Sunday, September 21, 2014

Remembering Maine - part 3 of 6

This is a further exempt of the recounting of our 2003 sail on the schooner Heritage out of Rockland, Maine. We spent last week aboard, on our sixth trip.

Tuesday

Blueberry pancakes for breakfast. It has been a long time since I’ve eaten so well and so much early in the day. On just our second full day on the water, the breakfast ritual already seems deeply familiar.

As we cleared the breakfast dishes, the topic of the noises of the night came up. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who had heard the frisky couple. My own reaction was discomfort, but two of the other women expressed amusement, and one believed the couple had displayed poor taste. I talked briefly with Art about the incident as well. He said, “Oh, they were at it yesterday afternoon when I came downstairs to get a jacket.” As it turned out, the couple spent a lot of time in their cabin, and when they were on deck their comments to each other were noticed. As the week went on they became a topic of increasing gossip. I wondered whether that was because of annoyance or envy – or both!

Captain Doug told us that the wind usually didn’t come up until late morning. So, he said, there would be a shore trip for those of us who were interested. The 15-passenger rowboat, the Clark Kent, would be lowered over the side in about ten minutes. I descended the stairs to pick up my blue windbreaker and the camera. When I got back to the deck, preparations were being made to lower the rowboat into the water – with Charlotte as a passenger, as she said she would be unable to climb down the rope ladder. So eight or so passengers and crew formed two lines, one at the bow of the Clark Kent, and one at the stern. The lines were passed back. Charlotte was assisted to her seat in the center position in the rowboat. On command, the two lines lowered boat and woman into the water.

“Okay,” said Noah, one of the two crew members who would be accompanying us to shore. “We need a rower.” Art volunteered. He was instructed on how to swing his body over the deck rail and grip both sides of the rope ladder before beginning to descend, and was directed where he should sit once in the rowboat. “Another rower.” Marjorie said, “I’ve never rowed. Can I do it?” Yes, she could. She was seated in the left front position. Then a sitter – someone in the center front, between two rowers - and another sitter. I decided to be a sitter this time. Within five minutes, 15 of us had been seated.
rowers in the boat, oars up
Oars were passed to the eight rowers, and instructions were given. “The rowers in the front set the pace. The rest of you, match your stroke to the front rowers. Here is how you row.” Then a very brief demonstration of how to hold the paddle, how to put it in the water, how to move it through the water, how to remove it and bring it back forward to begin the next stroke. “You don’t want to move it too far out of the water, or it will splash.” Trevor, one of the crew members, sat in the bow of the rowboat, his back to the water, coordinating our efforts. Noah sat in the stern to operate the rudder and laugh.

Samuel, a crew member still on board the schooner, cast the line, and we were off. Marjorie, she who had never rowed, dipped her oar into the water, where it skidded along the surface and returned a spray of ocean water into the rowboat, promptly soaking passenger Nelly’s pants. Laughter all around. The second stroke was a little better, but when Marjorie pulled the oar back to its starting position, she lifted it high out of the water, and the water ran down the oar handle and dripped into the rowboat, again on Nelly’s pants. Louder laughter, and a couple of raucous remarks about the proficiency of the oarswoman. I was grateful it was Marjorie rather than me; on a recent attempt at kayaking I had displayed a similar initial clumsiness before I picked up the rhythm of paddling.

Fortunately, the rest of the rowers were more efficient. By the time we reached the dock on shore, we were more coordinated – but only a little. We dubbed our rowboat and crew the “Spastic Spider”. I’m sure we were funny looking as we learned together how to get around on the water.

Once on land, most of the passengers headed for the shops clustered around the dock. Art and I went for a walk along the single-lane road. We had about 45 minutes before we were to be back at the rowboat. I calculated the time using my pedometer – I walk about two miles in half an hour – that’s about 5000 steps on the pedometer. So, in the 45 minutes available to us, we’d walk 7500 steps or so. We walked up the road until my pedometer said I’d taken 3700 steps, then turned around. We arrived back at the dock just as the rest of the passengers were convening. I congratulated myself on my timepiece.
island ferry
By the time the Spastic Spider drew up beside the schooner, the wind had come up. We were eager to set sail for our second day. But the sail’s winch was broken. While Captain Doug did the troubleshooting and repair, we had lunch on the deck. I’d had a momentary concern that our trip would be interrupted by a broken boat, but an hour and a half later we were ready to go. By this time a light rain was falling, and a good thick fog had rolled in. Being out on the water with minimal visibility was an odd experience. We could hear foghorns as we passed various islands. I’m told that each has a unique sound, and that sailors can get their bearings by listening to the location and the tone of the foghorn.

I wasn’t feeling as well as I wanted to. I had a cramp in my side most of the day. It dawned on me that my digestive tract had been taking in a lot of food in the last 36 hours, and that there hadn’t been a corresponding outgo. That happens to me often on the road, for some reason. I sent positive thoughts into the universe, suggesting that I be given some relief, but the universe was silent. Then, in the mid afternoon, I heard the thud coming from the stairway near our cabin. I hoped it wasn’t someone having a heart attack, and that it wasn’t Art. No heart attack, it turned out. Just a slip and fall – but it was Art. As Captain Linda descended the stairs to check on him, I thought, oh, fine. I’m not up to par and now Art is injured. As it turned out, Art was stiff and sore for 24 hours or so, but he felt better before I did.

