The Working Waterfront

Stormy times on the island home front

Illness, power outage, and fire mar holiday

By Barbara Fernald
Posted 2023-03-15
Last Modified 2023-03-15

Two weeks before Christmas I came home from a weekend spent in Cape Elizabeth with two of our grandchildren. The next day, Bruce started to have a bad sore throat and cough. A number of others on the island were sick with the same symptoms. We heard it was bad and lasted at least two weeks.

Though I kept my distance from Bruce and washed my hands a lot, within a week I had a cold coming on. Mild symptoms. I still felt good enough to be with our kids and grandkids for Christmas after two years of missing out.

Meanwhile, a powerful storm was due to arrive on Friday, the day we were going to leave. Predicted 70 mph gusts meant no boats and probable power outages.

I suggested leaving on Thursday but Bruce was not comfortable leaving the island at all. I was still fixated on finally being with our grandkids on Christmas Day. What if the power didn’t go out and we stayed home “for nothing?” Then again, what if it did?

Temperatures were dropping, and we were hearing that Versant might not get to the islands until Tuesday.

By evening I was coughing, my chest hurt, I ached all over, and I had no energy or appetite. We were not going anywhere. The decision made for us.

The storm was nasty and power outages were widespread.

We lost our power and landlines around 3 p.m. on Friday and they stayed out until Versant could barge their trucks to the islands. By Christmas Day the temperatures were dropping, and we were hearing that Versant might not get to the islands until Tuesday.

Thanks to generators on both islands, we had internet service so we weren’t completely cut off during the outage, but by Monday night, one of them had run out of fuel and by daybreak on Tuesday our internet was out.

We learned through text messages that the store on Great Cranberry had burned to the ground overnight. It was an odd feeling to know something so devastating had happened on the big island and yet we knew so little of the story.

It was Richard Howland, our town fire chief, who first saw the orange glow as he was heading out from Islesford at 2:30 a.m. to haul traps. He quickly called 911 and alerted both island fire crews. Firefighters came to help from Northeast Harbor and Southwest Harbor. The fire was out around 7:30, but the Cranberry General Store was a total loss.

There is no official word yet on the cause, but many speculate the generator may have developed a problem. The loss leaves a big hole in the community. It was a gathering place for so many. The good news is no one was hurt and the owner plans to rebuild.

Versant restored power on Great Cranberry by 3:30 Tuesday afternoon, but we waited tensely on Islesford. They couldn’t find the cause of the outage and it was getting dark.

For a few minutes they thought the cable between the islands had finally let go. The new one was trenched in place five months ago, but not yet hooked up. They found the problem elsewhere and our lights were on by 5 p.m. Many thanks to the Goodwin Barge for blocking out a whole day to wait for the Versant trucks to find the problem. They connected the new cable two days later.

It’s a new year and I’m finally recovering from my bout of the nasty virus. I’m ready to let go of the disappointment of Christmas 2022.

From my nest on the couch I had watched Bruce come and go many times a day to keep an eye on his mom and on other houses where friends were away. Should a storm like this ever again coincide with plans to go away, I won’t argue about staying home to help in case we lose power.

I’m so grateful to live in a place where people check on the homes of friends who are away; where people are willing to build a fire in another’s wood stove to keep their pipes from freezing. I’m grateful to live where people find a way to keep each other informed when all the usual means are not working. I can be happy to be starting a new year with some fresh viral antibodies in my system. So 2023—bring it!

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