by Rod Johnson
The guide ghosts of Great Pond [i.e. fishing guides who have gone to the Great Beyond] are certainly not a new phenomenon. Several years ago they were nearly caught partying out on Oak Island by Phil Cobb when he paddled his antique canoe there to check out mysterious music. Rod and Doris Johnson had a run-in with the ghosts a few seasons back, when returning from cousin Cary's camp around midnight. Last summer three separate incidents were called into the authorities by flatlanders, all relating to strange happenings on Great Pond.
Each time the guide ghosts were suspected as being the guilty culprits at least by the locals. The cops seem to think we're all crazy up here and really don't follow up much. The guide ghosts' M.O. seems to include foggy weather conditions (assumedly when no one can get a good peek at their faces,) and most times they seem to like to party on one of the islands, occasionally in their boats.
One incident reported last year came from a fisherman caught out on Whale Rock, waiting for the fog to lift. He was nearly rammed by an old double-ended guide boat. His report included a vague description of the driver, said to be "a skeletal soul with wispy white hair." He also noted a rancid odor smelling of varnish, turpentine and home brew as the boat slid by, actually brushing his own Rangeley lapstrake.
The most recent return of the guide ghosts was just a couple of weeks back. It caused quite a ruckus with Doris and I, as we were actually caught in a strange weather phenomenon that included a period of unexpected fog.
We'd left the Mill Stream by boat after a nice meal at the Village Inn. There we had reconnected with old friends Steve and Edie Dubord and were invited for a "small snifter" (actually Uncle Byron's term for a night cap) at their summer home on Gleason's Shore. We hadn't caught up with them for years and were wicked excited to do so.
The dusky ride over with stars starting to appear was wonderful as the old '65 Lyman 19-footer, a gift from Bill and Joan Witkin, rode with her bow high and proud. The old GM 165 horsepower V6 was cuttin' 'em off just right at 3500 RPMs. We arrived ASAP and totally enjoyed the long chat time we had.
Time flew by and soon midnight was approaching and the little bird said it was time to go home. As we said our goodbyes and thanks to our hosts, we all walked out onto the dock. The sky did look a bit ominous, but not enough to be concerned, just another nice night on Great Pond. We could hightail it and be home in 15 minutes.
NOT SO, MY FRIENDS.
We left Steve and Edie and cranked up the revs of the so-called Iron Horse motor and headed out through a tricky area crossing the submerged esker that connects Pine Island and Horse Point. I'd done it a thousand times since childhood and knew the general route, as many of the marker buoys were not there when we were kids. We had learned and always used landmarks.
After leaving Oak Island on our port side and heading for the gut between the south end of Hoyt's and Long Point, I really had no worries about depth unless we slipped to starboard and got mixed up with the white ledges. A slight south wind had crept in and dampness was present. We cuddled for warmth while standing at the helm with the dual exhaust pipes bellowing in the night, smiling and realizing we had the world at our hands. How lucky could we be!
Then, out of nowhere, the engine started skipping and quickly things changed. Within less than a minute the old girl had quit running and we were adrift. Not the end of the world, but it got our attention. Darn, the bliss is over, what in the devil is wrong with this. One of us muttered something less polite.
While Doris held the quickly draining cell phone flashlight, I opened the motor hatch and did a quick overview. Coil wire in, no noted items unhooked. At this time, it became apparent that a fog was settling over us. With the engine problem and the weather quickly becoming socked in, things were going to hell in a handbasket. With little flashlight battery left, I asked Doris to hold it close to the distributor. We popped off the cap to inspect the points. Without a decent flat bladed screw driver, the Leatherman had to do.
At that time, we heard what sounded like an old violin or fiddle and some muted voices from somewhere in the now heavy fog. Could this be a dream or did we drink some psychedelic wine? What in the devil is going on?
In fifteen minutes or so, the south wind had moved us a quarter mile or so, and a loud CLUNK sounded. We had drifted over the white ledges and our skeg had hit aground. Wow, the plot thickened. No motor, no steerage, thin water and very little flashlight left. Of all things, old men's raspy voices now semi-clear and very close, are added to the list above.
The next thing we knew the Lyman had drifted adjacent to a long double-ended guideboat, with no one aboard. An old hemp anchor line led over the bow and under the water holding the craft, and an old oil lantern was hanging on a hand-hammered shepherds hook stuck in the biggest rock out there.
I had been told as a child that the guides had drilled a hole in the big rock and set a lantern aglow each night to warn night boaters of the ledges. The old boys were at it again and we were about to finally witness one of their parties.
Before we could completely digest the events that had overcome us, a quick updraft of breeze came over the area. In a matter of minutes, the strange weather was leaving us as fast as it overtook us. Soon I saw the dull tiny green light on Glenn Baxter's point, and knew that the party was over. We may have scared them off and ruined the gathering. We were alone with no guide ghosts, and a quickly clearing sky with thousands of stars appearing.
By now we had drifted north of the ledges into some deeper water. With the last remaining flashlight power for light, we rolled over the crankshaft of the big V6 with a knucklebuster wrench on the damper pulley bolt head. Sure enough, the points had closed up as the set screw had loosened.
We opened the points and set them to a match book cover thickness, then tightened the set screw and put the cap back on. (This was an old trick that Fred Saxton, alias "Bucko," had passed along some 50 years ago while working on Pukin' Betsy, our fun old '26 Chevy.)
Doris hit the starter switch and, BINGO, the old girl fired up. None too soon as the flashlight went completely dead at that moment. We both chuckled, punched her up on a plane and headed to the Mill Stream. Just another day on the lake? We'd sooner think there's no doubt about it: The guide ghosts of Great Pond had once again, been caught red-handed!
Rod Johnson was born and raised in the Belgrade Lakes in the 1950s and '60s.