After the first two hours the fog lifted and the sky cleared. We would be sailing under the Deer Isle Bridge, a suspension bridge linking Deer Isle to the mainland. Captain Doug told us we’d have about eight feet of clearance once the top part of the mast was lowered. Two crew members climbed the rope ladders to the top of each of the two masts. While passengers pulled, the mast climbers pulled the pins. And when they flowed, the pins were set at a lower level. As we drew nearer and nearer to the bridge, I was sure the schooner was going to be too tall. The four crew members were still hanging out on top of the masts, which made me nervous. I’ve been a mother of sons too long not to know that young men seek out risk. But, sure enough, we glided under the bridge with feet to spare, the crew members reaching up to slap the metal of the bridge deck as we passed under it. They then raised the top mast, made it fast, and slid down the ropes.

The rest of the day’s sail was beautiful, but uneventful. Passengers clustered on the deck in small conversational groups. One of the topics was my clothes. Art and I have done enough active traveling that we now wear nylon convertible pants a good deal of the time on our trips. We start out in the cool of the day in long pants, and, when the day grows warm, we unzip the detachable legs, stowing them in our daypacks and continuing on in shorts. It’s a practical clothing solution for us. On the schooner, I wore my convertible pants nearly every day. On this second day sailing, several of the women commented on what a good idea they were, and wanted to know where I bought them. I was surprised. Come to think of it, though, if I weren’t a walker I wouldn’t know either.

I’d also bought some Chako sandals last winter before a trip to Hawaii. These waterproof sandals are so comfortable that I wore them all summer, not only on walks but to work as well. And they were the perfect shoes to wear on the schooner. As a matter of fact, most of the crew had the same suntan lines on their feet as I did – except the ones that had Tevas, whose tan lines were like Art’s. The shoes, too, were a topic of conversation. Like having the right tool for the job, having clothing that works is a real asset on the road.

We anchored in Bucks Harbor. The water and the sky were the same slate color, a monochrome at sea.

Here’s the captain’s log:
Tuesday 18 miles – foggy and rainy – shore trips in the morning – got underway after lunch. Sailed up Eggemoggin Reach – under the Deer Isle Bridge – and anchored in Buck’s Harbor. Saw a bald eagle.
It seemed to me like we’d been eating all day. The main dinner course was stew. It was wonderful, but I don’t eat a lot of stew, so I was able to take a fairly small helping without feeling like I was missing out. Accompanying the stew was mussels in their shells. Now, I am not much of a seafood person, but I do like shellfish. Shrimp, lobster, and crab are a treat for me. My father said, when I was a teenager who always ordered them, that it was because they’re the most expensive. He was wrong, though. I don’t like fish much because they have bones. Even when they are billed as fillets, there’s always an unexpected bone lurking in there somewhere. So let’s just say I don’t trust fish.

Shelled seafood like clams, oysters and mussels are a little different. I can eat them, but I am suspicious of sand. It nearly always turns up in those shells. Even when the meat has been removed from the shells I can find sand. Most unappetizing.

However, on this night, when the pot of mussels was passed down the table, they had such a wonderful aroma that I overrode my usual rule and spooned about four of them onto my plate. I can say with certainty that those were the finest mussels I have ever eaten, with a fabulous texture and flavor. Lucky for me, the pot came around again. Apparently most of the other passengers had elected to have seconds on stew instead. So Art and I pretty much had the extra mussels to ourselves. I’ll bet I ate nine or ten, and I wouldn’t even want to count the number of shells on Art’s plate.

I was getting close to full on those mussels. I complimented Nellie, the chef. I said, “How did you cook those mussels? They are wonderful!” She responded, “Oh, they are cooked in two cups of wine.”

Art and I laughed. No wonder they’d tasted so good! Usually, when we eat out, we check on the ingredients in sauces and sautees, and we forego dishes cooked with alcohol. We’re always assured that the alcohol has boiled away during the cooking. That could be true, but it’s not wise for us to trust absolutely everything we’re told where the harmlessness of alcohol is concerned. It didn’t occur to either of us, at that dinner, to ask about the mussels. Once we knew, though, we passed the pot along the next time it came around the table.

Following a half hour of Archie stories told by Captain Doug, we sat on the deck for a bit, chatting with other passengers and watching the moon on the water. 


Friday, September 19, 2014

Remembering Maine - part 2 of 6

Excerpt from our first schooner cruise, in 2003. We spent last week aboard the schooner Heritage, out of Rockland, Maine, for our sixth trip.

Monday

When I awoke again, it was with a start, at the sound of heavy metal chains being tossed on the deck immediately above my head, and water sloshing from a bucket, and young male voices. No drowsy lingering in bed this morning! Clearly, work was being done above us, and it was time to get up. Art’s bed was empty.

I dressed quickly and climbed the stairs. We’d been told the night before that the best time to shower was after 9 in the morning and before 9 at night. The water for the shower was heated by the wood stove in the galley, and hot water would be more plentiful between those hours, when there was no cooking going on. I felt a little disheveled without a shower and clean hair, but I figured everyone else would be in the same spot, so it didn’t matter much. I had it in my mind to take my shower early in the afternoon each day of the cruise.

