For Pete’s Sake – PIC Alumnus Builds Us A Sixth Pine Island Skiff

In the 1990’s boatbuilder and designer David Stimson collaborated with director Ben Swan to create the perfect rowboat to serve the venerable Pine Island rowing program and named it the Pine Island Skiff.  Very generous donors funded the construction of four of the skiffs and they were named John, Paul, George, and Ringo.  Just a few years ago, PIC acquired another Skiff and named it Stu, after Stuart Sutcliffe, often called “the Fifth Beatle.” 

Recently, PIC alumnus and super-volunteer Rob Whitehouse, a retired engineer living in Brunswick, ME, brought it to Ben’s attention that the Skiffs were aging and, in spite of the meticulous care given them each fall during the Sloan Critchfield Memorial Boat Maintenance Weekend, might need to be replaced.  Unfortunately, we never had a set of plans made and the pieces needed to construct one of the boats had been lost.  Rob undertook the (to most people) mysterious and math-laden process of taking the lines off one of the Skiffs so that we could build another Skiff and make reproducible plans for future builders to use. 

Rob Whitehouse with the plans he created using Ringo’s lines

Many, many, hours later Rob produced not only plans, but the digital files needed to have a CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machine cut all the pieces needed to build a Skiff.  The next step was for Rob to build a Skiff in his well-appointed shop at his house in Brunswick. Rob’s time (over eight weeks work!) was all volunteered, and the results are really beautiful, a sixth Pine Island Skiff for the boys and staff of Pine Island Camp, and complete plans, including thumb drives from which one could build a Skiff of one’s own.  Several very generous alumni responded to an appeal from Ben and covered the considerable cost of materials and CNC cutting for Pete.  

Rob with Pete under construction

So, what to call her?  Pete, of course…Pete Best has also been called the Fifth Beatle.   He is a drummer who was replaced by Ringo Starr. Rob will launch Pete sometime this spring and the newest Pine Island Skiff will join the fleet this summer.  No doubt the gleaming and brand new Pete will be a favorite among the rowers this summer.

Thank you, Rob, and all the generous donors who paid for the project!      

Pete complete!

So Groovy! Recorded Music Without Electricity Returns to Honk Hall

At Pine Island Camp we are always learning new ways to live happily without using electricity.  One thing we miss sometimes is listening to recorded music.  Up until a few years ago campers were able to listen to 78 rpm jazz records played on a Victrola record player.  However, inevitably rough use over the years disabled the ancient machine, and we were ready to accept its demise.  Then Emily Swan took to the internet and discovered Victrola Repair Services (!) is located a short drive from Sumner Ford’s home in Richmond, VT.  Sumner transported the machine to St. Johnsbury and on a recent trip to Vermont Ben Swan picked up the fully repaired and restored Victrola.  

Chatting with the proprietor of VRS in his house filled with Victrolas in various states of repair and restoration, Ben learned that Pine Island’s particular machine was built in 1913 when PIC was just 11 years old.  The Victrola is now in the Swans’ living room in Brunswick, ME, awaiting transport to the island.  Several years ago a friend of the camp left his extensive and pristine collection of 78 rpm records to us.  It is such a fine collection that we didn’t want to leave all the records in Honk Hall.  Alumnus and jazz aficionado John Bunker agreed to keep the collection safe at his house in Palermo, ME.  We kept a few classics for the boys to listen to, and should they, just by chance, get broken, John will replenish the stock. Also, of course, it is not hard to find 78s on line.  

2020 Pine Islanders will be able to enjoy some great music any time up in Honk Hall.  Just crank it up!  Hint: if you want to turn up the volume, open the doors at the front of the Victrola.    

Campfire: Pine Island’s Musical Tradition Highlighted on Hit Album

The following article is featured in the current edition of The Pine Needle. Please visit our website to download your copy of CAMPFIRE: The Album. Your purchase supports the Lovett Scholarship Fund. Thanks!

As long as campers and counselors have been sitting around the campfire down in the cove they have been singing songs. It would be fascinating to be able to hear a recording of the songs they were singing around 1910 and to trace the evolution of campfire songs at Pine Island over the years. No doubt some of the songs sung years ago would sound dated, some in pretty uncomfortable ways, but the mere fact that boys, men, and women have been singing songs together virtually every night of every one of Pine Island’s 118 summers is remarkable. 

During the past 30 years or so, in addition to the traditional campfire songs such as “The Titanic,” “Mountain Dew,” and “Charlie and the MTA,” a new tradition has taken root in which campers and staff rewrite the lyrics to popular songs to make them specific to Pine Island. This hybrid form of songwriting fits well into the PIC schedule, in which creative energy tends to suddenly erupt without a great deal of time to produce or practice. Since the late 1980s, in addition to singing traditional and currently popular songs, Pine Islanders have written Pine Island-related lyrics to well over 30 songs. Ten of them, plus two traditional songs, make up an album now for sale with all proceeds going to the Sidney Lovett Memorial Scholarship Fund. 

