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TAKING THE KIDS

Sailing Into Adventure on Maine Coast

August 06, 2000|EILEEN OGINTZ

ROCKLAND, Maine — "Ready about! Make fast!"

Donna Romine couldn't stop smiling at the sailing jargon being thrown about the schooner Isaac H. Evans as she helped hoist the sails and take them down. But the Georgia nurse, a grandmother in her 50s, confided she hadn't expected to have such a good time cruising the Maine coast for four days with 22 strangers on a boat built in 1886--a National Historic Landmark.

A cruise on a 65-foot vessel meant sharing space and dining with lots of kids, squeezing into cabins the size of small closets and having no TV or telephone.

Too often, vacationers' expectations exceed the reality. That's especially true for families who forget that taking the kids can be as frustrating and exhausting as being home with them. Luckily, this was one trip where just the opposite occurred for all of us on board the Isaac H. Evans, one of the 13 historic windjammers plying the Maine coast--the largest fleet of traditional sailing vessels in the country, their captains tell you proudly.

I learned an unexpected lesson, too, during our four days cruising some of Maine's 3,000-plus islands: It's not always necessary to have a gaggle of kids around or lots to do for your children to be happy--especially when other adults welcome them so heartily.

"Don't ask me where we're going. That's the one question I can't answer," said our captain, Brenda Walker, explaining that, just like sailors of 100 years ago, we depended on the winds.

We didn't mind when we couldn't find the lobsters for our lobster bake in the first place we tried. We sailed to another spot. We just laughed when it rained, gathering in slickers under a tarp. Nor did we care when fog postponed our race with the other historic schooners. All anchored together, we were able to use the time to meet more passengers on the other vessels.

The Isaac H. Evans, I learned, welcomes more kids than any other schooner, though the Timberwind and the J&E Riggin offer specific family trips. The captains of the J&E Riggin travel with their toddler and a nanny. More families, the captains said, are interested in coming aboard, especially with teens. "A trip like this gives you the space for that quality time to happen," explained Riggin co-captain Annie Mahle.

We went where the wind took us, reading, playing cards, photographing porpoises and even a bald eagle or two, playing board games, fishing and eating--a lot. Our 19-year-old cook, Carrie Groth, author of a local cookbook, turned out lobster quiche, pasta, stuffed mussels, cobblers and homemade ice cream, French toast and coffeecake. The food was hearty if not gourmet. I liked that peanut butter and jelly and cereal were always available for picky eaters. The children helped in the galley--even with the dishes.

"The kids make everything more fun," said Sam McDaniel, a retired businessman in his 70s from Atlanta and the senior member of our group, as he watched the kids blow giant soap bubbles over the water and light sparklers one evening just after sunset.

They encouraged some of the older passengers to join them in jumping into the cold seawater. Another morning, they made everyone smile as they swabbed the deck under the watchful eye of crew member Nathaniel Lemieux. "He said we'd have to walk the plank if we didn't!" the girls said, giggling.

"They bring out the kid in all of us," said Wes Young from Cincinnati, who was vacationing with his wife, Ann.

We were a motley but happy crew, ranging from 70s to 9. We were social workers, antiques dealers, homemakers, stockbrokers, executives and schoolteachers.

"Having Corrine be able to see a woman captain was one reason we chose this trip," said Don McClain, a Pennsylvania stockbroker, watching his 12-year-old daughter help with the sails.

Walker is a single woman in her early 30s who likes having kids around her ship, teaching them about stars and knots and sailors. "We've had as many as 10 kids," she said. "They add a lot of energy."

Windjammer ships cruise into the fall. Contact the Maine Windjammer Assn., telephone (800) 807-WIND (9463) or http://www.sailmainecoast.com. Trips range from a weekend to a week and average $110 per person per day, including all meals. You may charter the entire boat for a reunion. Call the Isaac H. Evans directly at (877) 238-1325. For general Maine information, call (888) MAINE-45 (624-6345) or visit http://www.mainetourism.com.

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Taking the Kids appears the first and third week of every month.

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