On deck, a small cluster of men stood around a coffee pot. I heard snippets of conversation about work, past sails, sports and politics. Someone handed me a mug of coffee – strong and not too hot, it still contained the caffeine I need in the morning.

I joined a small group of women nearer the galley. I remembered them from the night before -- Marjorie, an energetic, humorous, outspoken woman from New Orleans; Sally, a tiny Californian; Karen, who reminded me of my friend Barbara. And another woman I hadn’t met – as it turned out, Joanne, half of the couple in the motorhome who’d spontaneously decided to join this cruise. The women welcomed me with smiles. We identified the morning people and the night people. I was glad to see I was not the only person who wasn’t fully awake and perky.

Within minutes, the meal bell clanged, and we descended to the galley. Steaming serving bowls of wonderfully seasoned scrambled eggs, plates of perfectly prepared bacon, stacks of toast with jars of homemade jam and marmalade, earthenware pitchers of fruit juice, bowls of fruit, pots of hot coffee. Really, we couldn’t have asked for a more filling breakfast. We passed the food until we were all stuffed, and then we passed it again.

Captain Doug spoke to the group. “We’ll be setting sail at about 10:30,” he said, “So if you want to leave the schooner, be sure to be back by then.”

When almost every scrap of food had been consumed, Captain Linda instructed us on the remaining kitchen tasks. “Stack and pass,” she said, meant to move all plates, silverware and bowls to the two ends of the horseshoe table, scraping into one of the serving bowls as we went. As we complied, crew members Nellie and Trevor moved swiftly to gather up the remaining jams and condiments into storage containers for later use. An oversized sink was filled with soapy water, and an assembly line was set up for washing, drying and putting away the dishes. Most of the men had returned to the deck, and a few of the women were already playing cards in the corner of the galley, but the clean-up crew talked and laughed as they made fairly short work of the breakfast dishes.

It was a nearly clear day, with just a few clouds, temperature in the low 60s. As soon as all the passengers were aboard, the captain gave notice to hoist the gangplank, to cast off the lines, and the crew pulled the ship back into deeper water before tossing the last line back to the dock. The yawl boat had been lowered, and Captain Linda had brought it around to pull the schooner out into the channel, and then came about and turned the boat out seaward. I was watching Captain Linda. It was surprising to me that a ten-foot yawl boat could maneuver the 150-foot schooner using only one rope (Art says “they call them lines”) tied off between the two craft. Then the yawl boat was secured and the hoisting of the sails began.

I had decided that I would participate in the sailing. In the past, I’ve sat on the deck and watched as our friends Bob and Sheila, and Art, worked the sails. I suspected that my experience on this trip would be enhanced if I did more than watch others work. Still, I felt awkward. I’m inexperienced in sailing, and I knew that a number of the other passengers had done this before. As a matter of fact, the single man, Merv (actually, he is married, but his wife is a golfer rather than a sailor, so she was at home in California), had mentioned that he belonged to a sailing club and had sailed on many other occasions. I was an amateur, but I didn’t want to look like one. Hopefully I could help in a way that wouldn’t call attention to my seagoing clumsiness.

Art, on the other hand, had been interested in this cruise specifically because it was a working schooner. He wanted to see how it was sailing a larger ship rather than just the small sailboat that one person could operate.

Preparations for getting underway was directed by Captain Doug. The website for the schooner describes it this way: 
Attention to tradition makes the new schooner Heritage an authentic Maine coasting schooner. When it's time to hoist the anchor and raise the sails, the authentic 1917 deck engine can be called into service. The distinctive sound sings out as the gaff inches its way up the mast, sails unfurling ready to catch the wind again.
closeup of ropes and sailsNoah, the first mate, started the deck engine. The crew kept the lines free and directed the participating passengers. Here’s an example of a direction. Nellie said, “I need two flowers (pronounced “flow-er” with a long “o”). I said, “What is a flower?” She said, “Let this line run through your hands. Don’t try to stop the line. Just keep it flowing smoothly.” I could do that. I was a flower on that occasion.

Meanwhile, Art had taken up a position as a puller; those people hoisted not the mainsails (that was what they had the engine for), but the topsails and the foresails (pronounced “topsles” and “forsles”). The pullers were in groups of three, usually two men and one woman, and they reached up the line, grasped it, and pulled it down, reached up again, pulled down again. Kind of like raising a very heavy flag. Art says, “We were actually working the fall line of a set of four block and tackle”– a set of four pulleys in a block to reduce the amount of human effort required.
Art as a puller
While the sails were being hoisted, we listened carefully to the called instructions of crew and both captains. The idea is, while the pullers are raising the sails, the flowers are releasing the line that will eventually pull the sails down, and they will flow on the fall line of the blocks. I admit that these words are Art’s. He has explained this scenario to me at least three times since we returned from our trip, and I still don’t get it. That’s why, when I started writing about the sailing of the schooner, I asked Art to give me the words. He wishes I would learn the concept so that he can work on his crossword puzzle undisturbed.

