Emily Sapienza VillageSoup/Knox County Times Reporter
ROCKLAND (Jan 5, 08): Muriel Curtis has seen many places in her days. She has worked in Greece. She has worked on schooners that have voyaged around the world. She has spent time on Loch Ness in Scotland. But the place she wants to be is Rockland.
Curtis, 54, has a deep appreciation for the history, roots and culture of Rockland, and the work she does reflects that appreciation.
"I knew I was going to settle in Maine because that's where I belong," she said on Jan. 2.
Curtis is the founder and director of Station Maine, a nonprofit organization that teaches local youth "to practice, share and encourage the rise of traditional skills of the sea, including sailing, rowing and seamanship," according to the Station Maine website. She was inspired to start Station Maine, in part because Rockland Harbor is the perfect location for such a program.
But Curtis is also known locally for the Sea Ceilidh, a musical comedy performance that "put the history of Rockland on stage for the people of Rockland," she said. Curtis wrote, directed and produced the show for five years, starting in 1999.
"The reason it was conceived was to put the history of Rockland on stage," said Curtis. "We are not about the frou-frou shops and the art galleries. They exist and we love them, but we also have the fish pier and the lobstermen, and Fisher [Engineering]. I wanted to celebrate that. I just wanted to do the show to let Rockland be proud of Rockland."
The show, which was held in the auditorium of Rockland District High School, had approximately 72 people in the cast and took a lot of time to put together.
"It was just glorious work," Curtis said. "The people were fun. I loved to do it. As Station Maine rose up, I had to stop the ceilidh. I can only stretch myself in so many directions."
In 2002 Curtis started Station Maine, when the Atlantic Challenge international competition came to Rockland. The seamanship contest takes place every other year in different locations around the world. Young people between the ages of 15 and 26 compete in Bantry Bay gigs, boats that can be both sailed and rowed.
"The local kids wanted to be part of it," said Curtis. "And they could have paid $2,000 to be on the U.S. team."
But Curtis wanted to share the opportunity to participate with any young person who wanted to compete so she designed Station Maine to be free of costs to the participants.
"I'd dreamed of this program for years," said Curtis. "I'd looked at Rockland Harbor. It was perfect. It's sheltered by Owls Head, it rarely freezes. And we have the heritage here of the lifesaving station, and people living their lives out of the sea, and becoming strong because of it."
Curtis said that when she decided to start Station Maine, her thinking was, "If not me, who? If not now, when?"
After Station Maine competed in the 2002 Atlantic Challenge, "I couldn't get the kids to stop," Curtis said.
"We kept rowing because it was a good idea," she said. "The kids were ready. The harbor is perfect. The local population gets it. There just couldn't be a better place to do it. And it couldn’t have been a better time because of the contest."
Curtis named her organization "Station Maine" after the many lifesaving groups that dot the coast. The Rockland Coast Guard Station, for example, is known as "Station Rockland" in Coast Guard circles.
"I couldn't think of a better ideal for these kids," said Curtis. But she added that in hindsight, another name might have been better, since Station Maine is sometimes mistaken for a radio station.
Station Maine is a free program that gets its funding through donations, Curtis said.
"Again, it's Rockland," she said. "Rockland is such a great city. Most of our funding is local because local people understand." The group also has the support of adult volunteers, who are wonderful, said Curtis.
When Station Maine traveled to France in 2007, "the kids earned every dime themselves," Curtis said.
"We are not doing anyone a favor by handing these kids a free ticket to Europe," she said. So the Station Maine competitors worked babysitting, and raking leaves and painting houses to earn the money to pay their own way.
"Now these kids know they can have anything they put their minds to," Curtis said. "They are not kids that want something handed to them. They want something more and they are willing to work for it."
"You're not born with a work ethic," she said. "You have to be taught."
Though it is still winter, Station Maine planned to put its boats back in the water on Saturday, Jan. 5.
"We have a great group of kids," Curtis said. "And I can't wait to get the boats back in the water again."
Curtis' goal is to see hundreds of Station Maines up and down the coast, she said.
"I don't want to be a CEO," she said. "We need hundreds of organizations where kids can grow strong on the water. We have a great resource and heritage. We understand how the sea makes you strong. I want to see that utilized."
During the summer, Station Maine has "no end of kids" participating in its programs. There is also a women's crew that includes 17 people, "some of whom are men," said Curtis. The women's crew, like the youth program, will row this winter.
"Anyone who wants to row with us, come and be welcome," said Curtis.
"I have found my bliss," Curtis said of her work at Station Maine. "I have no intention of stopping until I'm too geriatric to get into a boat, but that won't be for a while because I am strong."
"I've had a killer good life," said Curtis. "I've never done anything as satisfying as Station Maine."
"The kids and parents are incredible," she said. "The community understands us because it’s a working waterfront. I'm the luckiest person I've met and I have the sense to know it."