I have long wanted to go sailing. More specifically, sailing on a schooner or windjammer. So for my birthday in April, Alex gave me the itinerary for our Friday-Sunday trip aboard the windjammer, Mercantile, out of Camden, Maine. The trip was just for the two of us, making this the first time in years that we have gotten away together for more than an overnight.
For more than a month, I anticipated our trip and hoped the weather would be good (we were going out on the first sail of the season) and I tried to envision what it would be like to be sailing along Maine's beautiful coast. Then Memorial Weekend arrived and our bags were packed and we fussed over the plans with the teens, whose good hands the homestead (and our six new, week-old-ducklings) lay.
From our farm to Camden is about 40 minutes over the rolling hills of the Georges River Scenic Byway, and we once again found ourselves disbelieving that we live in such a gorgeous, and beloved by us, part of Maine.
Folks, I snapped almost 500 photos. These are just a few in comparison. You're welcome.
Friday, May 23
The forecast was for rain showers and a high in the mid-50s, which is why we had winter gear packed. Alex and I had a quick lunch at the Camden Deli, the town already teeming with tourists for the holiday weekend, and then we made our way to the Maine Windjammer Cruises office to check in. We soon learned that we would be sailing with nine other guests, plus crew. We met Captain Ray, exchanged hellos with the other guests, and our bags were humped across docks and one ship to the Mercantile. Moments later, we each were boarding one ship, crossing it, and then stepping over water onto the Mercantile. Everything already seemed exciting.
Once on board, we were introduced to Captain Gus and the rest of the crew, given instructions for navigating the windjammer safely (there are no stairs, only ladders, so go down backwards) and we were shown to our cabins. Alex and I had a double bed in a private cabin with a porthole and that's about all we knew to expect.
Our cabin was one among four (five?) others in a compartment (of three such compartments) and we shared one head. Everything was wee and efficient and cozy. We laughed with other guests about the tight quarters and we learned that no one else had sailed like this before, either.
We pulled out of the harbor around 3pm and the rain and clouds were clearing and it was warming a bit. It would turn out to be a gorgeous afternoon and evening.
Once out in open water, the crew got to work raising the sails, and Alex jumped in to help. Later, Alex and I kept remarking to each other about how ridiculously picturesque everything was. Like, did you seriously help crew as we passed a darling lighthouse? Does one of the crew, O.B., seriously look like he's in Master and Commander cosplay? (Yes, yes he did, and as we discovered later, this was deliberate.) Don't say I didn't warn you, folks. Prepare yourself for extremely ridiculous Maine postcards ahead.
O.B. (or is it Obie? With apologies.)
With the sails up, we were underway, always within sight of shore. Everyone milled about, making introductions and asking questions. The good smells wafting from the galley promised a delicious dinner.
We discovered that the crew was mostly comprised of young people who were new (or fairly new) to sailing, and so this first sail of the season was largely a training exercise as well, which just made things even more fascinating to observe. Captain Ray asserted strenuously, as he was giving instructions for coiling rope, that the prettier it looks, the more functional it is. Ah, I so concur, Captain Ray.
Captain Ray with Crew
Around 6pm, we sailed into Pulpit Harbor, home of Pulpit Rock (where the osprey nest and we were told, have done so for hundreds of years), in North Haven, and we dropped anchor and prepared for dinner. What a gorgeous location!
Alex helped take the sails down and then we relaxed, taking in the stunning view, until dinner.
Below decks, the kitchen crew was hard at work cooking our dinner on a wood-fired cookstove. Every so often, we would see one of the cooks pop their head up the ladder as they tried to cool off. Dinner turned out to be amazing. On a grill on the side of the boat, steaks sizzled, and we were told to help ourselves to as much corn, lobster and steak as we liked, there was plenty. Alex and I ate a lobster each and shared a third. We ate all this with a salad, fanned baked potatoes, and rolls served with compound butter. A chocolate zucchini cake was dessert. It was so good. So good. As people who enjoy cooking, we were so appreciative of the kitchen crew's hard work and expertise. The other thing we really liked a lot, was that we all ate together, crew and guests, which meant we got to know a little about everyone.
After dinner, the crew went straight to work cleaning everything in sight. The decks were washed, all surfaces were scrubbed, and they formed a dish washing line. The rest of us got lost in conversation with each other and we each took a zillion photos of the sunset. And as if all of that wasn't picturesque enough, at dusk, Captain Gus brought out lanterns and placed them all over, which provided both more photo opportunities, as well as a bit of heat and light.
We soon went to bed, thrilled that the day had turned out to be so beautiful and that the trip was just as amazing as we had hoped.
Saturday, May 24
As with camping, we went to be with the sun and rose with the sun. Sleeping in our bunk took some adjusting, and our first night was a bit noisy due to a necessary maintenance issue, but it hardly mattered. We got some sleep and as soon as I heard footsteps on deck, I grabbed my camera and snapped some photos of our cabin from my position in our bunk, just for perspective.
