Heather Steeves | BDN
Daniel Bennett, 36, of Rockland, stands on his 36-foot sloop, Bufflehead in July 2012. Bufflehead is in its first season working as a charter boat. Buy Photo
ROCKLAND, Maine — By 10 a.m. Daniel Bennett was on his third cup of coffee made from water boiled on a tiny stove in the cabin of his wooden sloop.
Seagulls cawed and circled as the boat rocked gently off Rockland’s Windjammer Wharf. He was waiting for his next customer, looking for an intimate tour of Rockland Harbor.
It’s a new vocation for Bennett, but he has been preparing for it since he was a child.
“I was the weird kid who knew at age 11 what I wanted to do — sail around the world,” said Bennett as he sat barefoot on a bed in his sailboat Wednesday.
Bennett hasn’t circumnavigated the globe but he has sailed enough miles to wrap around the planet about four times. He recently started chartering passengers on his boat, Bufflehead, docked in Rockland.
“I built my first boat out of the trash when I was 11 in New Haven, Conn. I had a travel bug and I’ve always loved building things,” Bennett said. “The trash boat sunk in 10 minutes.”
As a kid, Bennett sailed on lakes in a Sunfish. When he was 15, he used his summer to take boat-building classes. By the time he returned to high school, sitting in a building and studying textbooks didn’t seem worth it to him. Instead he went on a teaching sailboat, took an English class and did independent studies at sea. He eventually earned his GED while logging 35,000 miles in the Pacific.
Soon after, Bennett flew to Maine where he learned boat building. He bounced between Maine, Martha’s Vineyard and Bermuda for a few years before sailing from Bermuda across the Atlantic to Portugal and Ireland. But by age 24 he decided to head back to Maine,where he bought a piece of land in Rockland.
“After 100,000 miles at sea I was curious to see what it might be like to stick to land and build community,” he said.
Since then, Bennett, 36, of Rockland has worked on many other boats, rebuilding decks, refurbishing schooners that had fallen into disrepair and building smaller boats from a stack of wood. So four years ago when a man in town decided to sell his boat, which had been on land for eight years, he thought of Bennett, who took the 32-foot gaff sloop in 2008.
“I got it for $1 because it was in terrible condition. I put 600 hours in the first winter,” he said.
The boat’s deck was rotting, the engine didn’t work and all the electrical components needed to be rewired. But one year after handing over a single dollar bill, Bufflehead was seaworthy.
For the first couple of years, Bennett took the boat out with his family for short trips, but last year he started taking other guests.
“I took 37 people sailing who had never been sailing,” he said. “It became abundantly clear I needed to get my captain’s license, get the boat documented and really do this.”
For the past month, Bufflehead has been bringing passengers on day sails. The boat fits six passengers, whereas most sailboats docked from Camden to Rockland hold 20 or more people.
“There’s a need for this here. There is no small boat like this here,” Bennett said.
The local Chamber of Commerce agrees.
“It’s good to see different options on the water. There is room on the waterfront for everyone,” said Dan Bookham, the executive director of Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce. “They didn’t have anything like that in Rockland.”
Most of the sailboats in Penobscot Bay, he said, have set schedules and seat more people.
“Bufflehead really represents the spirit of sailing in the midcoast. There’s a joy in what Daniel does, which is refreshing to see in a high-pressure industry,” Bookham said. “It’s a tough industry.”
“It is hard work,” Bennett said.
He is the only member of his crew if you don’t include his 4-year-old daughter Raya, who proclaimed herself first mate of Bufflehead. Sometimes she helps rig the boat and other times she colors pictures below deck, which is one of the main duties of a first mate, according to her.
“I’m trying to make enough money this summer to pay for her $3,000 tuition at the [Ashwood] Waldorf school’s kindergarten,” Bennett said.
Bennett doesn’t keep a set sailing schedule. He takes various types of trips, taxiing people to islands and taking daylong sails down the coast.
“It’s nice to get out and go sailing [for work]. I like it because about 20 minutes in, whoever it is goes, ‘ahhh.’ You see the relaxation,” Bennett said. “It’s perfect. I like sharing this experience with people — it’s a treat.”
Bufflehead Sailing Charters is online at sailrockland.com. Day sails range from $25 to $125.