James L. Bildner
Phone interview 6/29/06
- by Carol Standish
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A Visual Cruising Guide to the Maine Coast
The making of A Visual Guide to the Coast of Maine handily combines author Jim Bildner’s two life passions, sailing and flying. He earned his single engine private plane license in 1979. (His intrepid wife, Nancy was his first passenger.) Five years later he got his balloon license and in 2001, his helicopter license.
As for sailing, Bildner skippered lake boats as a kid growing up in northern New Jersey. When he moved to New England in 1981 he bought his first ocean going vessel, a Pearson 30 called Copasetic. As he became more adept and in tune with the sport, he graduated to a Northeast 39, a Westy Adams design, Today he plies the coast in the queen of the fleet, a Hinckley 52.
Bildner's home in a north shore suburb of Boston is a convenient jumping off place for sailing or flying along the Maine coast. “In a helicopter we’re as subject to weather conditions as sailors. Flying the helicopter low over the water I could almost see the anxiety on the faces of the skippers below when the fog started closing in,” he says. But that isn’t what gelled the concept for the book “I had an ‘aha’ moment sailing the inside passage between Boothbay and Bath. I was anxious about it because it had all kinds of scary stuff to get through with name like ‘hells gate’ and so forth. But having seen the whole logical flow of the rivers from above, I could visualize what was coming” and his anxiety dissolved.
So, Bildner sent an unsolicited letter to International Marine and of course the editors recognized a great idea when they saw it. Contract signed, Bildner with his former flight instructor (and business partner in Helo Services Boston) Roger Brull flew along the Maine coast for more than a year taking several hundred pictures with an Olympus digital, “just an ordinary camera,” says Bildner. “There were lots of ‘hover in flight’ maneuvers—the camera doesn’t have a stabilizer. Timing flight to light conditions was great practice for precision flying.”
Back on the ground, Bildner and administrative assistant, Abby Crocker organized pilotage notes and chose photographs. The whole process took two full years. The resulting innovative book will prove essential to sailors of this complex coast. “Life is about ‘going after it’ in a big way,” says Bildner. “If people have passions they should wrap their lives around them.”
What’s next for this passionate person? “Buzzards Bay and Long Island,” says Bildner, then the Cape and the islands, then Chesapeake Bay. “We’re going all the way to Florida using the same filter we used for the Maine coast,” that is focusing on areas that might confuse the navigator—hidden entrances, cluttered channels, confusing shorelines.” For every well-known harbor along the Maine coast, there must be twenty undiscovered, he says. And he expects the same surprises as he focuses his camera to the southwest.
When he’s not up in the helicopter or on the water with his wife and their golden retriever, Bildner serves on the boards of several non-profit environmental organizations and as chair of the Literary Ventures Fund which he founded in 2005 in the belief that “given a level playing field—great literature can thrive in the marketplace.”
A Visual Cruising Guide
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