Why a terrorist might not get far in Maine

My Constitutional confederate, Elliott Breck of Atlanta, alerts me that the Coast Guard will look the Maine coast over to prevent the possible arrival of terrorists, and I drop everything else to wish them success. The Maine Coast is not geographically suited to close watch, and if anybody knows that, the Coast Guard does.

Back in the days of Prohibition, the Coast Guard had little effect in guarding that coast, and retired finally to leave matters as they were. From Kittery by New Hampshire to Eastport by New Brunswick, the old coastal Route 1 takes but a few speedy hours by motor vehicle. But if Babe, the blue ox of Paul Bunyan, were to pull the 2,500-mile Maine coast out straight, it would reach from Halifax to western Alaska with island shores enough to keep on going to Waikiki.

There are supposed to be 365 islands in Casco Bay alone. Some Maine islands are called rocks, which they are, such as Halfway Rock, which is between Portland Headlight and Seguin and is just the right size to have a navigation beacon. Other islands are bigger than their names, like Great Sebascodegan.

This might be a good time to explain the name of Maine. The true history of the New World began even before the Vikings, with the exploitation of the North Atlantic fishing banks, probably by "Portagee" adventurers. The Azores lie so as to make this reasonable, and we know that the charts made by those fishermen led Columbus our way. So the first business of America was on the ocean off our shores, and the shore was the mainland and became "The Maine." Southerly, we also had "The Spanish Main."

Looking for a place to establish a settlement, Capt. George Weymouth "trended into Maine" in 1605. Strangely, the first Englishmen to trend into Maine found an island "where the French formerly had a fort." What was being defended, and against whom? How long ago is "formerly"? The island is now Islesboro and can be reached by ferry from Lincolnville (named for a county in England; nothing to do with Abraham).

So Maine has all these islands, and in rum-running days the Coast Guard patrolled them, trying to catch smugglers of spirits.

What was called the "mother ship" would bring cargo from some foreign port to Maine (in particular from Canada and the French islands of Miquelon and St. Pierre). She would anchor at sea just outside the 3-mile limit. She was in international waters and beyond the Coast Guard's reach, although the Coast Guard knew why she was there. Small boats, mostly lobster fishers, would then appear from Maine and rendezvous with the mother ship. This was done openly, and our coastal guardians might idle close by and watch.

Now, when one of these smaller boats was loaded and negotiations were finished, she would cast off and go home. When she did, the Coast Guard boat fell in at her stern, in hot pursuit. Technicalities prevailed. Until the rum runner passed into US waters, an arrest couldn't be made or a stop ordered for inspection.

By the time the Coast Guard was near enough to do anything, the rum runner had come to a Maine island. This was done in a sneaky and unsporting way. That is, the island was reached precisely at a certain time of the receding tide. Every island has a shoal connecting it to the main or to the next island, and it is obdurate granite, against which no boat should ever dispute. The rum runner, knowing his territory, would pass over the shoal at the last safe moment.

In seconds, the outgoing tide closed the way. The Coast Guard vessel had to fall away, and by the time it could go around the island, the rum-runner was home, unloaded, and occupied in lawful activity. I relate this not to encourage smuggling, but because it is history and may help our Coast Guard deter entry of terrorists. Also to show Elliott Breck that his distant concern is appreciated.

The Maine coast is invaded every summer by people from away who are called "summercaters." An interesting exception was a German spy who arrived one winter and was arrested immediately. It was during World War II, and our shores were being closely watched by the Coast Guard because convoyed fleets made up in Portland Harbor to take war supplies to Europe. British ships did most of the convoying.

This spy was put ashore on Mt. Desert Island by a submarine. A boy was coming home from school that afternoon, and he came into the house to tell his father he'd just seen a German spy. The father was reading the Bar Harbor Times and paid no attention, but suddenly did a doubletake. He sat up in his chair and said, "You seen what?"

The boy laid his books on the table and said, "I seen a German spy goin' up the road t'ords Trenton. I spoze he was put ashore off'n a sub, don't you?"

The father said, "What makes you think he was a German spy?"

"Well, he was nobody from around here, and he was wearin' an overcoat."

So the father got the Coast Guard, and the man was a spy, and he was picked up within the mile. Nobody in coastal Maine has ever owned an overcoat. Pea jackets and bolsters, frocks and mackinaws, and jumpers and weather gear, but not an overcoat. So Coast Guard or no Coast Guard, a terrorist might not get too far into Maine.

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