Chapter 1

 

Maiden Voyage

First Trip Down Dobsie - 1966

 

It was a very grey day, a lowery day for sure. With Oric O’Brien, manager of woodlands for the Dead River Company, at the tiller, Bob, Liz, age two, and I headed out of the Dead River Company boathouse at the north end of the lake.  In front of us was the vast expanse of Lower Sysladobsis Lake. Known locally as Lower Dobsie, or more frequently as simply Dobsie, the lake extends for about ten miles running more or less on a north/south axis. There are numerous coves and islands in the lake which contribute to its unquestionable beauty.  Its width varies from extremely narrow to a distance of perhaps two miles at its widest point at Horseshoe Cove. Appropriately, the narrowest section is referred to as “the Narrows”, which separates the lake into upper and lower parts. In general the water on the smaller, upper part of the lake is calmer than the water on the larger, lower section. But a steady hard wind from any direction can result in high rolling water and a sudden storm or squall can whip up waves that are a force to be reckoned with on any part of the lake.  Also, on northern lakes created by receding glaciers, the presence of glacial debris presents a serious hazard.  Often this debris includes rocks of formidable size. Sometimes a boulder the size of a house lurks just below the water surface.  It is important to familiarize yourself with the underwater contour of a lake such as Dobsie before venturing out on the water. The depth of Dobsie varies from a few inches to about eighty feet at its deepest point.  Oric gave us this introduction to explain why he did not head straight down the center of the lake, but rather followed a zigzag path.

In 1966 the Dead River Company had sizeable holdings in this area of Maine.  The purpose of our visit was to see what sites remained available for lease on Dobsie.  Dead River actively harvested timber in the area, but good management practice did not allow the cutting of trees close to the water’s edge.  Thus, the practice had become commonplace, for timber companies with holdings in Maine, to lease camp lots around the lakeshores for recreational use.

It was a mixed blessing that in many cases there was no road access to these camp lots.  Which to choose: The convenience of road access or the increased privacy of water only access?  We had mentioned to Oric, that our family was still growing, with a second child on the way, and we thought maybe a lot with road access would be preferable.  We also had in mind that if we found a suitable camp lot, we would tent on it initially until we could save up funds to build a camp. With this in mind Oric headed for Bear Trap Cove on the east shore about two miles down the lake. A logging road ran parallel to the east shore of the lake. In several places a passable spur ran off the “East Shore Road” down to the lake.  One such spur had been cut into Bear Trap Cove.  We pulled into the cove to look at a camp lot that had previously been leased to Victor Severance of south Springfield. Victor, now in failing health, had constructed an extremely rudimentary “camp” on his leased lot. By the way, Mainers refer to any habitable seasonal structure as a “camp”, no matter its size or value.  I don’t know what Victor did for a living, but clearly it was not carpentry.  There was neither a square corner nor a level spot in his camp.  Also, the camp lot itself was covered with boulders that made it impossible to place two feet flat on the ground at the same time.  We could not fathom how we could ever be able to pitch a tent on the site. Oric would have to show us something better than this if we were going to become lease holders on Dobsie.

Oric then mentioned a spot he thought we might like, but cautioned that there was no road access. “Let’s see it.” we said. “It has to be better than Victor’s folly.”   We headed out of Bear Trap Cove, swung to the south, and perhaps a mile further down, pulled in at a point on the west shore, just at the head of the Narrows.  From one side of the point, looking north, there was a clear view of the upper lake, several islands, and in the distance a view of mountains that looked appealing even on this overcast day. The other side of the point revealed a view down the narrows with the opening to the “big” lake in view.  We were encouraged to find that logging operations in the 1950’s had created a clearing where the logs had been “yarded”.  The former yard was not only level, but also of a generous size.  We could readily envision pitching a tent on this site.  This spot definitely had possibilities! 

Next Oric suggested that we look at some lots below the narrows around Horseshoe Cove.  A spur off the East Shore Road came down to the center of the cove. The available lots could be accessed by a short boat run.  We headed down through the Narrows and into the “big” lake.  The wind had picked up and the ride became bumpier, rougher, and damper, as the waves began to spray us.  In this section of the lake, Oric advised, it is best to stay out from the series of islands along the west shore, as there were shoals and rocks aplenty in that area. Indeed, we had scarcely heard Oric’s warning, when we spotted a boat bouncing along the rocky shore of an island, apparently in distress.  The couple in the boat waved us over.  Oric lifted his motor, putting it into shallow drive and we pulled aside the disabled boat.  Sitting in the stern was Dr. Pope, a dentist from Farmington, Maine, who explained that his wife, whom he called “Lovey”, had been frightened by the rough water. He had tried to maneuver into calmer water sheltered by the islands, but had hit a rock, and broken a shear pin.  Unfortunately he did not have a spare available.  Oric gladly threw out a line and we slowly towed the Popes to their camp further south on Pine Island. By now we were perhaps a good eight miles from our starting point at the north end of Dobsie. The Popes were most grateful to be back safely on their island and invited us to come ashore and see their camp.   Liz, who had taken this adventure in stride, welcomed Lovey’s offer of milk and cookies. The Popes gave us a tour of the cabin. There was a comfortably sized main room for cooking, eating, and visiting. Across the lake side of the cabin was a screened in porch with built in storage compartments around the perimeter. Thin pads and sleeping bags topped these compartments, providing an indoor/outdoor bedroom.  In the event of driving rain, chilly weather, or heavy winds, shutters could be lowered to close in the sleeping area. At a distance behind the camp was the expected outhouse. I’m not sure how long the Popes had been coming to Pine Island, but they indicated that they would not be adverse to putting the camp on the market. The building could be sold, if the purchaser got approval from Dead River to continue the yearly renewable lease.  Lumber companies had to make sure the leases went to responsible people.  Reckless behavior and misuse of the natural resources was of utmost concern to them. A camp fire out of control could result in a great financial loss. Did we dare think that the Popes might put this camp on the market at a price we could afford?  Did we really want to own a camp so far down the lake, on an island, with no likelihood of ever having road access?   

                After chatting a while longer we said goodbye to Dr. Pope and Lovey, reminding him to tape a spare shear pin to his outboard. Oric intended to continue our tour and to show us the Horseshoe Cove lots.  Bob and I looked at each other and said, “Don’t bother”.   We both felt drawn to the lot on the narrows.  Could we stop for another look on our way home?

Our second look reinforced our decision to lease that spot.  The leases at that time were for one year only, but automatically renewable.  A lot consisted of 150 feet of shore line. The annual fee was $25.00.   As we walked around the point it became clear that in order to have the use of the whole point, we would have to include frontage equal to three lots. And so, being big spenders from New York, we opted to sign a lease for 3 lots, encompassing 450 feet of shore front for the grand sum of $75.00 per year.  We asked Oric where the back line was and he replied, “There is a logging road about a mile back to the west. Use as much as you want.”  Our adventures on Dobsie Lake were about to begin. Bob’s lifelong desire to have a fishing camp in Maine was tantalizingly close to realization.