I woke Alex, certain we were the only ones still in bed, and so we went up on deck for 630am coffee. It turned out that very few of the other passengers were up and it was the crew, once again cleaning everything, who I had heard. The kitchen crew had set out coffee, tea and apple cinnamon muffins for the early risers, and we sat with Laverne and Eric from Nebraska on what was a much cooler, gray, morning. Second breakfast was served around 830am, and we all helped ourselves to stacks of pancakes. Meanwhile, lunch was already being prepared by the kitchen crew. While I sipped my tea, I heard a snort of breath on the water and I was able to snap some photos of a small harbor seal who had come to see who was anchored in her cove. (It's obnoxious, really. I did warn you.)
Sometime in the morning, Alex took a shower, located in the galley, behind the cookstove, where, using your foot, you pump hot water from the tank into the shower stall. The trick is finding the middle ground between boiling and freezing. I had a shower after breakfast.
Soon after, the sails were raised, as was the anchor, and Alex helped with that task.
Saturday was definitely our coldest day. The morning was foggy and chilly, and we all bundled into our heavy coats and hats (if we had them, some did not.) There wasn't much wind at the start, either. It wasn't until about lunch time that the day cleared, and while still brisk out on the water, the sun was most welcome. Alex and I had a lovely long chat with Laverne from Nebraska, by way of Belize, about gardening and cooking.
Lunch was brought up on deck and we were offered a huge pot of fish chowder to go with the apple walnut salad and herb cheese biscuits, with banana bread pudding with chocolate orange ganache, following. Twist our arms and all that, (though I admit, I'm so not a chocolate orange fan, so I gave Alex all my chocolate topping.)
Just after lunch, I realized we were sailing past Castine, one of my childhood hometowns. What a treat to be able to see the town from the windjammer, and as we sailed past Dice Head, I was also able to spot one of the homes that we rented, right on those same rocky cliffs, called Spindrift (I think it's the one with the flagpole). Wow.
For the bulk of the afternoon, Alex and I stayed on deck, taking in the details and views as we tacked outside Searsport, past Turtle Head, and headed around Islesboro (pronounce the "S"). It was cold. Most of the passengers opted to stay warm in the galley, as it was overcast again, and the plan was for dinner to be served there, as well. It seemed strange that we really weren't that far from the farm and we knew that just over those hills was our home.
By day's end, we would realize just how sun and wind burned we were.
Both of us, looking a little rough.
Islesboro and Islesboro Ferry
As we rounded Islesboro, Alex recounted his childhood memories of his mother taking him and his sister over on the ferry from Lincolnville, to spend the day on the shore and exploring the island. He said he remembered the beach roses that lined the shore at the ferry terminal. Alex has also camped out on Turtle Head, before. I swear I had never heard these stories until this trip.
It was nearly dinnertime, so we both went down to the galley to warm up. We both were in layers with scarves and hats, and were still cold, so I can't imagine how uncomfortable some of the other guests were. Then again, Captain Gus was barefoot the entire time, so I suppose it's all about what you are used to. Just know that if you go on a similar trip in the early or late season (anytime), pay heed to the suggested packing list and bring layers, you won't regret it. On the other hand, warming up in the galley is a treat, working in the galley is like working in an oven.
Alex with Jason
Eric and Laverne
Andrea shivers and the cooks swelter
Lasagna dinner was delicious. As were the chocolate chip cookies.
After dinner, some of us stayed in the galley for conversation, and we got to hear from both the captains a bit about some of their experiences with former crew and life in general. But, stifling yawns and feeling sufficiently warm, we got ourselves to bed by 930pm. I think the second night went much better for most of us.
Sunday, May 25
We had anchored on the east side of Gilkey Harbor, in view of rolling hills bursting with spring color and a few uh, shacks, on the island. Alex and I were once again, up with the early birds for coffee and tea at 630am. There was little wind and the sun was breaking through the clouds. It turned out to be another chilly day on the water, but sunny, which was a relief to all, (though we were all very grateful for escaping the forecasted rain.)
We saw a bunch of seals on a sandbar and watched as a few swam towards us, curious about us. We were reminded by Captain Gus, that going out early in the season has the advantage of having a quiet trip, with few boats or recreational craft around, which was very evident that calm morning.
By the time second breakfast was served, the skies were brilliant blue. Breakfast was two different quiche/tortes, one was steak and potato and the other was spinach, lobster, sweet potato, and it was heavenly. Oh, yum. Which is why it was so hard to see the leftovers go overboard (to feed the lobsters), as this was our last day out and not a one of us thought to bring a solar refrigerator or even an ice pack with cooler. So sad (but understandable).
As the crew cleaned up from breakfast, the windjammer, pushed by the small power boat, headed around Islesboro back towards Camden. We spent our last hours visiting with our new friends, taking in the sites, trying to keep the wind from blasting us, and feeling generally happy to be going home.
This was an amazing trip, and I'm well aware of what a true gift it was to be given such an opportunity. A weekend aboard a windjammer was just long enough, I think, especially in the early season. We got a feel for the routine and expectations, and for the accommodations and we both really enjoyed the experience. Still, it was good to be back in Camden Harbor by 11am, where it was much warmer on land, and know that these antique ships are just a short trip away, waiting to take us on another adventure. Much thanks the captains, crew, galley crew and my family, for the memories.