The sails in place, the lines had to be made up and secured to the davits. Translated, that means they were coiled in a specific configuration, always clockwise because of the lay of the line. Then they are tied up to secure the sails and placed on the mast, so that they’re not in the way and so that when they’re needed again when the sails are unfurled the lines will fall easily. I learned that the discipline of sailing is intensely practical. That’s probably why Art understands it better than I. His work as the foreman of a line crew for the electric company requires the same disciplined, practical approach.

We were now headed out of Rockland harbor. As we were departing, we passed a lobster boat returning to port. It looked like a garbage scow because of the innumerable seagulls following it. Lobstering is a primary industry in this part of the country. We were looking forward to one of the featured events of this cruise – a lobster feed one evening on an island beach.

We made up the lines, and numerous passengers were gathered around Captain Doug and his compass and charts to see exactly where we were going and what the layout of the area was. Other passengers – me included – found positions by the rail or on seating areas on the open deck. On this cruise, we could do whatever suited us during the day’s sail.

Doug listened to several radio channels – NOAA (National Oceanographic Atmospheric Something) and other boats to ascertain the weather and the wind and to chart our course for the day.

It was in the mid 60s, with a blue sky and cirrus clouds. Just about a perfect day, in my mind, for a sail. Once we were on the water, I went to our cabin and found my book – not the one I read aloud to Art at night, but a Nora Roberts romance – perfect for passing time and not requiring much thought. I put on my shorts, slathered my legs with sunscreen, and found a deck cushion and an empty spot for reading.
Linda resting on boat
Art was watching the water and helping when the captain needed hands for coming about. Art didn’t see much on the water of interest, though he did hear someone on the radio say they had seen a whale.

I looked up from time to time from my book to chat with a fellow passenger – I had good long conversations with Sally and Joanne that day – and to notice the ever-changing color and texture of the water. On this day, there were times when it looked like silken glass.

Lunch was served on deck. It consisted of steaming cauldrons of homemade soup and multiple loaves of warm homemade bread with butter, jam, cashew butter and peanut butter. We served ourselves buffet style. It seemed to me that we had eaten breakfast only a short time before. I wondered how I could eat again. I had exercised not at all after the plentiful breakfast. This lunch was one of those where you are full and yet you eat more, cursing yourself for your gluttony.

During the afternoon, Art spent his time listening to Captain Doug talk. The man has been sailing schooners for over 30 years, and he has an endless supply of stories to tell to just about anyone who will listen. His stories are about building the schooner and some of the difficulties he ran into; different trips that they had and things that happened on each trip; and, always, stories from his youth. As Doug talked at the wheel, watching the wind and the sails, Captain Linda was all over the schooner – directing the kitchen activities between meals, teaching passengers how to work as a team in hauling up the yawl boat, supervising the youthful crew, and making sure that every passenger was comfortable.
hauling up the yawl boat
When Doug and Linda’s two daughters, Clara and Rachel, were growing up, they spent their summers aboard the schooner, meeting passengers from all over the country and the world. Those girls are now young women. One graduated recently from college and now works at Google, an Internet company in California. The other recently entered a prestigious university on the east coast. Most likely they had a very well rounded pre-college education.

Midway between lunch and dinner, crew member Gretchen ascended from the galley with an overloaded tray of lemon bars, hot from the oven. I couldn’t believe we were expected to eat again. Fortunately for me, sweets are not unbearably tempting, so I was able to say no to all but the first bar. Art succumbed to his gigantic sweet tooth and corresponding appetite and love for lemon bars. I have no idea how many he ate, and I have no plans to ask.

I remember when I first met Art, I could always find him, at a potluck, standing beside the food table. I remember also a mutual friend who approached me on one of these occasions and asked, “Why doesn’t Art explode?” I worry sometimes that his appetite for sweets and fats will be detrimental to his health, but I have learned through the years to keep my mouth shut most of the time. On this cruise, I figured I’d have a better time myself if I didn’t watch Art at table.

In late afternoon we pulled into a cove on Swan’s Island. Doug looked around and decided against anchoring there, so we sailed around the island to another cove, where we dropped anchor, dropped the sails, learned how to put them away, made the lines fast for the night, and set up the tarps to keep the dew off.

Here is the day’s entry in the captain’s log:

Monday, 32 miles, sunny and foggy – a nice sail “Down East” – through the Deer Isle Passage and York Narrows. Anchored in Mackenak Cove on Swan’s Island. Saw osprey and seal.
Dinner was ready long before I was hungry. The meal was comfort food – platters of baked chicken, fresh steamed vegetables, and boiled new potatoes.

That night after dessert (I can’t even remember what it was, but I know it was wonderful), Captain Doug told his first Archie story. I’d heard about these yarns during the day from repeating passengers, but had no idea what they were. Archie, as Doug tells it, was a childhood friend who had endless escapades and encounters with the world, real and make believe. Simple events could be turned into classic misadventures. Doug could string that story along for fifteen minutes, until the population of the entire galley was hanging on his every syllable. When the climactic moment of the story arrived, passengers let out a communal belly laugh, often punctuated by groans of pain from laughter or sometimes as a comment on the quality of the pun at the end. I wish I could do justice to these stories, but, really, you had to be there. Suffice it to say, Archie was the guest star every single evening after dinner.

