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.
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.