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 USA Maine Coast with Schooner Heritage

Leaving the Land by Schooner

by Brooke Cunningham

By mid September most people are putting summer things away and buttoning up for winter. Vee Lynch, Brenda Shea and I had a burning urge to delay the summer’s end by leaving work responsibilities, cell phones, all monitors and every day life behind for a week by getting on a schooner. “Gone sailing” was the message we left in late summer Vermont.

Packed for every kind of weather, we drove the long route to Rockland, Maine and found our way to the North End Ship Yard where two very large schooners could be seen between the massive sheets of rain. Ours had a huge olive drab tarp hung over the entire mid-ship which was doing a decent job of sheltering the deck and the companionway down to our cabins. I thought to myself that neither of my friends had any real sailing experience, and with hurricane winds up the coast this might not be the best “intro to sailing”.

As we hauled our luggage down the ramp from the dock to the deck we were greeted by a very handsome man who turned out to be our captain. He and his wife Linda, also a captain, had been sailing the Penobscot Bay region of Maine for 35 years, the last 23 of them aboard this boat, which they had designed and built themselves, the 94’ Schooner Heritage, our home for the next week.

We loaded into our two cabins which were small but very efficient, with hot and cold water in the sinks, reading lights over each bunk, and the kind of thick wool blankets that your grandmother used to layer over you until you could not wiggle your toes under the covers. We got ourselves settled and then went ashore for our last meal “on the hard” before relinquishing fate to the efforts of wind and sea, captain and crew and a lovely traditional seaworthy vessel.

The first sensation in the morning was the sound of people walking on the deck overhead of our cabins, followed closely by the smell of coffee drifting down the companionway. We all tugged into clothes and clambered up the stairs to be confronted with the brand new freshening day. Lots of wind, sunshine on the southern horizon and the smell of bacon coming up from the galley made for a good start as we introduced ourselves to the two dozen other guests aboard.

Many of them already knew the drill and were just loitering around the coffee pot until the large brass bell rang signaling breakfast. We followed the gang down the stairs into a toasty warm galley with benches against the walls, and brass lamps hanging over three large tables groaning under the weight of breakfast materials. This was our first hint that this was not the slimming version of sailing.

Over the week this lesson was seriously reinforced. That first morning the cook explained that coffee would be on deck by 7a.m. each day and the breakfast bell rang at 8, followed by cookies on deck at around 10, lunch bell at noon, mid day snacks at 2p.m., cheese and crackers and dip at 4p.m. and dinner at 6. Oh, and if by any chance you were ever hungry you were welcome to stop by the galley at any time of day to make yourself a cup of the tea or coffee always ready on the wood stove, and sample any of the goodies left out on the tables for snacking. That’s right, mountains of food every two hours signaled by the bell, with snacking in between. Not the diet cruise.

The food was inventive, locally grown and fresh as well as plentiful. It was impressive the way the cooks always had fresh bread, snacks and desserts of all kinds going as well as all meals coming from the huge wood stove in the corner of the galley. Breakfasts daily were fresh blueberry pancakes, French toast with bacon, scrambled eggs with lobster, and home made sticky buns. We had barely gotten through the job of raising the sails before cookies, brownies or something sweet appeared on deck. Lunch was usually served on deck consisting of a hearty soup, sometimes a choice of two soups served with the schooner tradition of pickles on top, accompanied by fresh bread, crackers and followed by dessert. We had a roasted turkey dinner one night, fresh crusty baked fish another, roast beef and gravy, all served with several kinds of veggies, huge salads and fresh bread every evening, followed of course, by dessert.

Captain Doug turned out to be a totally engaging story teller of the ilk of “Bert & I”. He told long curious stories about life in the 50s and before in rural Maine with characters that came to life in heartwarming detail. Each tale always ended with a twist that triggered groans and giggles. There were stories about growing up with a one room school house and a maiden teacher who “had her rules” and a buggy whip to enforce them. Then there was Archie, a friend of Doug’s father who could not go out the door of his home without creating ripples in the fabric of local lore. I come from a story telling family, and I must say that Doug is as good as it gets. We even bought and listened to the two CDs that he has published on the way home in the car!

When we were under sail there was the seemingly endless stream of talk about the islands, the ships, the sailing industry and the people involved that was triggered by sailing past the places where it all occurred. It was just great. There is no cell phone, radio or movie that could hold a candle to the humor, insight, history and wisdom that flowed from the stern if you cared to sit there. I knitted most of a sweater while learning and laughing as we moved quietly by wind slipping between islands and over water.

Each morning we would eat breakfast and then get the boat ready for travel. That meant raising two heavy sails, but with a half dozen people on each halyard the work went pretty fast. Then there were two or three jib sails to raise, sometimes the yawl boat or “Archie” needed to be hauled up on the davits, and a host of other tasks that went on to get a 165 tonne vessel under way. Of course shortly after would arrive the 10a.m. cookies. Every time we did a tack or jibe, there was more hauling on lines, followed quickly by more food. It was kind of the rhythm of our days, and the three of us proved to be naturals at it!

One afternoon we hauled into a cove for a shore visit and lobster feast. We rowed ashore in “Archie” (named after the above mentioned character) looking for all the world like the worst of drunken spiders with 4 oars out each side of the boat, each one waving and dipping at its own pace. The crew brought 80 or so lobsters, hot dogs and hamburgers, as well as salads and “fixin’s” ashore looking much more dignified than we did. Vee and I waded to an adjoining island at low tide and proclaimed it “Old Timers Rock” in honor of her father. For a few hours we were alone on this island, walking the beach, over-fed once again and so happy to enjoy the natural pleasures of this incredible day.

Each evening we would sip our cocktails in the cozy galley listening to folk lore until we could not even fake being awake any longer. The wood stove itself was kind of the hub of life in the evenings when dessert was left on the tables as we gathered in the cold autumn nights for warmth, gaming, music and stories delivered by captain and crew. This wonderful activity was the only thing that could keep us up after a full day of sailing and still we barely made 8p.m. Ok, we aren’t night owls but still!

We continued happily through the week without hearing a single phone ring. Vee learned the time honored tradition of making chart weights. Pieces of spent sails are sewed by hand into pyramids, hearts or starfish then filled with beach gravel to keep the charts open and readable using canvas thread, a palm press and a three sided needle. Vee put 30 years stitching at Cabin Fever Quilts to use. She also tied herself a fine looking blue bracelet with the help of a guest-crew member by the name of Scrimshaw. I knit the better part of a foliage colored sweater jacket, repaired one of a crewman’s grandfather’s sweaters and taught the cook how to knit wrist warmers. Brenda was a star at hauling on lines, chatting with guests, listening to history and folklore from Doug and grinning like a Cheshire cat! All this work punctuated by, you guessed it, more food. Strangely enough, in a whole week we didn’t put on any weight!

So, for anyone looking to take time out of the real world, we can’t recommend this departure enough. After a week we had our sea legs and tended to weave rather than walk, after living with the sounds of wind and water we were startled by the intrusion of electronic devices, and we reveled in the enormous pleasure of long hot baths unavailable on a schooner. After a week, you have a strong appreciation for the luxuries afforded by our lives here, and an even larger appreciation for the simple, elegant ways of rising with the sun, traveling by wind all day, and going to bed early. Did I forget to mention eating? We all still salivate to the sound of a large brass bell….

Schooner Heritage can be contacted by
calling 800.648.4544
emailing [email protected]
or visiting

Brooke Cunningham

[email protected]

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