I lay awake for a while after I turned off the reading lamp. I could hear Art snoring lightly above me. He almost always falls asleep within a minute or two of lights out – probably the result of years of sleep deprivation he experienced as a lineman working emergency jobs at night. In such a situation, the crews learn to fall asleep almost instantly while the driver of the rig is taking everyone to the next job. I am sometimes envious of the ease with which Art falls asleep. Lying in the darkness in my bunk, I listened to the unfamiliar night noises on the schooner – the creaks of the boards, the flush of the head on the deck above me, a foghorn, a set of snores from one the cabins close by. And then, a groan.

I had a moment’s concern at this noise, because I recognized the voice. One of the women, Charlotte, a 47-year-old widow traveling with her companion, Ray, an accountant at least 20 years her senior, represented herself as something of an invalid. Indeed, she wore a breathing tube in her throat. Aside from that, though, she appeared to be in excellent health – she had a boisterous laugh and an energetic manner. She confided easily in new acquaintances – she had told me earlier in the day that she had recently lost over a hundred pounds since having her stomach stapled – which would have put her at around 400 pounds before her surgery. And her numerous flirtatious, suggestive comments to her companion were, to my way of thinking, a bit on the risqué side in the company of near strangers – though he didn’t appear to mind in the least.

At any rate, when I heard the groan I wondered whether she was having trouble breathing. As I listened further, though, I realized I was mistaken. The woman got noisier and the groans changed to moans and then to muffled shrieks. I was somewhat embarrassed to be listening in on an intimate encounter between this professed invalid and her companion. They weren’t more than eight feet away; through walls as thin as the schooner’s, it seemed like much less distance. I wondered if they knew they could be heard. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Remembering Maine

A week ago we had a lobster feed on Lobster Island. We were on our sixth cruise on the schooner Heritage. Always the same, always different. We travel the world, but we always come back to Maine to spend six nights and five days aboard.

In my next few blog posts I'm including excerpts of our first cruise - taken in 2003. I take these things for granted now. I know the ropes. But at the beginning it was new and thrilling. Now it's familiar and thrilling.

Sunday

We followed the instructions given us to the North End Shipyards. As we descended the gravel road we could see the masts of the schooner as we’d been told we would. We pulled into the lot. It was only 5:30, so it would be another hour before we could board.  I looked in the AAA guide for Rockland and found the address for a local diner.

By the time we finished our meal and drove back to the North End Shipyards, it was time to board. The parking lot was full; we had to search for a spot. A woman staggered with a gigantic red duffel bag toward the schooner’s boarding ramp. For some odd reason, I felt self conscious, like I was showing up at a party where I didn’t know anyone. I opened the trunk of our rented Buick and busied myself with the luggage. By the time we’d extracted our suitcases and stowed the trip maps in the back seat, the woman had disappeared. 

We clumped down the ramp, each of us loaded down with a daypack and a piece of luggage. At the bottom, we were met by a white bearded, jovial faced man in his 50s. “And you are?” he inquired. I introduced myself and Art, and he responded “Captain Doug. Welcome aboard.”

I let go of my suitcase and shook his hand, looking around. Lots of wood, many thick ropes. Captain Doug consulted a clipboard. “You’re in, let’s see, cabin 1. I’ll take you down there so you can stow your gear, then show you around.” 

We followed the captain down a steep set of wooden stairs to the deck below. In the center of a six-by-six central area was a wooden pillar about 15 inches in diameter. Art told me this was one of the masts. Off this area were six narrow doors. One was closed and the other five were cracked open. Captain Doug opened the door marked with a metal number 1, then backed away so Art and I could enter. Within the cabin were two stacked bunks. The cabin was tiny – I correct myself; the cabin was efficiently designed to be functional in the smallest possible amount of floor space. 


“You can unpack later. Let me show you around.” Art and I followed the captain. At the top of the stairs he opened a small door, revealing a marine toilet. “To put water in the tank, put your foot under the pedal and raise it. To flush, press the pedal.” His instructions were easy to understand. I’m not adept at figuring out how mechanical things operate, so I was grateful that I wouldn’t have to blunder around. Around the corner, another narrow door, another toilet. “There are three heads on board,” the captain said. “This one has a shower.” Sure enough, a hand-held shower was mounted opposite the toilet. “Turn this handle to open up the storage panel for your gear while you’re showering, so your clothes don’t get wet.” Again, I was gratified by the visual demonstration. And impressed with the practical layout of the shower facility.

We followed Captain Doug down another set of stairs, these leading to the galley. “We have meals here, but it’s also a good place to sit and read or talk or play cards.” 

“That’s about it. I’ll leave you now, and we’ll see you at around 9:30 tonight in the galley for introductions.” I thanked him, and he disappeared up the galley stairs.

Back in our cabin, I noticed shelves tucked into the sides of the cabin by each bunk, shelves built into the foot of the bottom bunk, hooks on the wall under the skylight. Really, quite a bit of space, if used well. A miniature sink with hot and cold running water, a small mirror on a cabinet door that hooked to close off a storage area for toiletries. Reading lamps mounted on the wall by each pillow. Linens stowed neatly at the foot of each bunk.