Making CAMPFIRE: The Album happened as the result of a number of stars aligning plus a lot of hard work. Toby Bregar, from Bainbridge Island near Seattle, was a new camper during the summer of 2017. His tent counselor, Noah Brodsky, discovered that Toby played guitar and eventually convinced him to perform at campfire. Toby was great! For the rest of the summer Toby frequently borrowed director Ben Swan’s old Gibson acoustic and played a number of times, including at the Final Campfire on the last day of camp. Turns out this was the first time Toby’s parents had ever seen him perform. They were delighted and moved, and this led to a conversation in which Ben learned that Johnny Bregar is a record producer and professional musician who runs Brick- yard Studio on Bainbridge Island. Not long after Toby and his family returned home from Pine Island, they recorded “My Sweet Pine Island,” a Matt Clarke/ Ben Swan rewrite of the Ryan Adams song “Sweet Carolina” that has been featured as the last song of the summer for about 15 years. 

The Henchmen recording backing vocals at PIC parent Johnny Bregar’s studio on Bainbridge Island, WA

Hearing this professionally recorded and mixed version of a song Ben had only heard in various forms on the sandy stage in Pine Island’s campfire circle prompted him to ask Johnny if it might be possible to record more campfire songs and make an album. Johnny’s response was quick and simple: “Come on out. We’ll do it. It will be fun.” Ben began what turned out to be a two-year effort to pull some PIC musicians together for a weekend all the way out in Washington state. At a couple of points it seemed too ambitious to attempt, but with Johnny’s encouragement and some financial help for air fare for some of the younger musicians, it all came together on a weekend in October when five Pine Islanders flew to Seattle and took the short ferry ride to Bainbridge Island where they were welcomed and fed by the Bregar/Ahearne family. Ben arrived Thursday afternoon to help arrange the weekend, Pope Ward arrived Friday afternoon along with Mark Pierce, Robert Brent arrived Friday night, and poor Sam Chester ran into a few delays on his journey all the way from Middlebury College and finally caught the last ferry in the wee hours of Saturday morning. 

Sam Chester, banjo player extraordinaire, in the studio

Both Ben and Pope recorded songs Friday, but it was after the “varsity” musicians Mark and Sam arrived that production both sped up and became more complex. Over the course of the weekend, thanks to Johnny’s incredible experience, technical ability, and musical talent, the group recorded a dozen songs, ate a lot of good food, and had a ton of fun. Pine Islanders Nicky Isles, Ted and Will Siebert, and Charlie Krause visited the studio, and Nicky laid down a verse of “Mountain Dew” and was a member of the Henchmen, who performed the backing vocals on several songs. Two songs were recorded elsewhere. Edwin McCain, former counselor, current camp parent, and successful singer- songwriter, generously agreed to record “I’m a Camper at PIC” at his studio in Greenville, SC, and Corinne Alsop, Natalie Burr and Mark Pierce recorded “We’re Women at PIC” at Columbia University in New York. 

Thanks to Johnny’s generous donation of hundreds of hours of work, Tom Yoder’s assistance with air fare, and John Alsop’s gift of the cover art, all proceeds from the sale of the album will go directly to the Lovett Fund. Our hope is that CAMPFIRE: The Album will both raise significant funds for scholarships and inspire the next generation of writers and rewriters to keep the musical tradition at Pine Island strong and growing. You can order an album download or a CD at the PIC website:, where you’ll also find all the lyrics and detailed background about the production and songs. 

Mark Pierce’s smiling face – On the Cover of the Pine Needle.

Meet our Fly Fishing Instructors

Great Pond is one of Maine’s premier smallmouth bass fishing lakes, a perfect place for boys to learn to fish both with spinning gear and with fly rods. Many boys have caught big bass on flies they have tied themselves. Last year, under the leadership of Will Stack and Dawson Loewen, the program celebrated an impressive milestone: 13 consecutive catch days! Both Will and Dawson have signed on to return, so we expect more success in 2020. 

Will and Dawson, both Wilderness First Responders, also take campers out on overnight trips to apply the skills they’ve learned in some more remote locations. A typical summer includes two fishing trips: I.P.F.D., a 3-day trip on Indian Pond and the east outlet of the Kennebec River, which is a great spot for salmon, brook trout, lake trout, and bass; and Big Eddy, a 4-day trip on the Penobscot River. Pine Islanders have caught many brook trout and salmon on Big Eddy, including a 20+” salmon that had onlookers ogling.

Will Stack is a sophomore at Saint Lawrence University from Millbrook, New York. Will learned to fish on Great Pond as a camper. We’re fortunate to have him back for his 6th summer on Pine Island.
Dawson Loewen is a senior at the University of Montana, where he’s majoring in Elementary Education. He learned to fish in Missoula, Montana (arguably the mecca of fly fishing in the US) and we’re grateful that he will return to Pine Island to teach for his 3rd summer.