Guest contributor: Crash Barry

Serial Sunday: Tough Island: True Stories from Matinicus, Maine, by Crash Barry

categories: Cocktail Hour



Episode 2

[To start at the beginning with Episode One, please click here]

We met up with The Dotted Eye at a dock in the Rockland Coast Guard Station. I didn’t bring much because I didn’t own much. A half ounce of seedy marijuana and a carton of Camel Filters. A couple tabs of LSD, a cardboard box of books and a green canvas sea bag packed with 40 pounds of clothes. A sleeping bag, a quilt my mother had made, a typewriter, a clock radio and a box of Red Rose tea. Captain Donald shook my hand and grunted as I climbed aboard the boat for the first time. In his mid-sixties, he looked like a caricature of a Maine lobsterman. Salt and pepper beard with no mustache. Arms the size of legs. Legs the size of trees. Hands of a giant.

When we reached the other side of the breakwater, he opened up The Dotted Eye. She was super-fast, for a work boat. “I used to race her,” he said over the roar and chortle of the diesel, a big grin on his face and a glint in his eye. “Used to win.”

“NOT ANYMORE,” Mary-Margaret shouted. “PRICE OF FUEL IS TOO HIGH!”


“See the island?” Captain Donald pointed to the distant horizon. We’d been cruising for ten minutes. “Steer towards it. I’m gonna catch a little snooze.”

Mary-Margaret, Captain Donald’s wife, was a skinny woman in her mid-sixties. She was 100 percent gray.

I didn’t see the island, but took the wheel anyway, noted the compass course and kept her steady, an easy task for a salty old helmsman like me. (I’d spent countless hours behind the big wheel of my Coast Guard cutter.) Donald layed on the engine box and closed his eyes. Mary-Margaret leaned against the wall in the corner of the cabin, looking even grayer than in the van. Her pallor told me she was seasick. Saw a lot of that in the Coast Guard. Many shipmates fell victim to motion sickness. Luckily the giant rolling swells and troughs of Caribbean hurricanes and the choppy seas of North Atlantic gales didn’t bother me, allegedly due to an inner-ear imbalance. On land, I was clumsy and crashed into doorways and tripped over carpet. On the open ocean, however, I danced with waves.

Life was looking up. A paying job. A place to live. A new world to explore. I felt awesome and powerful. No idea where I was going, but driving The Dotted Eye was such a pleasure, I didn’t care. We flew through the quintessential Maine seascape of lighthouses, lobster buoys, sea gulls and kelp-covered ledges. We arrived at the Steamboat Wharf about an hour and a quarter after we left Rockland. The tide was almost high, which made it easy to unload. We put the groceries, fishing supplies and all my earthly possessions in the back of Donald’s beat-up and rusted Chevy.

“Be sure to get lobsters,” Mary-Margaret reminded Donald as she climbed into the passenger side of the truck. “We’re having lobsters, potato salad and lemon cookies for dinner.”

Donald grunted as The Dotted Eye backed away from the wharf, came about, then headed the 500 feet to his mooring near the breakwater. We jumped into his skiff and zipped over to a good-sized barge, lined with stacks of traps and a couple huge bait boxes.

“Get up on the scow,” Donald ordered. “And grab that crate.” He pointed to a rope attached to a box floating in the harbor. “Haul it up on deck.”

I pulled the heavy box onto the scow and water spilled out through the spaces between the box’s wood slats. Donald handed me a plastic bag.

“Pick out your suppah,” he said. “And let’s be friggin’ quick about it.”

I knelt on the scow and opened the crate. It was filled to the brim with delicious crustaceans.

“How many?” I asked.

“One for me and one for her,” he said. “And as many as you want. C’mon. We don’t have all night.”

Unlimited lobster! That’s a job perk I hadn’t considered. I picked out two big ones, for them, then three huge crustaceans for me. Donald didn’t bat an eye. I tied the crate shut and pushed it overboard.


“Showers cost lots of money out here,” Mary-Margaret complained. “Running the water pump doesn’t come cheap, because our electricity is the most expensive in all of Maine.” She poured us each a glass of red beverage. “This is sugar-free Kool Aid. Because of Donald’s diabetes. Cherry is his favorite.”

I watched him wince as he took a sip of the awful stuff. I had learned from his daughter that Donald used to be a major-league boozehound who smoked two packs of Winstons a day. About a year prior to me getting hired, the doctors said no booze, except for a single monthly ration of scotch to keep him from going absolutely crazy. And no cigarettes. A big deal for a guy who’d been smoking since he dropped out of school at age ten.

“Why is the electricity so expensive?” I asked, happy to have a trio of good-sized lobsters on the plate in front of me. No butter, though. Captain Donald couldn’t have butter because of his strict diet. That meant no one had butter. “Where’s the power come from?”

“We didn’t have power when I was growin’ up,” Donald snorted. “Didn’t need it, neither. Weren’t until 1976 we got power lines strung.”

“I, for one, am glad we have electricity,” Mary-Margaret interrupted. “I just wish it wasn’t so darn expensive.”

“And the price is only gonna go up,” he cackled and shook his head as he cracked a claw. “ ‘Cuz we’re running a big diesel power plant to make electricity non-stop. And the price of fuel ain’t never going down.”

“Running the water pump doesn’t come cheap,” she said, repeating her mantra. “That’s why you can only take a short shower. Set the timer that’s on the toilet. No longer than four minutes.” Mary-Margaret grunted. “We don’t take long showers around here.”

After supper, eager to wash off the grime from the road and boat trip, I took a shower and dutifully set the timer. I didn’t need all four minutes. The water smelled and tasted unpleasantly of kerosene. So I quickly washed and rinsed, then dried with a towel that also had a petro-odor. I was clean, but felt oily.

The first night, I stayed in their guest room. (They lived in a non-descript house in the middle of the island, with a dull backyard view of scraggly woods and a front window that overlooked the road to the airport.) After hauling traps in the morning, Donald was gonna bring me to my new home on the shore. The bed sheets and pillow case smelled like kerosene, but it didn’t stop me from sleeping soundly.

Crash by Crash

As young man, Crash Barry avoided death, prison, or death in prison by enlisting as a sailor in the U.S. Coast Guard. He now lives near a marijuana grove in the hills of western Maine. His column One Maniac’s Meat appears monthly in The Bollard, and details his exploits as a Coastie. He occasionally blogs at and 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.


  1. Debora writes:

    LOL! My goodness, Mary-Margaret IS Grey! And great sea bag list.