“Which bunk do you want?” Art asked. I said the bottom one; I’m up a couple of times in the night to use the bathroom, and I didn’t want to fall in the unfamiliar place. He unpacked quickly and then left the cabin. I knew he’d explore the schooner from one end to the other – more correctly, from bow to stern – and that he’d notice just about everything. I spent more time stowing my things. I had packed more than Art, so my task was a bit more complicated.

We found our way to the galley at 9:30. The Heritage carries 29 passengers at full capacity, but on this sail there were only 21. That meant, said the captain, a bit more space in the galley for meals, and a couple of empty cabins for storage of extra suitcases. Nineteen of us had gathered this evening; the other two would be aboard the next morning. Bill and Joanne had stopped by in their motorhome to say hello to the crew, having been aboard in a previous year. When they learned there was space available, they decided to join the cruise. They needed to pick up a few things, though, so they’d be late arrivals.

The captain introduced us to his wife, Captain Linda, and to the six twenty-something crew members. They would be cooking, cleaning and sailing for us all week. I found out during the week that the captains hire the crew members during the winter and spring from among young people who show up, interested and willing to work. Doug and Linda train them all. Sometimes it’s a word-of-mouth thing. The six crew members were a delightful bunch – energetic, friendly and helpful.

Of the guests aboard, fewer than half were sailing on the Heritage for the first time. This was the 27th trip for one woman, Sandy, and another man, Ray, had been sailing 16 times before on a Maine coasting schooner. Guests on this cruise were from Maine, New York, Maryland, Georgia, Louisiana, Ohio, Indiana, Arizona, California, and Washington. There were about three people, I’d say, under 50, with the majority in their 60s. All couples, except for one man and three single women. I thought about ocean-going cruise ships, with all their amenities, and all their passengers, and how they disembark at small towns in enormous numbers. All the passengers on the schooner had chosen a simpler way to travel the water. I expected they would be an interesting bunch.

The captain said that, the next morning, we would be leaving civilization. There would be no phones, no Internet, no roads for the next six days. We would have an opportunity, most mornings, to disembark and spend an hour or so in whatever small community we happened to have anchored in for the night. But, for the most part, we would be a self-contained enterprise. He would watch the weather and the winds and, based on that, would decide upon a direction to sail. 

The group then broke up for the night. Some of the other passengers stayed on deck to chat, but Art and I headed for our cabin. We had driven to Rockland from Vermont, and it had been a long day.

Using the economy of movement acquired in motorhome travel, we got ready for bed. Pajamas were donned and teeth brushed. I found the book I was currently reading aloud to Art – Jayber Crow, by Wendell Berry. Then I looked at my bunk. The opening between the surface of my mattress and the lower frame of the upper bunk was about 20 inches. Nowhere near enough room to sit up in bed. I’d have to remember that on my nightly sojourn to the bathroom. I pondered how to get into bed. Finally I sat on the edge, grasped the frame of the upper bunk in both hands and swiveled into my bunk. Not bad, I thought, as I lay there on my back. I reached over with my left hand and turned on the reading light. 

Art was ready to listen. I read aloud for about 20 minutes, as we both settled in for sleep. I could hear the sounds, barely muffled, of the eight other people in the adjacent cabins in the bow of the schooner. I believe we were all within ten feet of each other. The cabin walls were very thin; really, they were only dividers to provide some visual privacy. I was conscious, as I read, that other couples could not help but hear me. I tried to keep my voice low enough so that only Art could hear. Eventually the sounds from the other cabins ceased, and we grew drowsy ourselves. I folded over the page of the book and turned off the reading light.

During the night I awoke, needing to use the bathroom. I swiveled out of bed and put on a light jacket. Opening the cabin door as quietly as I could, I stumbled over the oversized doorjamb. So much for silence! I could see the stairwell and climbed to the deck above to use the head. I was again grateful for Captain Doug’s visual instructions. As I was leaving the head, I saw another sleepy passenger crossing the deck. A person awake through the night on deck would probably have had little solitude; every few minutes a new customer for the head would emerge from below decks. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Getting to Maine

We leave tomorrow for our sixth cruise on the Schooner Heritage out of Rockland, Maine. For six nights and five days we'll live aboard with about 30 passengers and half a dozen crew. This is "Art's trip"; he loves the food, the sailing, the company, and the "talk like a pirate" event that happens every single time he sails.

Getting to and from Maine is the hardest part. Here's how we've done it before:
  • Flown to Boston, rented a car and driven to Vermont, then to Maine via local roads and state highways, none of which are fast.
  • Flown to Boston, rented a car and driven to and from Rockland. Probably the quickest, but it requires finding our way in and out of Boston via multiple rotaries (roundabouts) with three lanes each, where every other driver knows exactly what they're doing and we're not so sure, not living where we get a lot of practice with this features.
  • Flown to Boston and wrestled our way across Logan Airport - for an hour - to the Cape Air counter, where we checked in, put our luggage in the wing of a tiny plane, and boarded with nine other passengers. Our seat assignments were based on how much we weighed. The flight is an hour long, over the ocean, as the sky goes from near dusk to pitch black night, and I can hear every vibration of the very small engine. On the way back, we took a regional bus line which required numerous stops between Rockland and Portland and then a change of bus, and then a four-hour wait for our plane in Boston.
  • Flown to Portland via Cincinnati, with a friend picking us up and another friend dropping us off. We can't do that any more because Delta, the Alaska partner, no longer has a hub in Cincinatti.
The problem is that our airline, Alaska, has a red-eye (which we no longer fly because the sleep deprivation is too hard on senior citizens like us) and one that arrives in Boston at 5:00 pm. Not too hard. But the return flight - the one we always take - leaves at 6:30 p.m. From Rockland by plane we wait four hours at the airport for our flight. From Rockland by bus, we either miss the flight by half an hour, or we wait four hours. We could get better times if we were willing to connect in Atlanta or Dallas for our Seattle destination. Which we aren't - long flights with plane changes are too hard on senior citizens like us.

