Salt Runs in their Veins - Soundings Online

Fifteen minutes after the ferry for Monhegan Island leaves New Harbor, Maine, Capt. Chad Hanna tells the Hardy III’s passengers to look to starboard where they can see the lighthouse at the tip of the Pemaquid Peninsula. He tells them Pemaquid Point Light is the most photographed lighthouse in the state and is featured on the back of the Maine quarter, but he doesn’t mention that his most famous ancestor once served as its lightkeeper.

If Hanna were to regale the passengers with his family’s maritime history, the one-hour ride to Monhegan wouldn’t be long enough.

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As the Hardy III’s twin 350-hp Caterpillar diesels propel the ferry and its 48 passengers towards Monhegan, Hanna and one of the deckhands, Kaden Pendleton, point out marine wildlife and noteworthy landmarks. Usually, the boat would carry 113-passengers, but because of Covid-19 restrictions she is running at less than half her capacity.

The 63-year-old Hanna says operating the 60-foot ferry in tough conditions can be hard, but that otherwise the job is pretty routine. Today is about as routine as it can get. The 10-mile run to Monhegan is exposed to the Atlantic Ocean, but there is very little swell, sun, blue skies, a 10-knot tailwind, two-foot seas and unlimited visibility.

Hanna says it’s not always like this and recalls his toughest run on the Hardy III. A few years before, just a couple of weeks after he’d first taken command of the ferry, the marine forecast had predicted 15- to 25-knot winds. The forecast was wrong. That day, Hanna encountered 10- to 12-foot seas with the wind shearing the tops off the waves and water coming over the bow. The Hardy III was built for such offshore conditions, but not the passengers, most of whom got sick. “I’ve been in 35-foot seas in hurricane force winds during sea trials for the U.S. Navy,” Hanna says, “but it was a wild ride.”

Hanna’s been around these waters most of his life, just like his ancestors. The family’s marine heritage in the state began in 1811, when Thomas Hanna—after immigrating from Aberdeen, Scotland—became a lighthouse keeper on Boon Island in southern Maine. Lighthouse keeper jobs were highly desirable, Hanna says. “It didn’t pay a whole lot, but you got paid regularly.”

Boon Island was a tough assignment. A small, low-lying, barren rock six miles off the coast of York, it was lashed by storms that sometimes smashed into the lighthouse. Just 300 by 700 feet at low tide, the island almost disappeared into the ocean at high tide, giving the impression that the lighthouse—the tallest in New England—rose right out of the sea. The first keeper said it was too lonely and quit after just a few months. Thomas and his first wife, Sophia, became the second keepers but after five years also resigned because of the isolation. A subsequent keeper died on duty. His wife tended to the lighthouse until she went insane and was found wandering around the island.

Monhegan Island attracts nature lovers, artists and those seeking a simpler time.

Monhegan Island attracts nature lovers, artists and those seeking a simpler time.

After Sophia’s death, Thomas remarried and in 1830 became keeper at Franklin Island Light in Muscongus Bay. Ever since, the Hannas have been a fixture in the area, working the sea or guarding mariners from its perils.

Chad Hanna grew up in Round Pond—across the bay from Franklin Island Light—poking around the water and pulling lobster traps from a skiff. He spent 18 years at Bath Iron Works testing U.S. Navy frigates, destroyers and cruisers. For the next 11 years he worked lobster traps on his 31-foot BHM until the labor wrecked both of his shoulders. He spent the following 10 years as a machinist.

Hanna is not the first in his family to captain the Hardy III. His 30-year-old daughter, Kaitlin, was selling tickets at Hardy Boat Cruises at 17 and by the end of her first summer was working as a deckhand. She built up her sea time over the summers, taught school in Zanzibar, Tanzania, for three years, and built houses in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. By 2015, she decided to get her captain’s license. “It’s perfect for the way my brain works,” she says. “I enjoy the constant problem solving. I love running boats.”

At first, people didn’t take her seriously. “There was a lot of sexism, and I felt I had to be perfect every time to prove myself,” she says. “Now people see me, and they know they don’t have to take their lifejackets out.”

When Hanna saw Kaitlin studying for the exam, it planted a seed. “I always wanted to study for the captain’s license but never had a reason,” he says.

