stamp. A morning parade began the festival. Throughout the day, crafters displayed their skills, historians made presentations, and I, dressed in a period shirt and wearing a tricorne, signed copies of my novel Newfound Freedom. Everyone, except the group of soaked re-enactors, who tried to sleep through a torrential downpour the night before, seemed to have a very enjoyable time, selling their wears, eating deer stew, meat pies, and other period foods, and topping everything off with dessert pies made from blueberries, rhubarb, or strawberries. The event ended with the expected rainstorms failing to attend. After, Marian and I joined our friends Pierre and Pat for an outstanding dinner at the Riverside Inn in East Machias.




An account of this battle colored with the colonial and nautical adventures and life of this time is an integral part of my historically accurate, exciting novel Newfound Freedom. For information about the book, please click above on My Books.

Chris Sprague, the Jeremiah O'Brien reenactor and me -- Photo by Marian Moore Lewis

Chris Sprague, the Jeremiah O’Brien reenactor and me — Photo by Marian Moore Lewis

ʃ ʃ ʃ ʃ

© Copyright text by Richard Modlin 2014

© Copyright photography by Marian Moore Lewis 2014



Posted by: Sand Squiggles -- Richard Modlin's Blog | June 7, 2014

Aboard an Historic Great Lakes Bulk Freighter

National Museum of the Great Lakes Entrance

National Museum of the Great Lakes Entrance

A long time ago—a very long time ago—I got to stroll the decks of a Great Lakes bulk freighters. When I was in elementary school, my father had connections with the crews aboard some of these vessels. If they happened to load or unload at the docks near the mouth of the Maumee River in Toledo, Ohio, he’d sometimes take me along when he went to see his friends. At other times when a newly christened lake freighter visited the port, there was a celebration and the freighter would be opened to the public. It was on one of these occasions that I toured the ill-fated Edmond Fitzgerald—now that was a long freighter, over 700 ft. in length. Surprisingly, I never went aboard a bulk freighter during my military career, though I was on active duty in the US Coast Guard and stationed on the Great Lakes. Instead I spent my enlistment Inspecting cargoes carried aboard sea going vessels, pulling drunken yachtsmen out of the lake, maintaining generators and electrical systems aboard the USGC Cutter Mackinaw, and setting buoys and fueling remote light stations from various black & tan USCG buoy tenders.

Recently I visited Toledo and the new National Museum of the Great Lakes—a fabulous, ultramodern museum full of information and interactive exhibits. But the exposition spéciale is the Great Lakes bulk freighter Col. James M. Schoonmaker.

Bulk Lake Freighter Col. James M. Schoomaker

Bulk Lake Freighter Col. James M. Schoomaker

The J.M. Schoonmaker is 617 ft. in length, with a 64 ft. beam, 33 ft. one inch from the main deck to the keel, weighing 8,600 tons empty (23,600 tons loaded) and launched over 100 yrs. ago on July 1, 1911. Powered by a pair of steam turbines, she plied the lakes for over 65 years.  At the time of her launch, she was considered the “Queen of the Lakes,” the largest bulk freighter in the world.

Strolling Aft

Strolling Aft



For a self-guided tour of the Schoonmaker, we boarded her in a light rain forward of amidships. With the threat of a stronger storm approaching, we gingerly made along the slick deck to the cover of the vessel’s stern-house. This rear structure houses the ship’s galley, crews’ mess, officers’ dining room, and cooks’, crews’, stewards’ and engineers’ cabins. Two decks below is the engine room, a space extending from under the main deck to the floor covering the bilges. A mezzanine-styled deck midway down divides the engine room. This deck houses the generators and electrical distribution panels.

Crews' Galley

Crews’ Galley


While touring the engine room, we knew when the strong storm hit. The hawsers, holding the freighter against the dock, creaked and groaned as they strained against the wind.

Engine Room

Engine Room. Photo by Marian L. Lewis






High Pressure Turbine Statistics

High Pressure Turbine Statistics



Back outside on the main deck after the storm had passed, we carefully walked the length of about two football fields to the bow. Along the way are the battened cargo holds, a cargo hatch crane, several deck winches, and the landing boom (a sling that lowers a seaman to the dock or pier to secure the ship’s hawsers when the vessel ties to shore). Our destination was the three-storied superstructure that rises above the main deck and contains the passenger hall, lounge, grill room, owner’s cabin (main deck), captain’s cabin and office (second deck), flying side decks, and the pilot house (bridge).

Looking Forward (toward the bow) from Amidships

Looking Forward (toward the bow) from Amidships

After a very wet and windy climb up the ladders we found that the bridge hatches were closed. I threw up my arms in disappointment, but then I spotted a docent inside, a rugged looking fellow. He waved a greeting and motioned us to a leeside hatch, which he opened. “Had to close the doors to avoid the hurricane force winds that storm produced,” he said.

Looking Aft from Bridge Deck

Looking Aft from Bridge Deck

Stepping into the pilot house, I found an uncluttered space and, as suspected, a lack of modern navigational equipment. Aboard the research vessels I had previously worked on, the pilot houses contained a helmsman’s chair behind a single wheel and a hodgepodge of computer screens, buzzing boxes, blinking colored light, and bunch of other hi-tech gadgets. This was not so on the Schoonmaker. Forward of the center, but on the midline, stood an old-fashioned binnacle, which contained the magnetic compass. In front and to its right was a gyro compass repeater. On each side of the binnacle was a large ship’s wheel. This vessel had two wheels.

