BELFAST, Maine — The state’s rich seafaring tradition is alive, well and continuing to generate lots of great sea stories — and the public is invited to come hear some of those yarns this weekend at the Colonial Theatre in Belfast.
Working seamen and women will get on stage for “Salted Tales: Stories From The Sea Told Live,” and their stories will run a dramatic gamut from fending off Somali pirates to putting out aircraft carrier fires, according to the organizers.
“Maybe the thing I miss most about sailing is listening to sailor’s sea stories,” John Cronin, a retired merchant mariner from Belfast who is helping to emcee the event, said this week. “You spend a lot of time on the bridge of ships out in the middle of nowhere with a couple of guys and very little to do other than avoid traffic, drink coffee and talk. Some of the guys got to be pretty good story tellers. I was a good listener.”
Cronin said his first working gig on a boat was as a cabin boy for a Scandinavian tramp steamer when he was 22 and searching for a cheap way to get to Europe. Later, he went to Maine Maritime Academy in Castine to get his license and began sailing full-time as a third mate. Over his career, he sailed on tugboats, drove the Katahdin on Moosehead Lake and spent 25 years working on oil tankers.
There’s a lot of people in the area like Cronin who have had careers on the water, according to Mike Hurley, co-owner of the Colonial Theatre. The theater is jointly presenting the event with the Penobscot Marine Museum.
“Around here on the coast, the sailboat people, the schooners, they take up a lot of press. They take up a lot of oxygen,” Hurley said. “We really wanted to go for people who work on tankers, freighters, tug ships. One guy is a research vessel captain … this was born from a discussion that around us there are people who rarely get a voice.”
Kathy Goldner, the external relations director at the Penobscot Marine Museum, said that sea stories and coastal Maine have a long relationship.
“The sea was our transportation, so commercial sailing was huge,” she said. “Commercial sailing is still big, but it doesn’t involve the numbers of people it used to. Ship builders, sail makers, rope makers, many sailors per ship. It’s a very different industry now, but it’s absolutely still there.”
And the stories that come from that industry are just as powerful as ever.
“They’re captivating stories,” she said. “The sea has something mysterious.”
“Salted Tales” will be held from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Sunday, March 29, at the Colonial Theatre in Belfast. Admission is free to members of the Penobscot Marine Museum and $5 for others, and refreshments will be available.