Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

'Where Shall the Winds Take Us Today?' : So the Captain of a Maine Windjammer Asks Passengers as They Haul Up the Sail

March 28, 1993|JANE GALBRAITH | Galbraith writes for New York Newsday and is a contributor to The Times Calendar section.

ROCKLAND, Me. — "Ready on the main?"

"Ready on the main."

"One-two-three . . . HEAVE!"

"One-two-three ... HO!"

"One-two-three . . . HEAVE!"

"One-two-three ... HO!"

Ahhhh . . . the morning call and response. We help pull the mainsail up as our wooden vessel creaks and moans in response, listing slightly as it begins to cut through the waters. Our captain, John Foss, withdraws a rolled-up chart from his open shelf in front of the wheel and spreads it before him. "Where shall the winds take us today?" he asks aloud rhetorically in his characteristic quasi-formal manner.

Nary matters to me, I feel like responding in archaic English as our 92-foot schooner, American Eagle, heads up to ward Eggamoggin Reach. The waters are blue-black, dotted every few yards with floating lobster trap markers. The sounds of trappers' putt-putt motorboats checking their catch competes with the call of the osprey and barking harbor seals.

Monday morning last August, standing on deck with the wind whipping my hair around and flattening my jacket hard against my chest, I see Penobscot Bay come to life--and so do my 20 shipmates, coffee mugs in hand, warming to the sights ahead. Our six-day sail has begun.

A week of urban detox, that's the promise--and the worry. Can I keep from getting bored, can I handle being in close quarters with total strangers, will I overeat, will I get lazy? But between marveling at the craft we are on and trying to comprehend the beauty of the setting, my need to know quickly melts away.

For the others, from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania, this is picturesque East Coast as it always has been: Yankee territory. Nothing nouveau riche about it. Actually, we are told, it's the true riche who own many of the weather-worn summer homes we see on island shores.

The forested dark hills of the Maine coast are in perfect harmony with all that surrounds us: the rocky islands, the boats at anchor, another white-on-white seaside town standing out from the green landscape off in the distance.

For me, the lone Californian, it is a refreshing world away from the sleek, unadorned fiberglass yachts ringed in chrome that crowd the marinas of the Southland. And a world away, too, from the oil-derrick-dotted Pacific waters they often sail. Mercifully, there's not a condo in sight.

Right away, it had seemed the right choice to take the longer cruise instead of the three-day sail, the other option offered by all 13 "Tall Ships" in the Maine Windjammer Assn. The American Eagle is among these 19th-Century-style schooners. In my eyes, they all look to be something out of a Herman Melville novel with tree-trunk-sized masts, thick vanilla-colored canvas sails and all their creaking and moaning, whether dead in the water or clipping along.

Obviously, Foss was no Captain Ahab; the chances of our getting scurvy were nil, as was the threat we'd have to swab the shellacked wooden decks, polish the endless brass appointments or anything else. The amiable, six-person crew was kept ever-busy on those chores.

Foss reveled in his role as commandeer and storyteller. It was no surprise to learn that several of the guests aboard were repeats. The first morning's bit of local lore, as we passed Crotch Isle, was a tale about Italian immigrant stonecutters working on the now-dormant island quarry who became so angry working for a sadistic foreman, they blew him up along with the marble. Their handiwork graces the exteriors of many a New York, Philadelphia and Boston bank building; their descendants also run some of the better restaurants on the mainland, Foss said--not that anyone was ever hungry for better food than we were already eating on board.

Two meals into our sail and I was fast relearning what real home cooking was: French toast, fried ham, cut melon for breakfast; corn chowder, spinach salad, whole-wheat biscuits and brownies for lunch. The only time besides mealtime that any of us saw Annie, the ship's 21-year-old cook, was when she came up for her "daily exercise"--to help raise and lower the heavy sails. We also came to appreciate that "exercise" as the mellow days went by, with our tummies ever full, happy and expanding.

As it was, an unseasonal storm slowed our passage for a day and a half at the outset, sticking us in gloomy Mackerel Cove and making Annie's galley the place to play games and cards, read, keep warm and breathe in the aromas of another fine wood-stove-cooked meal. Taking to one's tiny cabin, even in a rainstorm, was not an option. The sleeping quarters were not exactly claustrophobic--the round skylight was a definite plus--but there was really only enough room to brush one's teeth and turn around to find the bunks right in your face. It was either the galley or the main cabin at the stern of the boat.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|