If you have ever sailed the Maine coast or read about it or thought about it, you probably know about Roger F. Duncan. His “Cruising Guide to the New England Coast” has been a sailors’ bible for a half century and his “From the Deck” column has long been a monthly treat in the Working Waterfront newspaper. He died on May 15 at the age of 93.
Mr. Duncan and his wife, Mary, continually gathered information for successive editions of the guide on their cruises on their 32-foot wooden Friendship sloop, “Eastward.” Fellow sailors kept telling him of little-known anchorages to be relished — or in some cases to avoid. One edition reported room for one boat in a tiny cove behind Crazy Point on the New Brunswick coast. A visitor had reported that it was “the most lovely anchorage on the whole east coast.” But a small sloop grounded out there when the 23-foot tide ebbed. The next edition advised staying outside, noting a 20-foot depth spot on the chart.
He much preferred wooden boats and cruising far Down East, a region of high tides, strong currents and few if any marinas, one that distinguished the men from the boys.
Mr. Duncan taught English, history and Latin and coached at Massachusetts prep schools, spending summers sailing, often in Maine. Since retirement, he lived in Boothbay and sailed, lectured and wrote books and articles.
One of his many books, “Dorothy Elizabeth: Building a Traditional Wooden Schooner,” reported that hauling on the sheets and halyards of his big sloop had become a bit much when he reached 80. So he collaborated with Ralph W. Stanley, the Southwest Harbor boat builder, to design a small schooner that would be easier to handle.
The June issue of Working Waterfront carries the last of the “From the Deck” columns that he wrote for 20 years. Filed in early May, it describes a family sail on an August day in 1952 to watch a rare total eclipse of the sun from the sea, where it was unobscured by houses or trees.
Others of his columns tell stories about battling fierce storms, tacking the way out from threatening lee shores, and training a new deckhand how to avoid jibing and advising him “never to tie up the peapod painter with a slippery hitch.” (For landlubbers, the peapod is a small dinghy or tender, the painter its bow line, and a slippery hitch is a knot with a slipped loop — easy to untie but vulnerable to working loose.)
Mr. Duncan was always helpful to novices and respectful of skilled sailors. When he signed one of his books, he sometimes described the recipient as “A good man on a boat.”
That line perfectly fits Roger Duncan.