Searching for treasure to seize on the high seas

"Snag it!" I shout. The huge piece of wood crashes off to leeward and disappears in the wake of Scatt II, our 34-foot catboat. "Ready about. Hard a lee!" We veer off on the other tack and head straight downwind. "There it is!" yells Paul, our 17-year-old. I bring the wheel around, and Scatt II comes up into the wind with a fierce slatting of sail. Patrick, two years Paul's junior, grabs onto the massive timber with the boat hook, and Paul gets a rope around it. We fall off on the other tack and head back toward Crow Island, half a mile away.

"What a beauty," I say. And the three of us regard the tumbling, plunging, wooden monster with admiration as we plow through the waves at half speed, hoping the tow line won't break before we get to the beach. The timber is at least 14 feet long, two feet wide, and maybe a foot thick. It will make a perfect step for the porch, but how will we ever get it there?

That was 25 years ago in Jerico Bay, on the coast of Maine, where we'd built a cabin on seven-acre Crow Island. Salvage: We could never have gotten along without it. I built the porch with two-by-sixes from a section of wharf that piled up on the beach the previous winter. Thirty-foot herring weir poles were always drifting up - good for posts or sills or handrails. Boards, of course, aplenty.

When we sailed out, we would investigate the shores of other islands. The desolate, deserted outer islands were the best. Above the tide line, boulders piled high by the winter storms, were countless treasures from the sea. A deadeye from a wrecked 19th-century coastal schooner, hand-carved from lignum vitae, was certainly the rarest find.

But Patrick and a friend managed to float off some 40 feet of one-inch chain caught in the crevices of an ocean-pounded, granite cliff. And Paul and I spent a wondrous day exploring deserted Great Spoon Island 10 miles farther out to sea - and returned with a boatload of bone- white driftwood. An abandoned wreck of a house on another deserted island yielded our dining- room chairs.

"Look at that great chest," I said, pointing to a galvanized-steel-strapped wooden box approximately eight feet long, the bottom partly rotted out from having sat on the ground for so long. Inside was a giant drill bit. We were exploring an abandoned granite quarry on an island near Crow with some friends, and everything about the place was on this same monumental scale. Collapsed buildings were the size of supermarkets, and monster engines with great fly wheels towered over our heads. Eighty-foot wooden derricks rose from the floors of displaced mountains of granite; inch-thick, rust-flaked cables anchored them to the tops of 50-foot cliffs - a science-fiction construction site created by giant spiders.

"Let's see if we can move it," I said, dumping the bit onto the ground. Irv and I grabbed a huge handle at one end and managed to raise the chest up a few inches. Half an hour later we'd manhandled it over to some cliffs beneath which Scatt II was anchored.

"Now what?" Irv said.

"We could throw it into the water," I said, "but it might sink. I've got a better idea."

The top of the mast was about six feet above our heads. We could pull the boat in close to shore, attach the double block that raised the sail to one of the chest handles, and lower away.

"The only tricky part is going to be when we push the chest off the top of the cliff," I said. "It might hit the mast...."

"Or us," said Phyllis, Irv's wife.

"We'll tie a safety line to the other handle. Irv, you and Phyllis...."

Phyllis recounts the story every time we get together. "I shut my eyes. And when they pushed it off and there was no crash I opened them again. And there was this huge chest swaying back and forth at the top of the mast, and you loosened the rope on the pulley and slowly let it down. All I could think of before that was, when the boat sank, how were we going to get home?"

I jibe the boat around just in time, and Paul swims the few yards to the beach and is standing there next to the giant timber when Patrick and I join him after mooring the boat. We let the tide do the first part. When the timber is as close as we can get it to the ramp, we slide a piece of plywood under one end and hook the come-along to a spruce tree at the top of the bank. Slowly, with the help of poles and rollers and wedges, we pull and push the timber up the ramp. Once there, on the level field, it is a simple matter to reattach the come-along to the porch and pull the timber to where we want it to be. It makes the perfect step. Six people can loll on it comfortably.

A salvage operation like this takes up most of the day. But what, you might say, are the days of summer for?

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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