If you think there's nothing so wonderful as messing about in boats, imagine the fun spending a week on a 137-foot windjammer.
Eleven of these elegant old-time schooners cruise the rocky coast of Maine from Memorial Day until Columbus Day, and one, the Roseway, sails in the Virgin Islands during the winter.My first glimpse of this two-masted beauty was last month from the town wharf in Camden, Maine. The Roseway's wide wooden deck and huge masts shone in the twilight as the crew loaded duffle bags, suitcases and crates of wood, vegetables, fruit and dry goods on board.
My husband and I were among the 36 passengers setting sail in the morning. It was to be a relaxing adventure - like camping out on water.
After meeting some of the crew and guests, we made our first climb down the ladder to our cabin. We descended backwards into the belly of the ship, like crabs climbing into a sandy hole. Ours was a two-man cabin with a small sink, mirror, light, storage bunks and a little braided rug on the floor - home for the next week.
Early in the morning we woke to an unfamiliar sound. It wasn't the lapping of waves against the bow, but a rhythmic chop, chop, chop up on deck. Climbing the ladder topside as the sky brightened over the sleepy little harbor, we found a few insomniacs peeling and dicing potatoes for the noon fish chowder. Days later, we became part of the dawn squad of vegetable choppers, and these coffee-sipping sunrises were a favorite part of our trip.
Mornings always promised a day of good food cooked on the ship's wood-burning stove, magnificent scenery, making friends and total rest.
On our first day - after a delicious breakfast of blueberry pancakes and sausage served in the cozy, polished pine wood salon - we received a cheerful welcome and a few rules and suggestions from our captain, George Sloane: No showers until the second day of sailing. Try an on-deck shampoo with Joy detergent and cold bay water drawn up in a bucket. Keep quiet after 11 p.m. Do as few or as many boat chores as you like.
With more than 5,000 square-feet of tanbark sails on the rigging and no winches, it takes almost every hand on board to raise the sails. That was our first chore every day. After that, you could make yourself useful or just grab a cushion and plop somewhere on deck.
The Roseway is the largest of the old Maine schooners, and its 26-foot-wide deck gives you room to wander. It cruises Penobscot Bay with no set plan. It goes with the wind, as do all the other schooners out on the bay.
One morning we raised our skull and crossbones and and attacked a passing schooner with leftover breakfast biscuits. On another evening a smaller schooner serenaded us with bagpipes as it sailed by.
We had light breezes most of the week, but one particularly brisk day we experienced the exhilaration of the wind billowing so loudly in the sails that we had to yell to one another.
Days on the Roseway melted one into another as we feasted on hearty Down East food, napped, chatted, read, played cards and games and star-gazed in the evenings. This was no time for dieting. Breakfasts of homemade muffins, biscuits, hot cereal, eggs and fresh fruit barely settled before it was time for lunch, which was served on deck. In the late afternoon, cheese, fruit, and snacks were served as we scampered to get our beer and wine from the cooler. Dinners were full-scale affairs with delicious roasts, fresh vegetables, salads, homemade pies and cups and cups of coffee. One evening we churned our own ice cream.
Every night the Roseway dropped anchor in a small cove or protected harbor. After a warm day on the water, we swam in the frigid bay, and at mid-week we anchored at North Haven and spent a few hours tramping about the little island town.
On Thursday evening, we had our promised lobster-bake, which is a favorite feature of all of the commercial schooners sailing Penobscot Bay. Late in the afternoon, we anchored at a secluded island in Eggemoggin Reach near Deer Isle and rowed ashore in the tender. A wood fire was started on the beach and more than five dozen lobsters, which had been delivered to our boat that morning, were simmered in a huge iron pot topped with seaweed and a large stone. Tradition is when the stone rolls off, the lobsters are done.
After a swim and a shampoo in the bay, we found a large flat rock to use as a table. Sitting on a secluded Maine island on a warm summer evening, smashing lobster claws with a stone and dipping the sweet meat into cups of melted butter must be what heaven is like. As the sun goes down, top the meal off with homemade blueberry and apple pie, and as they say, it doesn't get much better.
Late in the week, the temperature dropped as the breeze cooled, and it was fine to be able to put on a sweater and sleep under wool blankets.
The sights of Penobcot Bay - its rocky islands, lobster boats, lighthouses, seals, dark pines, cottages and summer homes - and the squeals of gulls, the sounds of harbor bells, foghorns and buoys are special Maine memories.
One morning an old man sailed alone in a small skiff, tacking back and forth across the harbor. He yelled out to us as he sailed by, "It's better than a nursing home."
He was wrong. It's better than almost anything.
Six-day Maine windjammer cruises range from $435-550 per person, all meals included. Some boats offer 3-day sailing trips from $265. For information, write Maine Windjammer Association, Box 317P, Rockport, Maine 04856, or call 1-800-MAINE-80. For information on the Roseway's winter Virgin Islands cruises, call 1-800-255-4449.)