Twenty-three years ago, Hargy Heap, of Yarmouth, who was then in the paint business in Massachusetts, decided to sell the beloved family catboat, a twenty-two-foot Crocker keel model. Two growing Heaps were disenchanted with the cruising scene and Hargy and his wife, Judy, decided their cruising days were over. No sooner was the boat's sale accomplished, however, than Hargy panicked. "I just had to get out on the water," he recalls.
A sailing friend suggested that Heap go see Arthur Martin, the Boston naval architect and sculling enthusiast who was just then moving to Maine to manufacture ocean rowing shells in a labor of love that was to make him widely revered as the father of modern recreational rowing. After delivering his old catboat to Rye, New Hampshire, Heap took off on a four-mile row in Martin's wake.
"Like a lot of others who went rowing with Arthur," Heap reports, "I was hooked!" Within a couple of months, he had purchased one of Martin's Alden shells and had become sufficiently accomplished to enter Martin's annual, seven-mile, open-ocean Isles of Shoals race. He's been rowing Alden shells and participating in the race, which he has won four times, ever since.
In 1975, Heap transferred his rowing full time to Maine after he bought a decoy-making business in Freeport, later moving it to Bowdoinham. He sold that business in 1990, and the following year combined avocation with vocation when he took over an Alden dealership, selling shells from the top of his car and taking them to the Yarmouth Town Landing for demonstrations. Car-top selling proved frustrating, however, he reports, so the next year he made a deal to install a float and a runway in a shallow portion of Ralph Stevens' Yankee Marina in Yarmouth, creating the Casco Bay Rowing center. The center, now with two floats and room to stow a growing fleet of shells, fulfills a longtime dream of rowers in the Portland area, making it easier for scullers to launch their boats. From May through October, Heap offered rowing lessons, rentals, and sales at the center to a growing clientele of rowing enthusiasts of both sexes and all ages. For many, he says, rowing has become an important part of their fitness regimen as well as a relaxing pleasure.
A couple of years ago, Heap tried taking his shells south to Florida for the winter, but he has decided to discontinue the practice. "I'm a cross-country skier," he says, "and I missed skiing and the Maine winter," This past winter in Maine suited him just fine, but Hargy and a lot of his clients are getting itchy right now for those first mild days of May.