When in 2017, Hardy Boat Cruises needed a part-time deckhand, he quit his machinist job and studied for his captain’s license. For the next three summers, Chad, Kaitlin and company owner Al Crocetti rotated as skippers on the Hardy III. From Mother’s Day until Columbus Day, twice a day, seven days a week, they’d run the ferry to Monhegan Island and in between take people for puffin, seal or leaf-peeping trips on Muscongus Bay. Because of Covid-19, this summer Kaitlin stayed home with her daughter while Al and Chad ran the ferry to Monhegan.

Hanna and the crew install the gangplank at the Monhegan Island dock.

Hanna and the crew install the gangplank at the Monhegan Island dock.

After Hanna docks the ferry at Monhegan, the deckhands unload the cargo. It’s mostly luggage but includes an entire wedding party’s needs and a kayak that was stowed on the bow. Monhegan has no airport and there is no car ferry. Big freight arrives via the Port Clyde ferry, which has the U.S. mail contract and runs year-round, but every spring and fall the Hardy III transports a herd of goats to and from Manana Island next to Monhegan. The Hardy III has also hauled chickens, a giant wooden toothbrush and a bronze goat statue.

On the dock, luggage is loaded onto the pick-up trucks that belong to the island’s various overnight establishments. With no taxis, guests walk themselves to their overnight accommodations.

Monhegan is only 1.7 miles long and less than a mile wide, but two thirds of it is protected as a nature preserve. Twelve miles of trails meander to spectacular vistas from some of the tallest cliffs on the New England coast. For more than a century the island has attracted artists, including three generations of the Wyeth family; birders who come to see almost 200 species of birds; fishermen looking to hook a tuna; recreational boaters making their way north or south; and tourists who appreciate the tranquility of an island with approximately 60 year-round residents. There’s an exceptional art gallery, a beer brewery—the ginger beer is spectacular—and a few food establishments that cater to the day tourists and overnighters.

Only a dozen passengers board for the return trip to New Harbor, and all of them head for the upper deck. Hanna eases the Hardy III off the dock, turns around in the mooring field and points the ferry back to the mainland.

Midway to New Harbor there’s a disturbance on the water: a pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins. They’re in a feeding frenzy, and it’s not just a treat for the passengers aboard the ferry. Hanna and the crew are excited, too. The dolphins are coming clear out of the water. When it’s over, Pendleton holds his hand over his heart. “That only happens once or twice a year for us,” he explains. “We love it.”

Off to starboard is Franklin Island Light where Thomas Hanna’s son, James Tolman Hanna, took over from his father in 1841. James and his wife, Eliza, had eight sons. Their oldest, Marcus Aurelius—named for the stoic Roman emperor— would perform two acts of heroism that to this day give him a unique spot in U.S. history.

Hanna steers the 60-foot Hardy III back to New Harbor, Maine.

Hanna steers the 60-foot Hardy III back to New Harbor, Maine.

Marcus went off to sea at age 10. When the Civil War broke out, he volunteered for the Union Navy, then joined the 50th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment. As a sergeant at the siege of Port Hudson, Louisiana, stuck in a rifle pit with no protection from the sun and facing extreme heat exhaustion, Marcus was the only volunteer willing to expose himself to enemy fire to fetch water for his unit. He ran a zigzag pattern over 150 yards of open ground as enemy sharpshooters tried to kill him. He was struck by a pellet but ran back to his unit with a dozen canteens full of water.

After the war, Marcus became the keeper of Pemaquid Point Light, and in 1873 he was appointed to the prestigious lighthouse keeper position at Portland’s Two Lights at Cape Elizabeth. There, in 1885, he rescued two sailors from the schooner Australia, which had run on the rocks in the midst of a winter blizzard. He repeatedly threw lines to them and managed to haul them ashore, saving them from an icy death. The U.S. Lighthouse Service awarded him the Gold Lifesaving Medal that year, and in 1895 he received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his action at Port Hudson more than 30 years earlier. He is the only person to have ever received both awards.

After docking the Hardy III in New Harbor, Hanna adds 150 gallons of fuel before the noon puffin run. With a new load of passengers, he sets off for Eastern Egg Rock to find some of the colorful, cartoonlike birds.

