The Working Waterfront

A paddling partner remembered

Sharing a tent revealed depth of friendship

By Phil Crossman
Posted 2023-05-10
Last Modified 2023-05-10

A friend, Jack Waterbury, was a former military pilot and had retired to the island a few years earlier. Charming but woefully disorganized and chaotic, he continually misplaced things.

Many years ago, when in his 50s, he was my date on a canoeing trip with two other couples on Lobster Lake, just west of Mount Katahdin. Each day he struggled to keep up. Well, he was, after all, years older than the rest of us and, if he was failing, we certainly didn’t want to call attention to it.

If, on the other hand, his canoe was taking on water, he’d surely alert us. So we simply didn’t paddle as aggressively as we might have.

That night we pulled our boats ashore and made camp, built a fire, cooked some steaks, had several beers, told stories, and sang songs.

That night we pulled our boats ashore and made camp, built a fire, cooked some steaks, had several beers, told stories, and sang songs.

Eventually we turned in.

One half of one of those other couples snores like a freight train. He and his long-suffering companion were in the next tent (too close). Jack and I lay reading, hoping the snoring would stop or that his other half would smother him, so we’d all be able to rest. But it continued and I couldn’t sleep.

Jack offered to help and at first, I was afraid he was going to rub my back or sing to me. Instead, he crawled out to his kayak and reached in under the bow. He didn’t find what he was looking for, not on the first try, but instead pulled out a circular saw. Grumbling, he set that aside, reached in again and this time retrieved a little metal toolbox and a selection of socket wrenches.

Quite frustrated, he pulled out a chain saw. I marveled at his having paddled around all day—where did he put his feet?—with all that unneeded weight. Then, no less a marvel, he found what he was looking for and returned to the tent with a book of poetry by Robert Frost. He sat next to me reading poems till I fell asleep.

A few years ago, the phone rang around midnight. It wasn’t tourist season; there was no one at the motel who might have locked themselves out of their room. Jarred out of a sound sleep I wondered, during the brief interval between hearing the ring and picking up the receiver, who this might be.

My fear was that it was a certain ne’er-do-well who has called at about this time of night in the past, demanding, and irrepressible. It was not. It was Jack, by then elderly and a little fragile. He’d stepped outside to fetch a little firewood but fallen and couldn’t get up.

He had a wrist monitor and pressed it, alerting an answering service which, in turn, called me; I was apparently the first name on the list of several to call in such an instance.

I pulled on some clothes and went right out, eventually found him lying in the dirt behind his house, and helped him to his feet. He was very unsteady and the first step he took landed on my own foot whereupon we both went down. My second effort was more successful, and I got him into the house.

The next day, when he went to the fish house and to join the ever-caustic bunch of local guys who have welcomed him for post work-day drinks and comradeship for years, he got the sympathetic reception he’d come to expect. One of them allowed that if it had been him who’d been called, he’d have come with a shovel.

Phil Crossman lives on Vinalhaven where he owns the Tidewater Motel. He may be reached at