Star Island is located eight miles off the coast of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It is part of the Isles of Shoals, a collection of from nine to eighteen (depending on who is counting) rocky ledges and small islands. The named islands are (from north to south) Duck, Appledore, Smuttynose, Cedar, Lunging, Seavys, and White. Star is about 150 acres and is so named because it is shaped like a rough star.

The first European to discover the Isles was Captain John Smith (yes, that John Smith), who praised its wonderful fishing and named them the Smith Islands. But he never carried out his plans to found a colony. Neither did his name stick, instead being replaced by a reference to the fishing -- shoals has an alternate meaning of schools of fish.

Appledore and Smuttynose were first settled around 1640. When Massachusetts annexed Maine and those islands, the settlers picked up their houses and floated them southward to Star and the lighter taxation of New Hampshire. They formed an anarchistic community which in 1714 was incorporated as the town of Gosport.

In 1732, civilization arrived in the form of the Harvard-educated Rev. John Tucke. For almost 50 years, he acted as minister, teacher, magistrate and doctor, fighting a continual battle against drunkenness, wife-beating, prostitution, and other excesses of the flesh.

Star Island was evacuated in 1776 because there was no way to protect residents from the British Navy. Although the islands were resettled after the Revolutionary War, the fishing industry never fully recovered. The community slowly declined over the next hundred years.

In 1848,the Appledore Hotel was built on the largest island. It became a grand vacation retreat for the nearby Boston Brahmins. In 1873 a competing hotel, the Oceanic, was built on Star.

The Appledore Hotel burned in 1914, and the heat from the flames was so intense that it scorched the paint on the Oceanic a mile away. The Star Island Corporation was formed by the Unitarian and the Congregational Churches and bought the Oceanic for $16,000. Since then (except for the World Wars), the island hosts a series of weeklong retreats and religious conferences throughout the summer.

Star is accessible via a 45 minutes ferry ride (passenger only) several times a day during the summer months. The public is invited on a walking tour managed by the Isles Steamship Company, and includes a visit to the museum.


The write-up above is wonderful, it tells you everything the tour guide on the cruise tells you, and leaves out the stupid anecdotes about Humphrey Bogart or Walt Disney. But there are three sides to Star Island, the side the day trippers see, the side the conferees see, and the side the pelicans see. If you work on the island you are called a pelican, that's the name. The write-up above tells you exactly what you would know if you were a day tripper, if you took the ferry out for an afternoon and saw the beautiful island.

Now I have not been a conferee, someone that goes to the conferences on the island, but I have dealt with that side. Star Island conferences last usually a week, sometimes a weekend. They have different themes and each conference is there for a different reason. There are conferences for YRUU, old people, former pelicans, families, etc. Spending a week on Star Island can be expensive, but there are usually some sorts of scholarships available depending on which conference you go to.

Conferences are wonderful. People are raised in their conference. It's a place where the land is beautiful, and for one week out of the year people can easily be themselves. I have never been to a conference, but many of my friends have and they say it was possibly the most helpful thing in their childhood. It's generally full of interesting kids (or former kids) that were never popular, but for a week they're together and no one cares. There are people that come every year and have been for a long time, some for their whole lives. It's a very powerful place.

And then there's the pelicans. The island usually has about 350 conferees on it, and 150 pelicans keeping the island alive. Pelicans are usually around 21, but some as young as 17 and some as old as 60. It's very varied, the really old ones call themselves penguins. Pelicans do everything, from cleaning the rooms at the Hotel Oceanic, to waiting tables in the dining hall, and everyone has a crew. A crew is a group of people doing on type of job, like the waiter's are called Waitrae Crew, the housekeepers are called Chamber. The cooks are called Kitchies, and the dish washers are called Dishies. The Conference Services Crew is called Cute Crew, because they deal with conferees and have to be very nice. There are two type of crews, white knight and black knight. White knights deal with conferees and black knights don't.

I worked on Truck Crew, I was a black knight. Truck crew is the heavy lifting crew, and the people that drive the three trucks on island. We bring everything on and off the island (food, supplies, et cetera). This is very funny when you realize that I am both very scrawny (heavy lifting becomes humorous), and don't know how to drive.