Pilot House or Bridge and the various pieces of Steering and Navigation Equipment

Pilot House or Bridge and the various pieces of Steering and Navigation Equipment

“Always good to have backups, especially compasses and steering systems,” the docent said. “There are three other wheels aboard. A big one on the fantail for backing down and docking, and two in the engine room.  In case the gyro goes, the fallback is the old magnetic compass. It always works.”

We saw the two wheels in the engine room. They were about a quarter of the size of these on the bridge. “You’d need some lookouts stationed on deck if the helmsman were steering in the engine room,” I said.

“For sure.” The docent nodded and pointed to the ship’s telegraph (bridge to engine room communication to control the action of the turbines) and the shipboard telephone.

A LORAN (LOng RAnge Navigation) system (my first duty as a Coasty was to man the LORAN transmitter at a USCG light station on Lake Erie), a radio direction finder, radar, spotlights, and the cord to blow the ship’s horn were efficiently placed forward of the wheels. Guess what? There were no computers on the bridge. Yet the Col. James M. Schoonmaker had, thought dated, all the instruments that were necessary to ply the Great Lakes.

ʃ ʃ ʃ ʃ

© Copyright 2014 by Richard Modlin

For a tale of a nautical adventure taking place at the beginning of the American Revolution please read my latest novel, Newfound Freedom. For information click above on “My Books.”


Posted by: Sand Squiggles -- Richard Modlin's Blog | May 23, 2014

Lake Erie’s Great Birding Weekend

Red-winged Blackbird and Cowbird on a feeder.

Red-winged Blackbird and Cowbird on a feeder.

Recently I visited near Toledo, Ohio. Although my visit was for a different purpose, it was the Great Birding Weekend along the southwestern shore of Lake Erie provided the greater attraction. Though parts of the weekend were a bit cloudy, misty and rainy, an abundance of migrating birds waded puddles, swam on ponds, ate at feeders, flew between trees, and soared across the gray sky. As a bird watcher, I could not pass up an opportunity to enjoy my favorite pastime.


Lesser Yellow-leg

Lesser Yellow-leg

Lesser Yellow-leg

Lesser Yellow-leg










Before heavy rains inundated the area on Friday, my wife, brother, sister-in-law (all ardent and dedicated birders), and I took the chance of driving the dikes and back roads of the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (N.W.R.). (On special occasions this refuge is opened to vehicular traffic. About seven miles of normally closed access roads and dikes are opened to automobiles.) This gives visiting bird watchers an opportunity to view some of the refuge’s remote marshes, ponds, streams and forests.





Pair of Dunlin

Pair of Dunlin











Except for three other cars, we had the refuge almost to ourselves. Resident and migrating birds were everywhere. (Ottawa N.W.R., being one of the largest freshwater marsh environments on the Great Lakes, supports a great population of red-winged blackbirds.) Red-wings, along with the resident house wrens, entertained us along the entire drive. Common yellow throats, yellow warblers, yellow-rumps, black-throated blues, eastern kingbirds, red- and golden-crowned kinglets, rose-breasted nuthatches, swamp sparrows, redstarts, and tree swallows were the most common migrants. Though we wanted to photograph a pair of great horned owl chicks, which others had seen in a nest atop a dead tree next to an iron bridge, our major goal was to photograph the shorebirds. We found the bridge and the tree, but not the owls, so we turned our telephotos toward the water.

Canada Goose on nest.

Canada Goose on nest.

Adult Trumpeter Swans

Adult Trumpeter Swans













Before we could properly set up our cameras, a flock of sandhill cranes flew over. Nearby, in an expanse of shallow open water, lesser yellow legs and a large flock of dunlins waded. Around islands of last year’s cattails swam mallards, coots, shovelers, and blue-winged teals.  Small flocks of trumpeter swans and Canada geese glided on the surface of deeper ponds, while difficult to identify plovers and sandpipers dabbled on muddy shoals. A mature and juvenile bald eagle flew overhead as we exited the refuge.

Baltimore Oriole eating grape jam.

Baltimore Oriole eating grape jam.


Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeak












Interestingly, some of the other inhabitants in the Ottawa N.W.R. gave us an opportunity to watch them. While on the bridge where the owl chicks were to be, a weasel ran past next to us. Now this is a rarely seen animal. It crossed too fast for anyone to photograph it. Muskrats swam in pools nearby, while painted turtles lay on logs basking, soaking up warmth.  And, a large number of individuals from Lake Erie’s carp population were roiling the waters below the bridge. They appeared to find the pond a perfect place to cavort, mate and spawn. There were hundreds splashing, swirling, plowing, cruising and chasing. It’s no wonder the pool below the bridge looked like a vat of butterscotch.

Painted Turtle

Painted Turtle

Dorsal fins of Spawning Carp

Dorsal fins of Spawning Carp








My brother’s back deck provided the venue for the remaining weekend of bird watching.  With all his feeders, suet cages, and specialized foods (grape jam), rose-breasted grosbeaks, Baltimore orioles, chipping sparrows, a great-crested flycatcher, cowbirds, mourning doves, and red-winged black birds entertained us.

∫ ∫ ∫ ∫ ∫

For information on Ottawa N.W.F and other southwester Lake Erie birding locations, please check out my book, Chasing Wings. For information about the book, please click on My Books above.

© Copyright by Richard Modlin, May 2014


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