ROCKPORT — Maine’s maritime tradition is best recounted through the voice, eyes, demeanor and dialect of someone who has lived and worked on the water. This oral tradition is one of the most powerful ways to learn about a life that so few live anymore.
That is why the Rockport Public Library is holding a Fall Seafaring Series devoted to these engaging storytellers, at 7 p.m. Thursdays, through Nov. 10, at the Rockport Opera House. Abbie Leonard, Rockport harbor master, is the only woman speaker in the lineup and will speak Oct. 27 on “A Day in the Life.”
Leonard, 32, who has been harbor master since 2008, has seen a lot in her time, both out on the water and from her office window at the mouth of the harbor. What she enjoys and remembers the most are the stories she has been told by the generations of seafaring Mainers with whom she works so closely, day after day on the “quintessential Maine working harbor,” as she describes Rockport.
Leonard takes pride in being the “ambassador” of the harbor, going out of her way to talk to and make connections with the people from different walks of life who use the harbor.
“That’s really one of the best parts of my job. I get to communicate with people, answer questions for them, as well as learn a lot from all the old-timers whose families for generations have made their living on the water,” said Leonard. She even tolerates those knee-slappers from tourists who ask, “Whose job is it to park all the boats in the same direction?”
Leonard has seen her fair share of emergencies that required creative problem solving to save lives and property. One such incident involved a burning lobster boat coming into harbor.
Leonard jumped into action and stopped the boat from coming into the docks, while a crew from the Coast Guard responded with gear more appropriate to fighting a military battle than fighting a fire. It left Leonard believing that Rockport Harbor has to be a self-sufficient community center that all can use and enjoy, but when problems arise, they also can help keep it safe.
Leonard is passionate about maintaining access to the harbor. She does not like seeing the old fishermen getting pushed out of the harbor and their livelihood threatened because of the notion that only the superrich can enjoy the harbor, she said.
“I love seeing the harbor enjoyed by all, from the night squid fishermen, kids playing Frisbee, the old couple on the bench, to the charter schooners and the lobsterman who does it all year long,” said Leonard.
Leonard loves the sea, loves her job as harbor master, and loves telling and hearing a good story. Her talk promises to give insight into the many-faceted life of a Maine harbor master.