The island is a very intense place to work. 150 people living on one very small island (you can walk around it in 45 minutes) leads to a soap opera. Plus you can only leave the island one day out of the week. Everybody works very hard. It's hard to impress on you how hard people actually work. You get a room in the Oceanic, and 3 free very good meals, but you get paid peanuts. It's the one job I know of where I willingly work really hard at a stressful job for long hours, and greatly appreciate the privilege of being able to. That's right, you have to apply to work, so working here is a privilege.

The community at Star is the greatest part, this is what makes it what it is. Pelicans are all, 150, some of the strangest most wonderful people I've ever met. I think a story could be written about each one. They're all the kind of person that you tell your friends about, you have to meet this guy, he's insane! And the environment on the island is unique as well. The landscape is beautiful. That's one of those sentences that I'm letting fall flat because trying to explain the beauty of that island is impossible. Needless to say it is unique. Applause is quite regular after the sun sets, or maybe the moon. The water is ice cold and there is no real sand to speak of. You jump from barnacled rocks into freezing (and now confirmed shark infested!) waters.

The (off limits) pelican beach is called Lovers, and after swimming there I believe most people never really swim. When you go to a beach and get in the water you are not swimming, when you jump into your pool you are not swimming, you are simply getting wet. Go take a bath. After swimming at lovers I realized you are not swimming if you don't need to catch your breath after you get in, you are not swimming if you cannot get wounded in the process. Cuts and gashes (some quite deep) gotten from being washed up on the barnacles at high tide, or just generally trying to swim, seven miles out in the ocean, are referred to as kisses. I got kissed at Lovers today. If you get really hurt, maybe you got fucked.

When you work at Star Island, you almost begin to speak a different language. Getting stoned is called traveling to Puerto Rico. Hey man, got your passport? We're about to leave the country. People drink weirdcore, Carlo Rossi, and PBR. Names are given to almost everything. Trucks, rooms, benches, trash compactors, general areas. Everything seems perfect, like some incredibly efficient story where every word means something and everything makes sense.

Working there can be scary at times, because you honestly are surprised in the morning that everything isn't broken. The Engineer Crew isn't allowed to use duct tape, because the island brass thinks once they start, they'll use duct tape to fix everything. It seems the island is held together on enthusiasm alone. The island's head engineer is often fond of saying "What could possibly go wrong!" and then cringing. Everything seems to go wrong one after the other, just enough to make everyone work really hard but not shut down the island. Sometimes the island almost shuts down, but the ingenuity of the people that work here is so amazing that people tend to be able to jury-rig everything.

The fire situation can be frightening. Star Island is just waiting for the wrong match. It is very susceptible to flame. In the summer the hot sun can make a brush fire very possible, and if it starts on the half of the island away from the fire-hoses, well we'd just have to let it burn. The current idea is that a line of people with dry-chems would be the best tactic. Because of the danger to fire, they have a very serious fire drill every week, with a practice fire. They train a portion of the pelicans as firefighters. I was a firefighter, and I can attest to everyone taking this whole thing seriously. Fire could easily be our downfall. One part of the island is known as the "triangle of death". The Paint Shed, where we keep all the paint and gasoline (read: giant bomb), is right next to the Diesel Farm (diesel would take a while to light, but then it'd be lava), and the HazMat shed. Next to the triangle is the Shack, a two story building, housing for pelicans, and the only building without sprinklers. Next to that is the Wood shop (read: tinderbox).

Everyone on the island works really hard, and after work they all drink really hard. Star Island doesn't really care about underage drinking, as long as you're not stupid about it. Now with everyone drunk at night, people worried about responding to a fire at night, so they instituted fire watch. Fire watch is a duty everyone has to do, sooner or later. For evacuators, every 15 days you have to spend three sober, for firefighters, every 9 days you have to spend three sober. You also have to stay within earshot of the alarms. This means there is always enough people sober and on the populated side of the island to respond to a fire.

I am surprised there are no famous pelicans, because most of the people that work there are incredibly talented in something. Every week, the pelicans have a coffee house for the conferences where the pelicans perform for them. It is always funny and the music is incredible. The island is a place to meet good friends. It seems at times to be like a sitcom. Times passes very fast (the main season last between June 10th and August 15th), but every day seems to last forever. There are countless places on the island I could write about, maybe someday I will. But it is not the kind of place that can be written about easily. If you are between 18 and 30, or young and adventurous at heart, Star Island is at least an unforgettable way to spend a summer.

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