Life Downeast

A Downeast life in Cutler

For Captain. Andrew Patterson:  1956 — 2023

The boat ride to the island is a trip for the senses. The wind touches one’s face; the sound of waves, the boat’s motor amidst the cry of hovering gulls all compete for acceptance. The passengers on board the Barbara Frost crane their necks to see and hear everything. The captain — tall, broad shouldered — speaks in a loud. excitable voice. He is a little boy again traveling from wave to wave spewing history and stories, sharing his knowledge about this place — a place he protects yet shares with anyone who ventures into his harbor home. That place is Cutler


Every Downeast town is special. And in every town there is that one person or persons who embody an essence that makes that place so special. They are a part of the community, yet the many others who live there believe that person or persons are the “soul” of that community. Travel coastal Route 191 and you will eventually find yourself passing through Cutler. It is a picture yearning for a postcard, and you don’t realize that until it’s in your rearview mirror. Turning around to go back is the smartest thing you will do that day.

With the Bold Coast at its back door, Western Head at its front, Little River Lighthouse keeping watch at its harbor’s entrance, a former naval base accentuated by its tall, finger-like radio towers flashing red and a number of working wharves, Cutler remains a fishing village for the 500 or so souls who call it home.

In his book The Rockbound Coast, photographer Christopher Little shared his experiences in a number of places during his 1991 sailing journey down the coast of Maine. His stop in Cutler was less about enjoying what many consider the quintessential coastal village and more about finding a much-needed boat part.

Little found the part. But he also found a town brimming with friendly conversation from people he did not know. He located the part yet stayed longer because of those people and their mutual intent to make him feel at home.

With names like Cates, Corbett, Davis, Farris and others, Cutler became its own unique place. People came, stayed and built a life. Others would visit every summer, and many still do. Cutler and the people who came and stayed benefited each other. Their contributions continue and are buoyed by strong bonds that exist today between a place and its people. Andrew Patterson is one of those people

I did not personally know Captain Andy, as many call him. I first met him as a passenger on his boat heading to Machias Seal Island. To watch the Atlantic puffins and other migrating birds nesting on its rocky ledges is a unique experience made better by the pure companionship extended by the captain who takes you there.

He was a boat captain, an airplane pilot, a devoted family man and a passionate community member. At home, Patterson lived life by offering himself with his knowledge, his faith and his determination to meet any moment when it came to the machinations of “the way life should be” in Cutler. From his contagious enthusiasm at every Fourth of July celebration to his calming touch of the guitar strings at Sunday church services, his thumbprint on the town is everywhere

For the many who did know him, the words and comments used to describe him are cloaked in love. Words like: smart, thoughtful, talented, versatile, enthusiastic, unlimited energy, a true friend, intelligent, a go-getter, observant, special and genuine.

A Cutler resident and friend shared that at Patterson’s wedding Andy’s brother toasted the couple by sharing that, before his brother found love with Renee, he was already in love with Cutler. That same friend said, “and Cutler loved him right back.”

Another friend and neighbor offered: “Andy found the perfect role in the perfect place with the perfect people. He found his real self when he arrived in Cutler.”

And one of his best friends said: “I have been his friend for more than 45 years. This was a guy that did just about anything for anyone. He could tell a joke better than anyone and never sat around idle; he was always doing something or learning about something new. There was never a better person than Andy, and I cannot think of another person in this town that will be missed more than him.”

Canadian writer Alistair MacLeod wrote only one novel in his lifetime. But that was enough to leave an imprint on readers. The last line of that book I believe captures the chemistry of a bond that sometimes happens between people and the place they live: “All of us are better when we are loved.”  Both Patterson and the small coastal town of Cutler were each made better by the love they mutually shared for one another.


The return trip is now a memory filled with puffins and terns, nests amidst weather- beaten blinds perched on granite ledges in the shadows of seals peering from afar and cormorants spreading their wings to catch sunlight.  And that little boy of 66 years ends the day with the same wonder in his eyes, excitement in his voice that greeted everyone that morning. He ferries the last of us to the landing, still talking, still sharing himself to the end. We shake hands and bid each other farewell. Captain Andy turns away from us and sets off to make ready for tomorrow, to help, to share, to love.

© 2023 RJ Heller

Published in The Quoddy Tides, April 14, 2023

a life | Captain Andrew Patterson | Cutler | Downeast | Maine


  1. Simply beautiful.

    • Thank You. so perfect for my good friend Andy.

  2. Well done. Andy was like family to us. He was everything you described and more. He will be greatly missed. Thank you for this beautiful eulogy. His puffin trip and the boat Barbara Frost will still be running this summer by my husband, Captain Bob Cates. His jokes aren’t nearly as good as Andy’s were……..😆


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