So this time we're doing it differently:  Fly to Boston, take a regional bus line to Portsmouth, NH where we'll be picked up by our friends Bruce and Sally who will be sailing with us (we met them on our very first sail) and will spend the night at their place in Ogonquit, Maine. Then we'll drive to Rockland the next day. At the end of the trip, we'll rent a car in Rockland, drive to Searsport to spend the night with our friends Brian and Beth, and drive to Boston the next day, stopping at LLBean in Freeport. Renting a car from Rockland to Boston costs about $132 for a day, but that's much cheaper than renting a car for the whole week and leaving it sitting in the schooner parking lot, and we can time the drive so we don't have much of a wait at the airport.

This schooner cruise is the most deeply relaxing trip we ever take. It's always the same and always different. We wish everyone could have this fabulous experience, as we help sail or not, wear jeans and  T-shirts, eat comfort food, make ice cream, have a lobster feast, lie under the stars (plus, there will be a full moon next week), listen to Captain Doug tell stories, talk and read and nap. 

I am taking my iPhone and my first generation Kindle. I may twitch a little without my laptop, but we'll be out of reach of wi-fi and I've decided not to blog until I get home.

See you later this month!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Cleaning out my closet

I like to downsize from time to time. I'd told myself this spring that at the end of August I'd go through my closet and my dresser and get rid of anything I haven't worn since I quit my job four years ago, or anything that doesn't fit. I gave myself several months because I was on a no-sugar eating plan in May and I planned to lose at least ten pounds.

Well, I didn't lose ten pounds. Actually, I have no idea how much I weigh because I'm afraid to get on the scale. I can still wear everything I could wear this spring, so that's something.

Yesterday I did the closet. It was actually quite hard to follow my own rule of what to get rid of. For example, I have a red cable-knit sweater I haven't worn for quite a few years, but it still fits. I have a corresponding photograph taken of me wearing that sweater with my son James when he was still in high school. That's been nearly 20 years. So putting that sweater in the Goodwill box was tough. Same with the purple sweater I got at Nordstrom when I first moved to Seattle in 1986. It still fits, but it's out of style and even if it were not I will never wear it. Then there's the jewel-tone jacket I wore to my son Russell's wedding 12 years ago. It's just a tad small now. Sometimes I can justify keeping something just a little longer because I may lose those five pounds. But the fact is, I never dress up.

I've been a Chico's shopper for a dozen years or so. I've got about eight pieces of their Travelers line, and I am going to keep a few of them since they still fit. I used to wear them to work and they have languished in the closet since 2010. But we're taking a European cruise next spring and I think they'll be comfortable on our daytime explorations of the ports we visit. I did toss about six Travelers tank tops into the Goodwill pile. I think my bustline has shifted a little, or something, because those tanks are a little more revealing than I think my 66-in-three-weeks body ought to be wearing. I am also donating half a dozen other Chico's knit tops. Don't wear 'em any more, and then there's those five to ten pounds that I'd need to lose before they'd look good enough for me to wear.

I have a couple of old shirts that used to be my favorites: an oversized blue-and-white checked one and another one, not oversized. When my kids were growing up I wore those shirts constantly with my Lee jeans. I still have the jeans, too, but I haven't worn them in years because I found Not Your Daughter's Jeans that fit me better now that I'm a grandmother. Tomorrow I'll go through the jeans drawers and add all the old Lee jeans to the pile.

Five pieces in my closet I have never worn. Not yet, probably never, so out they go. And two shirts that belonged to my mother, one of them only slightly torn, the other not my style. Gone.

It was quite a memory-making experience, going through my closet. I may take another look at the Goodwill pile tomorrow. Maybe I'll put a couple of things back in the closet just in case. But only a couple.

I have 30 hangers in a pile now. In my closet are the nicer ones, the unbent ones, mostly without the paper that comes from the dry cleaners. I can remember the last time I wore every single item in my closet now. I feel caught up with myself.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Bag Lady makes some changes

It still surprises me what breaking up routines can do.

1.  After eight years, I have changed hairdressers in Washington. My hair is curly, so when I see someone with curly hair and a great cut, I ask who their hairdresser is. I did that last year in Tucson when I needed a person down there, I saw Judy's cut and got a referral to Marissa. She created a different style for me more suitable to the very dry climate in Arizona. When I got back to Washington I was a little disappointed with the work my regular stylist was doing. Don't ask me why; it's possible I was the one who changed, rather than her. So this year when I came home I saw a great cut on Sarah and got a referral to Douglas. He is fabulous - cuts my hair in ten minutes and makes it look thick and easy to style! I felt a little guilty changing hairdressers up here, but it was time.

