The Working Waterfront

On the lee side of Lee

Hurricane threat magnifies island resilience

By Barbara Fernald
Posted 2023-10-31
Last Modified 2023-10-31

On a sunny September Sunday, Hurricane Lee was still six days away. The spaghetti lines of possible storm paths did not bode well for the Cranberry Isles. We knew we’d feel an impact from the storm but the severity was still anyone’s guess.

Earlier in the day, Jeremy, the Islesford harbormaster, radioed fellow fishermen to remove any old traps they had on the town dock to make room. There were predictions of 13- to 20-foot seas with this storm. Many fishermen would be moving or bringing their lobster traps in from shallow water and everyone shares the space on the town dock to temporarily load and unload.

There was already a slight swell in the harbor.

On Monday at 6 a.m. I heard Bruce and David talking on the VHF radio about how many traps they’d each bring in and how many they could safely store on the float they shared in the harbor. On the local TV weather report the headline was, “Lee: the latest.” Large breakers, big swells and dangerous rip currents were a certainty.

“You would not believe the warblers and sparrows. Sometimes we had four on the boat at once.”

At this point it looked like a direct hit was unlikely but still remained a possibility. NewsCenter Maine advised boat owners and marinas to have an action plan and be ready to go with it. At that point the threat was for Saturday afternoon into Sunday morning. There would be plenty of time to prepare.

Tuesday and Wednesday looked to be quite rainy, but Thursday and Friday would be dry, good for putting away outdoor furniture and potted plants.

For those of us on land, the Tuesday rain encouraged thoughts of baking and making lists of jobs to get done before the storm arrived. At sea, among fishermen, the talk of tides and the latest wind predictions turned to birds.

Thousands of them. In an ill-timed migration, tired wet song birds were landing on boats all over the place. I wish I had been in the kitchen to hear the chatter on the radio.

Bruce came home and told me, “You would not believe the warblers and sparrows that were everywhere around the boat today. Sometimes we had four on the boat at once. I had one in my hand. I scooped him out of the rope locker. Everyone was talking about it. Guys from Bar Harbor. Guys 15 to 20 miles off shore. Ours were mostly warblers, yellow with gray on top.”

If you Google “tiny songbirds on lobster boat” there are links to a Bangor Daily News article about the phenomenon. Apparently it wasn’t storm related, but no one had seen anything like it before so it sure seemed like some kind of harbinger.

By Saturday the storm had turned to the east, sparing us from its brunt. We didn’t even lose power, though we were without internet and land lines for the day and it was quite windy and rainy.

Sunday was a gorgeous day with plenty of people walking around to view the after-effects. There were trees down along the north shore but not any bad damage.

I don’t like the danger of storms, but I love the energy of our little island community as everyone prepares. We all look out for each other with a bit of extra care. People with generators invite those without to come anytime to charge phones or take showers or get water. Neighbors post reminders on the Cranberry Isles Facebook page.

Advice that was new to me was to fill a water bottle halfway and lay it on its side in the freezer. When the water has frozen, stand the bottle upright and leave it in the freezer. If your freezer has thawed and refrozen during an outage, the ice in the bottle will have melted and shifted to the original half-full upright position.

I’m glad we didn’t face the conditions that were predicted in the earlier forecasts. We were lucky this time. Our islands will likely deal with stronger storms in the winter and I have confidence we’ll be ready. There’s nothing like a possible direct hit from a hurricane to give everyone a refresher course in storm preparations for the season to come.

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