For Mark McClellan, a boatguy’s boatguy


I’m going to get personal here, but I just can’t stop thinking about Mark McClellan, seen above with his son Thomas on their schooner Simplicity five summers ago in Camden.  This morning I learned that he was the damn fool who went solo ice boating on Lake Chickawaukie during yesterday’s snow and wind storm, setting off what seemed like a successful rescue operation after he broke through the young ice.  But Mark didn’t make it.  And “damned fool” sounds much more judgmental than I’m really feeling…

Mark was a guy with an almost perpetual glint of adventure in his eyes.  Not a macho hey-look-at-me sort of thing, but rather a joyous hey-wouldn’t-that-be-a-blast enthusiasm.  And while I believe he had a stellar reputation as a boat builder and woodworker, he always seemed to make time for boating.  In fact I remember when he was dreaming about Simplicity and asking guys like me for advice.  Given that she was an older wooden boat without an engine, and Mark had both young children and a sizable wooden powerboat to take care of already, I counseled caution.  But Mark went for it, fitted her with an offset shaft and diesel, ran her as daysailor, and took the whole family to the Caribbean on her.
    The last time I saw Mark was Memorial Day, which was particularly clear and splendid this year.  Andrea and I were walking a back road on the upper end of North Haven when the McClellan family rather randomly rolled out of a dirt driveway in a jalopy pickup (turned out they’d acquired a backwoods camp, and an island vehicle to go with it) and offered to take us into town for the parade.  We had a very nice time together that morning, and Mark said he might sail his Whitehall out later to see Gizmo.  But when it started to blow about 20 knots across Pulpit Harbor and I saw Mark arrive at the beach with an extra kid in tow, I got a little nervous.  Bad idea, Mark!  But he managed fine, wisely dropping the idea of working to windward to see us, and instead running that little boat along the shore with a bone in her teeth.  I dare say the children got a fairly thrilling sailing experience.
   So I’ll remember Mark as a guy who walked the fine line between foolhardy and adventurous, which I admire.  I’d guess that there are friends and family today who are pretty pissed off at him for going too far, and thus deserting the family I saw him so lovingly settled with last May, and I understand those feelings completely.  But I’d like to think of him whooping with excitement as he flew across Chicky in the breeze, before he hit the thin ice.  I want to remember Mark’s infectious grin and glint, though I do wish he’d been more careful. 


Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now pleased to have Ben Stein as a very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Please don't regard him as an "expert"; he's getting quite old and thinks that "fadiddling fumble-putz" is a more accurate description.

11 Responses

  1. peter lindquist says:

    Thank you for that heart-felt memorial …
    I did not know Mark, but spoke with many folks today who were saddened and shaken. Amen.
    Lindquist P

  2. Galen T says:

    Nicely written. I admire the adventure that lies deep in all of us. Mark lived his life full. However as we venture out we must remember the wake we create behind our actions. My thoughts go to out to his family and friends. I also know one of the two firefighters who risked their lives on that blustery frozen day to pull Mark out of the lake. They are truly the selfless ones.

  3. Mark Holden says:

    I worked with Mark at Renaissance Yacht in 1990-1991. He always was friendly, particular about getting details exact, as would any fine carpenter (which he was). On Sunday, I had seen him sitting in the back row with Ann and the kids, chatting, smiling. As I was about to leave and walk out we met, shook hands and he shared that he was upset that it had started snowing and spoiling the fine ice on Chickawaukee. He said he wanted to use the storm sail which was a pared down and sturdier sail on the ice boat. He was clearly excited about going. I said “do you think the ice is thick enough?” He said yes, he had checked it. I will always regret not couseling more caution but I share some of that joie de vie and enthusiasm for adventure which was that spark which always was present in Mark.
    I am shocked and deeply saddened by this turn of events. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.

  4. Charlie says:

    I remember Mark! And that beautiful schooner.
    What a bummer… I’m very sorry to learn this.

  5. Doug Eaton says:

    Mark bought Simplicity from me and, I admit that I was worried about who she was going to. I needn’t have; Mark’s love and enjoyment of and for her was soon obvious.
    I was sorry to read of his passing, he was a good Captain.
    My sympathies to his wonderful family. It is a sad day.
    Doug Eaton

  6. Avery B says:

    Well put, Ben. He was one of the good guys. Yup, pissed and sad. Lovely family with a big hole in it now.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Mark took me and my husband out on the Simplicity to get married in 2008. He was so warm and fun– he put together a beautiful feast for us and brought flowers from his garden. We loved his tales of his trip to the Caribbean with the family. I am terribly sad but glad that at least he was at sea. Our best goes out to his family.
    Lucy English

  8. Tracy says:

    Thank you, Ben, you truly captured the Mark I knew and his enthusiasm for living. I’ve known his wife since 1982. I went to their wedding, have been out on Sunshine and visited them in route to the Caribbean on Simplicity. I am lucky to have spoken to Mark three times during the few weeks before the 20th. I live on the West coast and really appreciate being able to read these comments so far away from my dear friend and her children. When Annie called me the night Mark died she told me about being in church that morning and how excited Mark was to get out on the ice. It is so incredibly sad.

  9. The Moran family says:

    Ben, Thank you for your insightful words about our Captain Mark. Every word as true as you say. We cannot stop thinking about him and what happened on the lake. My family has been sailing with Mark,Ann Thomas and Molly on Simplicity for the past 5 summers. Mark has given each of us the real metaphor of simplicity on his minimal, beautiful boat. We are all greatful for the gift of Mark in our lives, if only way too short a time. Our hearts are with Ann, Thomas and Molly and all of their family. We hold Mark’s warmth and simplicity dear in our hearts.

  10. Bettina Castagno says:

    We have sailed with Captain Mark over 8 summers and it is so hard to think of a summer without him. He accommodated our eccentric adventurous clan, so many memories, a man who said YES to life.
    Bettina Castagno and Mark Hanna

  11. Anonymous says:

    Working on Schooners in Rockland I have only admired Simplicity from the water, She has always caught my eye as a lengendary filled voyager. I do not have any association with the family although I will say that the crew of the Schooners around Rockland and Camden are all truly sympathetic and saddened. Our support goes out to the family.
    “Schooner Bum”

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