FRIENDSHIP, Maine — Lobster scientist Diane Cowan has been stranded on Friendship Long Island for more than a month because of extreme ice conditions.
Last week, a friend from the mainland organized an airdrop to provide Cowan with some supplies.
It wasn’t a rescue mission, but “a psychological mission of mercy, to lift her spirits,” Pam Cabanas of Friendship said Tuesday.
Cowan, who has a telephone and Internet access, said by phone Tuesday that she had enough food and everything she needed but acknowledged she had been low on coffee, which, while not a necessity, was something she desired.
So she was thrilled when Cabanas called her last week to say she and some of her friends were going to be flying around local harbors the following morning to see the amount of ice. Cabanas said she would be putting together a care package in hopes that it could be dropped from the airplane.
Cowan is the executive director and senior scientist for The Lobster Conservancy. She has spent 16 winters on the island doing research on lobsters. There have been days in past winters where she has not been able to get to the mainland because of high winds and seas and there was a two-week period in 2003 where she was iced in, but this winter has been completely different.
The 54-year-old scientist made her last trip to the mainland on Jan. 30. She reaches Friendship by using her 21-foot motorized open skiff to go from Long Island to the Fishermen’s Heritage Lobster Cooperative dock, about a one-mile voyage. Cowan spent two hours in town that last trip to buy a few items and pick up her mail.
Since then, the harbor has frozen over more than anyone can recall, stranding Cowan on Long Island. Her only companion is her mixed-breed rescue dog, Sula.
But Cowan said she is prepared for situations like this. The home has solar panels to provide power. There is no running water in the winter and instead she must get water by hauling a bucket up from a dug well. The bathroom is an outhouse. The source of heat in the small house is a large woodstove.
Temperatures have been so low during the past two months that she has not been able to sleep in the upstairs bedroom but instead has curled up in front of the woodstove.
It was on Feb. 24 that Cabanas, four other friends and pilot Tomas Sowles of Penobscot Island Air left the Knox County Regional Airport in nearby Owls Head for the tour and airdrop.
Cowan said that morning was the coldest one she has experienced in her 16 winters on the island. The temperature had plummeted to 17 degrees below 0 Fahrenheit. Cowan wasn’t sure if the drop would occur with such frigid weather.
But Cowan got the call that the plane was on the way. So she put on her snowshoes, bundled up, and went outside to wait.
Cabanas said when she first got to the airport, she was told her care package was too large to fit out the window of the plane, so she quickly divided the contents into two smaller packages.
The first package bounced off the roof of a former school house and then onto the ground, while the other was a much more precision drop.
Inside the packages were three pounds of coffee, some half and half milk and cream, oranges, a Milky Way bar and a can of dog food.
“It was exciting, really fun,” Cowan said.
Cabanas agreed, saying everyone on board enjoyed the mission.
“The flight took on another dimension with the box drop to Diane,” she said. “We are all bonded in adventure, camaraderie and humor, forever.”
As for Cowan, the hope is for the March sun to melt the harbor ice so that she can make a trip to the mainland.
The Lobster Conservancy was founded by Cowan in 1996. The organization received a donation of a house and lobster pound on Friendship Long Island, which has been turned into a natural laboratory where scientists can study lobsters in conditions as close to the wild as possible, the Lobster Conservancy’s website states.
“Our goal is to explain how lobsters at different ages contribute eggs and larvae to the population — vital information for managing lobster stocks sustainably,” according to the website.