I shared a boatload of memories with old friends Saturday at the wake for Hilary Heaton, a legendary East Boothbay restaurateur, and proud World War II Marine.
It was a celebration of the life of the guy who provided many of us with jobs, good food, a few adult beverages, magnificent scenery, and companionship at the old Lobsterman’s Wharf.
It was a relaxing afternoon, a well-deserved break from the machine gun-like volley of news stemming from the constant political circus playing out in the nation’s capital.
Relax, friends. I am not going to retell some of the “more interesting” tales, like the friends who made friends while climbing the rigging of the yacht Blue Dolphin docked nearby. I am not going to go into the details of the evening when Andrea, the waitress, thanked the Almighty when a group of good looking revelers swam up to the float and walked into the bar.
Many of us are well past worrying about the consequences of any alleged hijinks. Others have a problem remembering anything at all. Nuff said.
For years, Lobsterman’s Wharf was the region’s summer and sometimes winter clubhouse.
It began on the remains of a coal dock and fish house in the middle of the East Boothbay shipyards. The main feature was the pilothouse salvaged from the deck of a minesweeper. The restaurant just grew up around the pilothouse. During World War II, Hilary ran away from home, fibbed about his age, and joined the Marines. He was just 15. The Corps sent him to ordinance school training him as an armorer, maintaining and servicing the machine guns and bombs of the mighty Marine Corsair fighter planes that ruled the skies of the South Pacific as part of VMF 111, the Devil Dogs.
After the war, he had a varied career until he made his way to East Boothbay. There, with a volunteer crew that included Pete and Mary Williams, they cobbled the restaurant together. Not long after, he married Kathy.
For years, she managed the restaurant while Hilary maintained the property. “You can imagine how much work it was to keep up a restaurant over the water,” she said. “He worked all the time.”
When trouble raised its ugly head, the old Marine was not above pulling out a baseball bat to convince rowdy customers to leave.
The Heatons' hard work paid off. For nearly 40 years, they provided a fine watering hole, good-paying jobs, and beautiful memories for the region and the attendees of Saturday’s event. Many remember the 1970s and 1980s, when on sunny summer Sunday afternoons, a Dixieland band dubbed the “Clam Flat Five” and other musical groups drew hundreds of locals and tourists to the wharf.
On those days, the toughest thing about going to Lobsterman’s was locating a parking spot and finding a hyper-busy waitress to bring you a second drink.
The bartenders, waiters and waitresses worked hard, for the place earned a reputation as the best place to pick up fat tips. The eatery was also a favorite on weekends for their roast beef specials, in addition to lobster and fish.
On occasion, the wharf was used as the location for crews looking for a unique spot to shoot photos for national advertisements. Shipyard workers sometimes were less than attentive to their duties when stunning swim-suited models paraded for the cameras while trying not to shiver when cold breezes blew off the Damariscotta River.
Lobsterman’s was also the prime spot to view the lavish gatherings at the former Goudy & Stevens Shipyard as they launched a series of yachts and fishing boats. After a launching, there was always a party.
In 2014, spectators gathered at the restaurant to watch as Hodgdon Yachts unveiled their hundred-foot long, multi-million-dollar masterpiece, Commanche, designed to be, and became, the fastest mono-hulled sailing yacht in the world.
Today, the old Lobsterman’s Wharf is no more. Dan Miller and his family now own it. After more than 3/4 of a century, it was time to rebuild, and he is doing just that. Dan has removed the superstructure and is replacing pilings and installing new decking.
When the structural items are checked off, Miller plans to build anew. We can’t wait.
Today, the old pilothouse is no more and, at last check, the internet said the Blue Dolphin is sitting in the mud of a Canadian shipyard located across the river from Detroit. But, for some, the memories still trigger smiles.
On Saturday, at Brady’s restaurant in the harbor, Kathy greeted old friends as they shared fond memories of the old Lobsterman’s and the old New York Marine. It was a fitting send-off for a guy from away who adopted us, and we, in turn, adopted him.
RIP Hilary. Semper Fi