FYI.

This story is over 5 years old.

Moments Like this Never Last

Maine Delay

City folk typically build country houses to relax. They fill them with soft colors and soft cushions and nothing to do. They paint them in pastels and go out there on the weekends to "escape" to the good life.
August 2, 2009, 12:00am

By Benjamin Popper

Photos By Andy Vernon Jones and Krishna Andavolu

if (typeof ord=='undefined') {ord=Math.random()*10000000000000000;} document.write('

');

City folk typically build country houses to relax. They fill them with soft colors and soft cushions and nothing to do. They paint theses houses in pastels and go out there on the weekends to "escape" to the good life. "That's all a bunch of horse shit," says Peter Rittmaster, champion boat racer,

inventor

Advertisement

, and

artist

. "A house should challenge you, it should excite your guests, and it should provoke you to new experiences." That’s the mission of Maindelay, his sort of anti-country house, located half an hour from the sea coast in Maine.

The small property is stocked like a Hemmingway novel: 27 boats, 3 vintage motorcycles, elephant rifles, African fetish art, antique French flare guns, Helmut Newton nudes, hundreds of knives, and the coup de grace, a 20-foot-wide buffalo skin teepee. “I like the house to be a game,” says Rittmaster. “Guests should pick up and play with whatever calls out to them, and every piece has a story behind it.”

I recruited a bunch of friends to spend the weekend under Rittmaster’s direction: shooting guns, swinging axes, taking drugs, and generally engaging in whatever mischief he cooked up for us. “I’m a bit like Werner Herzog,” Rittmaster modestly declared over lunch Saturday afternoon. It’s a pretty fair description, in that Rittmaster pursues excitement and originality with a despotic, occasionally delusional fervor. Just imagine Herzog as your summer camp director.

Born to wealth and power as the son of one of America’s first corporate raiders, Rittmaster made his own fortune by the time he was 30 by racing and then designing high speed boats. From there his life became a collection of tall tales, most true, all exaggerated. He says he shared a flat with Mick Jagger in London in the 60s, pumped iron with Schwarzenegger while living in Luxemburg, and hauled Joe Cocker out of a pile of his own piss and vomit just so he could hear him sing.

Advertisement

Now, at 68, Rittmaster has been forced to accept that the glory days of his youth are behind him. But he loves to keep young people around to listen to his stories and to carry out whatever new adventures he can dream up. Like Sunday morning, when he explained he would be directing us in a movie,

Artillery S’more

, and that I would play the part of the target. There was a bag of marshmallows, a muzzle plug of Hershey’s chocolate, three feet of fuse, a graham cracker, a ramrod, a motorcycle helmet, a condom full of gunpowder, and a 25-pound naval cannon. As we loaded the supplies into a canoe Rittmaster grinned from ear to ear. “You realize, of course, that no one on earth has ever done this before.” It’s hard to say if that’s true, but it makes a good story.

Here Krishna demonstrates what I like to call the “Lacoste Lumberjack”: one part footwork, one part hillbilly chopping power. Splitting kindling is invigorating stuff, and the worst you can do is lop off a toe. “It’s one of the basic skills I like my guests to master,” says Rittmaster, “and it makes city folks feel tough to swing an axe.”

This is Avni astride Rittmaster’s 1977 BMW. The hat is one he wore while tagging along with Hunter S. Thompson and the Hell’s Angels. “There is no other situation in this universe in which I could wear ass-less chaps, a fringe leather vest, and this Brando hat and not feel incredibly gay,” says Rittmaster. “On a bike, that somehow looks cool.”

It’s impossible to say no to an activity that Rittmaster proposes, including this 30-foot leap from the railway trestle cantilevering the lake. “I’ve seen a lot of summer campers come here, and there is always one kid who decides not to jump,” says Rittmaster. “He usually has a miserable summer. My advice to everyone is, don’t be the fat kid.”

Anytime is a good time to play with guns at Maindelay. Here Nora practices with the .22 over breakfast. There is a book, Tailwind, in the Maindelay library written by Robert Van Buskirk, the Green Beret with the most confirmed kills in Vietnam. Its inscription: “To Peter, the best shot I know. Three buffalo and counting.”

Rittmaster lives in Chelsea when he’s not in Maine, and has been through many phases as an artist. For a while he had a real thing for Barbies. There are Barbies in a fish tank with their faces half melted off, a blackface Ken on a sporting yacht astride a terrified Barbie, and this little gem from the front porch, a piece I like to call Barbie’s First DUI.

Sex and nudity are encouraged throughout the property, from the clothing-optional dock to the two-person teepee bed. The outdoor shower here features an industrial strength head that Rittmaster had imported from Brazil. “When our European in-laws would use the topless dock it was like the Bermuda Triangle out on the lake,” says Rittmaster. “So many boats would ‘break down’ or ‘run out of gas’.”

These are the hunting rifles Rittmaster used to shoot wild boar with behind the Iron Curtain. He also loves Native American tomahawks and African war clubs. Then of course there’s the .38 snub-nose revolver Rittmaster keeps in a holster behind his bedside table. “Sleeping with a gun beside you at night is the only way to truly feel safe.”

Rittmaster gave up red meat 20 years ago, and cigarettes several years after that, but he still enjoys drugs in all forms. “I always told my kids, don’t have your first trip in some shitty sub-basement apartment in the East Village.” Every dinner ends with a sumptuously rolled joint and psychedelics are encouraged on the property. “If you’re going to do mushrooms or acid, do it right, in a teepee, with a roaring fire, and a night full of stars.”

Here I am getting ready to blow my load, Maindelay style. It took Peter a while to figure the right supplies for the cannon. “I finally went down to the hardware store and asked the guy for gunpowder and fuses,” says Rittmaster. “Typical Mainer, he doesn’t even look up from his newspaper, just jerks his finger toward the back and says, ‘Aisle ten, terrorist aisle.’”

Rittmaster is in the Marine Racing Hall of Fame for boat racing and building, and he likes to talk about the “old days” when he ran 16-hour solo races until his hands were bleeding on the wheel and he was basically blind from the salt sea spray. After a while it becomes impossible to believe every story that Rittmaster tells, because each one seems larger than the last. Any anecdote you share leads to him telling an even wilder story to top yours. “I have a credibility problem,” says Rittmaster. “I know that. When I was younger it used to bother me if someone didn’t believe me. Now I don’t really care if you believe me, so long as you’re listening.”