Guest contributor: Crash Barry

Serial Sunday: Crash Barry’s “Tough Island”: Episode Nine

categories: Cocktail Hour


“Their job was saving lives, not personal property”

Aside from the tryst with the cougar, there was no romance for me until the end of the summer, when I met Alice, a 32-year-old school teacher from southern Maine. Her grandparents had moved off Matinicus to find work, decades ago, but had kept the family homestead as a camp. A pal introduced us, and we hit it off immediately, enjoying a dinner at the island’s version of a restaurant: Someone’s illegal, backyard picnic-table café. After dinner, she took me home to her grandparents’ sparsely furnished house where we really got to know each other.

The next morning, Donald and I rendezvoused, as usual, 10 minutes before dawn.

“Where were you last night?” he asked. “Couldn’t find you nowhere. Coast Guard called about a sinking boat. Ended up having to go rescue them all by myself.”

Donald had an unusual relationship with the Coast Guard. Because the island was so far off shore, at the outermost edge of Penobscot Bay, Donald often helped the Coasties with search-and-rescues. No money was ever exchanged, but Donald was welcome to tie up at the Rockland station, where the Coasties would keep a watchful eye on his boat and occasionally fill his fuel tank.

So while Alice and I were rolling around on the kitchen floor, Donald was en route to an emergency. A 37-foot boat under full sail, rented and commanded by a rich landlubber from New Jersey, had crashed into Matinicus Rock. Apparently, the skipper never saw the 90-foot-tall lighthouse because he was below deck having sex with his mistress.

“I wished for a camera”

Jagged rocks tore a huge hole in the hull and the boat took on water wicked quick. After screaming MAYDAY into the radio, the couple escaped by climbing into a little boat they’d been towing, a rubber skiff with a three-horse outboard. They waited for rescue, bobbing in a gentle sea, as the sailboat went down. Every 10 seconds, the darkness was interrupted by a blast of light pulsing from the Rock’s towering beacon.

Donald reached the lovers minutes after the sailboat went under. He lashed the dingy to his stern and headed toward the mainland with the two grateful passengers aboard his lobster boat. The Coasties met him halfway and took the couple aboard their 41-footer, but wouldn’t take the skiff. Their job was saving lives, not personal property. Donald agreed to keep the little boat until arrangements to retrieve it could be made.

Donald was tired and grumpy. He didn’t get back to the mooring until half past midnight. And now, five hours later, it was time to work. We got underway and headed to the spot of the previous night’s drama, where 250 traps in shallow water needed hauling.

We arrived at the Rock as the sun cleared the horizon. In the early light, we could see the very top of the sunken vessel’s sail breaking the surface of the water, like a three-foot-tall toy boat. Waves splashed over the mast. Puffins landed and swam around the sail. I wished for a camera.

“That fella was clueless,” Donald said. “When I picked them up, he had no idea where he was. Thought he was almost to Bar Harbor. Friggin’ moron!” He sighed and shook his head. “They’ll rent a boat to any idiot with a credit card.”

We started to haul our traps. A half hour passed and I was stuffing bait bags with rotten herring when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something leap from the water.

“Donald,” I said, pointing at the brightly colored object floating 50 feet off our starboard, “what the hell is that?”

He put the boat in gear, came about and around, and gaffed the thing with his hook: A basket of silk flowers! A few seconds later, whoosh, another object, large and brown, emerged from the depths with such momentum that, for a moment, a table actually broke free of the ocean’s grasp and went airborne. Then several upholstered cushions popped to the surface like corks.

“She’s breaking up!” Donald squealed gleefully. “Right now! We’ve got salvage rights!”

We fished the mahogany galley table out of the drink. The table had a storage box inlaid in the center and inside it I discovered treasure: A cup full of quarters, dimes and nickels. About 10 bucks’ worth of change!

“That table would be nice in the fishhouse, but the rest ain’t worth a damn,” Donald said, pointing at the floating debris. “Gonna keep the bouquet for Mary-Margaret. She’s always complaining about me never gettin’ her nuthin’!” He cackled and snorted. “Well, dear, I got you some flowers!”

Donald also kept the skiff. His grandkids had a blast scooting around the harbor in the little boat. The guy from New Jersey called, and so did somebody from the insurance company. Donald told them both the same thing: The Coasties must’ve taken it ashore; he didn’t know nuthin’ about no boat.

[To read Episode 8, click here.][To read Episode 7 click here][To read Episode 6, click herel[To read Episode 5, click here][To read Episode 4, click here][To read Episode 3, please click here][To read Episode 2, please click here][To start at the beginning with Episode One, please click here]


Crash by Crash

This month in the Bollard,[[]] Crash Barry tells the story of his recent spiritual awakening that includes mushrooms, reefer and red wine. He lives near a marijuana grove in the foothills of western Maine. His regular Bollard column One Maniac’s Meat appears monthly and details his exploits as a sailor in the U.S. Coast Guard fighting the “War on Drugs” and the “War on Haitian Refugees.” His rollicking novel Sex, Drugs and Blueberries and the complete version of Tough Island are available at Maine bookstores and libraries or via or on Amazon. His latest book Marijuana Valley, Maine: A True Story will be published this fall. Crash occasionally blogs about turning a novel into a film at




  1. Dr. Ed writes:

    My understanding of the incident was a little bit different.

    Actually quite a bit different…

  2. Debora writes:

    Matinicus, the one surviving nest in ’01! Time to restore efforts, perhaps. Or maybe the population needs the adjustment to its food supply changes??? The situation really is awful, though. And the polar bear and penguin too!

    Well keep frolicking, like all your juiced-up stories with so many sad ones out there.

  3. Debora writes:

    Haha! Another good one Crash! Love the continued frolic of the heart…spewing contraband…and those those Puffins, SO cute!