Riley Schecter
Riley Schecter
For my first 30 years in Camden, the sea didn’t mean anything to me.

I lived high on a hill, three miles from the public landing, and summers I stayed up there as much as I could to avoid downtown traffic. I communed with the fireflies in our blueberry/lupine field and kayaked amidst the “Hrumph!s” and bulging eyes of bullfrogs in our fire pond. If I wanted to swim, or kayak in a bigger body of water, I went to Megunticook Lake.

Then I got a house on Sea Street.

Now, I commune by kayak or paddle-board with backyard neighbors like the Lord Nelson Victory Tug Sally W and the Danish Keel sloop Snow Star, amidst the splashes and little fins of pogies. To cool off, I jump into the harbor from nearby docks.

The last week of July, gorgeous wooden sailing yachts were lined up four-deep along the Lyman-Morse boatyard boardwalk for the fourth annual Camden Classics Cup regatta, and I had a hankering to board one of them.

At 8 a.m. Saturday, I hallooed my friend the documentary songwriter Will Foote, on the deck of an especial beauty named Belle Aventure, asking if I could join the crew as a photographer. He conferred with the captain, Dave Thompson, and when the white-haired man who looked like he could be captaining Moby Dick’s Pequod responded with a “why not” shrug, I kicked off my sandals and hopped onto the teak deck of the 1929, 94-foot Fife.

A plastic bag of white T-shirts festooned with a brass, scripted logo was ripped open, I changed into one, and was now officially part of the Belle Aventure race crew.

I was surprised at how much of the four-hour race was like the Mary Day windjammer trip I took when I first bought my seaside house three years ago — lounging on the deck, basking in the sun and ocean breeze, chatting and laughing. But then suddenly the wind would pick up as if in a squall, flapping and filling the sails, and a crew member would be bent over, furiously cranking the winch, while others peered into the distance at some mysterious but crucial object.

In moments like these I knew to crouch to keep under the swinging boom and fold myself as tightly as possible to keep out of the way of stretching arms and racing legs, but otherwise was left on my own to figure out where not to be. A massive sail that seemed to weigh a ton tumbled onto me. Just when I was buried, it swept out seaward — taking my prescription glasses with it. Now I knew why every pair of glasses on board had a cord attached to it.

Riley Schecter, one of the gaggle of young people on board, works in the paint and varnish department at Lyman- Morse.

This summer around the boatyard, he got to know Jon Brassard, caretaker of the yacht with his stepdad Captain Dave for the past 11 years. Riley said Jon “came up to me and was like, ‘You’re a cool guy, wouldn’t mind having you on the boat with me for four hours, want to help us crew?’” Until the Classics Cup, Riley’s only boat racing experience was on 420 dingies in the Rockport Boat Club youth sailing program.

He said the work was tougher than he thought, but, like me, he would crew in a race again in a second.

Something else Riley said resonated: “If you’re in this community, sooner or later you will find yourself on a boat.”