by Willem Lange
ROCKLAND, Me. – It’s a considerable haul across Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine to the Atlantic coast. Luckily, I had company, my friend Bea, which helped to pass the hours and keep me awake. Siri, the pleasant voice in the dashboard, led us by quiet backroads and brought us at last to Augusta. Shortly, as we entered Rockland, we saw masts sticking up above the trees and traffic. Not just the aluminum masts of weekend cruisers, but the tall, sturdy masts of schooners tied up at the pier. We pulled into a spot on the private pier.
We were early: Captain’s orientation would be at five. So we piled our duffels at the head of the gangway and silently thanked whatever powers got us here safely. In a few minutes the captain and crew began to arrive, along with the first of our shipmates for the coming week.
You always wonder, when you sign up for a period of time in an enclosed space with people you don’t know, whether the group will be sympatico. The name of our vessel, “American Eagle,” made me wonder if it might attract some outspoken Trumpies; so to even things up if that were to happen, I packed a tiny vial of Vermont maple syrup in my Dopp Kit. If anybody on our end of the ship who shared our head (there were nine of us there) proved insufferable, I’d very carefully smear a little syrup on the head seat just before the political person got up to use it. I’d slip the vial over the side, wash my hands thoroughly, go back to bed, and wait for the explosion.
I needn’t have worried. The other passengers were, after all, self-selecting, and like us, just wanted to get away from the drumbeats of disaster. Breakfast was the first meal served aboard; so most of us went out to eat. We found a clam shack with a long line and a very pleasant couple behind us.
Sleep comes easily near or on the sea, even in a cabin so snug that only one of us at a time could take off his shoes; and if you wanted to change your mind, you had to go out into the hall. First time I sat down on the edge of the bunk, I leaned back and whacked my head hard on an oak deck beam. I didn’t do it again for the rest of the week; head’s still sore. Coffee was ready in a large urn on deck at seven. The patter of the crew’s bare feet on the deck above was a soothing alarm clock. I’ll tell you: If the captain and crew are still as welcoming and helpful and pleasant at the end of the season as they are at the start, they should get a Nobel Prize in Hospitality.
With rain in the offing for Day Two, we had the promised lobster bake on the beach at the end of the first day’s sail. It was here that my age caught up with me. My slowly weakening legs were no match for swinging over the bulwark and descending a three-step rope ladder into a bobbing seine boat a few feet down. I counted four pairs of strong hands and half a dozen encouraging directions till I was safe on my seat in the boat. Six shipmates rowed us ashore.
The predicted rain arrived during the night, pattering on the deck above the bunk. A perfect day for rain suits, for noshing in the warm galley (wood-burning cook stove), and reading and chatting. The captain took us to sheltered Pulpit Harbor and anchored there out of the wind. Another schooner, the “Angelique,” dropped anchor not far away, and its crew rowed over to chat. We slept again like logs, and in the morning “Angelique” was all but invisible in the fog.
That was the day we sailed and dropped anchor for a few hours at Hurricane Island, of which more next week. It was something I’d hardly dared to hope we’d do. The gang sort of lowered me down the boarding ladder, and we landed (on a float this time! no more weed-and-barnacle-encrusted vertical ladder) amid a myriad of memories.
We had a graduate historian with us who lectured us each evening on the history of Penobscot Bay, from the glacial ages to the recent. He had a tough audience: Not that we were rude or obstreperous; we were ready for bed. Bea and I watched each other and either poked the snoozer or let them nod.
The “Eagle” may be old, but she’s been brought back to a solid spit-shine. Sliding sleepily into wool blankets as a sea breeze wafts down the companionway, is about as good as life gets.