Inside the harbor, Hanna works the wheel on the Hardy III. It takes 10 revolutions to go from hard right to hard left. Without power steering, he gets a workout as he navigates between the mooring balls and the lobsterboats.

More than 100 years before, all of Marcus Aurelias Hanna’s seven younger brothers navigated the same ecact path while fishing out of New Harbor. According to family lore, the youngest brother, Hanna’s great-grandfather Juan Fernandez Hanna, got his name when James Tolman Hanna, unable to think of an eighth boy name, spun a globe and dropped his finger on the Juan Fernandez Islands off the coast of Chile.

An Atlantic puffin

An Atlantic puffin

As the Hardy III exits New Harbor, a gray seal swims across the ferry’s path. It seems in no rush and casually glances over its shoulder as the boat passes. Pendleton goes topside to educate the passengers about the various birds they might see, although people are clearly on board for puffin—even though it’s near the end of the breeding season and most of the puffins have already gone off to sea.

On the way to Eastern Egg Rock, Round Pond is off to port where one of Juan’s sons—Chad’s paternal grandfather—Morrill Tolman Hanna lived. Morrill worked as a steam ship engineer out of New Orleans, but when he came home from a stint at sea and one of his sons didn’t recognize him, he quit sailing and moved the family to East Hartford, Connecticut. There he took a job with First National, but the sea kept calling.

While living in East Hartford, Morrill built two boats. One of them was a pinky schooner, which he motored down the Connecticut River and up to Round Pond, where the family continued to summer. On nearby Louds Island he harvested trees for the spars. “None of us could stay away from the water very long,” Hanna says.

During World War II, Hanna’s father, George Harland “Harney” Hanna, joined the Navy. He served aboard the USS Achernar at D-Day in June of 1944 and at the invasion of Southern France in August of 1944. The following April, Harney was at the Okinawa invasion in the Pacific where the Achernar survived a Kamikaze attack. The suicide plane killed five people and injured 41. A 500-pound bomb went through the mess hall and exited the vessel near the waterline, then detonated below the ship. It caused a list, but the crew kept the Achernar afloat, righted her and finished the mission.

After the war, Harney made runs to the Far East while reaching the position of coxswain. “He did his best to not get promoted too far,” Hanna says. “He didn’t want to tell people what to do.”

Back home in Round Pond, Harney started Seabird Lines, taking fishing parties out on Muscongus Bay in the mornings and giving tours of the bay in the afternoon. Like most Mainers, he did what it took to make a living, including raising chickens. But when the chicken business went bad, he went back to sea as a deckhand for Hanna’s maternal grandfather, Capt. Claude Parmenter Crocker. Capt. Crocker had done 29 Atlantic crossings during World War II, and after the war ran tankers for Texaco and Boston Oil.

A gray seal can be seen on a ride aboard Hardy III.

A gray seal can be seen on a ride aboard Hardy III.

In December of 1969, a month after Harney joined Crocker as a deckhand, while docked in Portland, the ship exploded. The engine hatch smashed into Harney’s cabin, trapping him inside. When Crocker and the cook went looking for Harney, a second explosion blew the cook overboard, killing him and breaking Crocker’s back. Harney suffered third degree burns but lived to tell the tale.

As the Hardy III closes in on Eastern Egg Rock, a lone puffin crosses behind the boat. It looks like a football with wings, but it’s shockingly fast. Pendleton tells the passengers that puffins can go 50 miles per hour. Hanna maneuvers the boat around the island, where Pendleton identifies guillemots, laughing gulls, cormorants and other birds for the passengers. West of the island Pendleton spots a puffin, and Hanna slowly brings the ferry close enough for a good look. The puffin paddles along, then dives. It resurfaces a number of times and then flies off.

It’s time to go anyway. As Hanna steers the Hardy III back to New Harbor, the now automated light on Franklin Island blinks over his right shoulder. “The whole start of my family is on Franklin Island,” he says.

Standing on the dock in New Harbor, Kaitlin echoes her father’s words. “My family’s been here a long time. That’s my Uncle’s Nate’s dinghy on the dock, and there is his lobsterboat, Halcyon.” she says pointing at the harbor. “We have such a fantastic family history. It’s a special thing to have such a connection to this place.” 

This article was originally published in the November 2020 issue.

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