The Working Waterfront

Human loss and devastating damage

Cranberry Isles mourning death, reeling from storm

By Barbara Fernald
Posted 2024-04-10
Last Modified 2024-04-10

On Jan. 5, five days before a storm would wreak havoc along the Maine coast, the town of Cranberry Isles suffered the unexpected death of one of its citizens. Cory Alley collapsed in his skiff on the way out to his mooring.

As his wife, Cari, and their youngest son waited on the dock for Cory to pick them up, she noticed the skiff veering off with the outboard still running. She could no longer see Cory in it, so she dialed 911. The skiff was blown toward the Sand Beach where island EMTs gathered to deal with the medical emergency. He was unable to be revived.

At the time of this writing, the exact cause of his death is unknown but the shock and loss to our little town was immediate.

Friends took Cory’s boat up to Abel’s to haul it out of the water before the storm hit.

Cory was a lobster fisherman and a father to three school-aged children and a young adult daughter. He was one of the best barbecue chefs on the island and he was the head selectman for our town. He drove and maintained the trucks, including the snow plow. He knew all the roads. He would have been just the person you wanted to help deal with a big storm and its after effects.

Instead, as the big storm approached, our town was busy grieving and pulling together to support Cory’s family and each other. Friends took Cory’s boat up to Abel’s to haul it out of the water before the storm hit. The predicted wind direction was southeast. The wind gusts were forecast for 70 mph and higher, peaking around high tide just after 9 a.m.

No one could recall seeing a storm surge like the one that showed up. The “bait shed” office at the Islesford Dock Restaurant detached from the dock and broke apart on the beach.

As the wind died down everyone was out to see what the storm had done. Walks turned into work as people joined the crew picking up the mess on the beach from the shattered building. There was a sense of fellowship and quiet urgency. If the beach wasn’t cleared before the next high tide, debris could float away into the harbor causing damage to boats on their moorings.

Every now and then people would stop and make eye contact with each other and shake their heads. “Are you OK?” So much loss to experience in less than a week.

At the end of the Sand Beach Road the storm surge rushed into the marshy area across the road, floating boats, sheds, and anything else in its path. The nearby cemetery was flooded above the gravestones. When the tide retreated the water rushed out with enough force to create an opening through the road about 10-feet wide and 8-feet deep. The road to Maypole Point is now impassable.

On the road to the old lifesaving station, the surge pushed most of the rocky beach across the road into the woods. Places that were high rock dunes became flat. To walk to that end of the island feels like walking on the moon.

I listened to the selectmen’s meeting after the storm as they reviewed budget items for the warrant for our annual town meeting. The dollar amounts mentioned for repairs were five or six figures. Voters will be asked to approve of borrowing over $1 million in hopes that FEMA money will come through for some reimbursement.

We’re not ready when people die unexpectedly. We know it happens every day but it still comes as a shock. The sudden damage from a storm also came as a shock. The town of Cranberry Isles now knows how vulnerable we are. It’s one thing to believe in climate change as a concept and it’s quite another to experience it.

When we meet March 9 for town meeting, I hope we continue to feel the fellowship that came from grieving and cleaning up together so we can approach dealing with future storms and finding solutions with a determined sense of cooperation.

Barbara Fernald lives on Islesford (Little Cranberry Island). She may be contacted at