2. After over 20 years, I have changed housekeepers. My previous one and I met when our boys played baseball together in 6th grade. She's had her ups and downs healthwise and recently I decided it was time for a change. I got a referral from Susan and now Carrie comes every other Tuesday and makes the house clean and presentable. Again, making the change made me feel a little uneasy, after all these years with Nancy.

3. For over 15 years I have tracked our investments in Quicken. The statement arrived every month and I spent a couple of hours entering every detail of dozens of activities. I especially liked this process before I quit my job, because I could download transactions and prices every day and see exactly where we stood financially. That was also my Bag Lady period. I was very worried we wouldn't have enough to retire, and seeing those numbers increase over time made me feel better.

With the arrival of this month's statement I made a change. A big one. I closed out all the individual accounts in Quicken and created a few simple summary accounts for investments, annuities, IRAs and Roth IRAS. It will take me about ten minutes each month to record these numbers. And I will have to forego the daily downloads. But it's lightened me up. I'm glad I did it.

4. Once a year or so, I look at my life and my values and see whether they're lining up. I feel better on the inside when that's happening. Last August I listed my values as spirituality, health, community, curiosity and purpose - in that order - and noted my purported top value, spirituality, wasn't on top in my actual life. I became open to that, and a year later I can say I'm growing, and that's good. Now it's the health value that's not being attended to as well as it should. It's too easy for me to sleep a little later and skip my water aerobics class (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) and to wait until too late in the other days to do my two-mile walk in the neighborhood. I have a postural therapy program that really eases the aches and pains, but I've neglected them, and the aches and pains are a good reminder I should be doing them. And though I've remained reasonably true to my no-processed-sugar rule, I haven't said goodbye to butter or cheese. So that value - health - will be at the top of my consciousness as we head into fall.

5. For the first four years of not working I pretty much set aside my professional skills. I was a business systems analyst and it seemed time to let them go. Recently, though, I've taken on two projects in my life - one related to our business and one to my church - and analysis and requirements gathering are very much a part of those projects. It's kind of fun! Even the mediation I learned since I stopped working comes in handy. My primary requirement in these projects is that I be able to leave for Tucson right after Thanksgiving, and if I'm needed after that I need to be able to work by phone or computer. I did say, "I don't want to come home more than once." I have no idea what the outcome of these projects will be, but they're fun at the moment. Getting back into what I used to do for money - but just a little bit, so far. 

I'm glad to know I'm still changing. That means I'm still alive, I guess. A good thing!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Looking back with a giggle

My sister Alyx and her husband Virgil live in their RV in our backyard. This has been going on for three months and is likely to continue for at least another eight. We split the utilities and the use of the washer and dryer and they use the downstairs bathroom. My sister and I chat for a bit nearly every day, and the four of us share a meal a couple of times a week. Otherwise, we're two households sharing a plot of land.

Alyx is seven years younger than me (she was born on my seventh birthday), so she and I have some separate memories. I remember neighborhood gatherings at summer dusk in Quantico, Virginia and my father's work parties where the families gathered and the wasps hovered over open cans of beer and soda. Alyx wasn't born yet. She remembers times in high school when she'd send a friend into the living room to talk to my parents, diverting them while she raided the kitchen cupboards. I was away at college by then so I don't remember.

We do have some shared memories, though. Family Christmases and vacations - for better or for worse, school plays (we were both in the cast of The Sound of Music in my junior year of high school; she played Brigitta and I was Leisl). My mother's poodles and their puppies. Dad wearing black shoes and socks to the beach.

And more recent memories: scattering my mother's ashes off the stern of a cruise ship, anticipating they'd trail out behind the vessel near the Bay of Fundy (they blew back onto the two-story restaurant window instead). A bus ride in Montreal where I inexplicably got off at a stop without telling the rest of them and they scrambled to catch up. The time I backed down their driveway in Crestline, California in a rental car, slid on the ice, dented their mailbox and ripped the side mirror from the vehicle. We all laugh every time we talk about these stories.

They laugh harder when I admit for the umpteenth time that I am an excellent driver except for the seven times I have backed into another vehicle or a post in a parking lot. The one in Crestline was about the fourth; the most recent was last December in Hawaii. My husband Art continues to remind me that I need to look back when I'm backing up so I'll see vehicles or objects that appear out of the blue. Apparently the rest of them are far more  astute in the backing category.

Until today. Art had backed our manual-transmission pickup down our steep driveway to unload a barbecue and food left over from a group picnic. Today he decided to move the truck to the back yard. In the brake-shift-accelerator process, the vehicle slid the final foot down the driveway, hit the barbeque and bent it, and shattered the truck's left taillight. Then the accelerator kicked in and the tires screeched as the truck ascended the driveway. It was a noisy event. Alyx and I were in the garden, heard it, and got the giggles. We wanted to be kind to Art as he stomped around and not say anything, and that made it even funnier.

The cool part is that Art's driveway episode will be added to our joint memory of things to laugh at.

Looking back, you know, and giggling.