Our Sloan Critchfield Memorial Boat Maintenance Weekend was a tremendous success. Pine Island’s fleet of beautiful wooden boats is ready for the opening of the 2023 camp season thanks to the terrific work of a great group of volunteers. But, it’s not just about the boats. It’s about honoring the memory of our friend, Sloan Critchfield, a Pine Island camper and counselor and lover of boats and the water who died in 2004 when he was just twenty years old. Everyone who knew Sloan still misses him and it is fitting that an annual gathering at Pine Island to care for our fleet of beautiful wooden boats is in his memory.
Special thanks to our leader, Cody Smith, and to everyone who participated, including Bryan Carey, Lizzy Durkin, Byron and Justin Gaspard, Henry Geyer, Owen and Ian Gilbert, Doug Handy, Kat Highley, AJ Powers, Chris Ward, Adam and Heath Wenchel and Erin Heath, and staff members Natalie Burr, Sumner Ford, and Miles Frank.
If you have not attended a Sloan Critchfield Memorial Boat Maintenance Weekend, come on up next September! It is well worth the trip.
Pine Island’s off-season has a predictable rhythm. The turning of the calendar triggers familiar tasks year after year – October is Registration Month, December yields The Pine Needle, and each May we pass an exciting milestone as the first docks go in the water. As alumnus Ned Bishop says, “Once the big docks are in, everything is possible.” This year putting the docks in is especially exciting because it brings us tangibly closer to our long-awaited Opening Day. Once the docks are in, the KWS – our 28-foot launch – arrives, and soon our fleet of catboats and rowboats will be moored and bobbing in the cove, awaiting beginning and experienced sailors and oarsmen alike.
Six of the boats that will be moored in the cove are Pine Island Skiffs designed specifically for Pine Island by boatbuilder David Stimson. Returning campers will remember John, Paul, George, Ringo, and Stu, but there’s a new addition this year – Pete.
Pete is the result of a small but successful fundraising campaign supported by many generations of Pine Island oarsmen as well as hundreds of hours of time donated by the talented and generous alumnus and super-volunteer Rob Whitehouse. With the original plans to our first skiffs lost, Rob re-created them using a combination of engineering skills, complicated math, and possibly some magic. This monumental project caught the attention of the folks at Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors and is featured in their May/June 2021 issue. I hope you’ll all take the time to read this excellent article by Donnie Mullen – The Essence of Summer and a Skiff Designed for Lake Use – whether or not you’ve spent time in these skiffs. And I hope you’ll join me in thanking Rob Whitehouse for his tremendous work.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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: www.pineisland.org, where you’ll also find all the lyrics and detailed background about the production and songs.