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Restoration at Sea
Thomas R. & Deborah A. Fletcher
Water, the primal element which once covered the earth, appeals to us on many levels. Its sheer force and uncontrollability amazes us. Yet we want to be near it. We want to control it on some level. Sailing is one method of living out that fantasy of control, gliding across the water, powered by the wind, controlling the elements to go where we will. On a deeper level, there is the soothing sound of the occasional flapping of a sail and the sea lapping against the ship's hull. All these factors join in harmony to relax and soothe. A few days at sea brings tranquility and revitalization to the spirit. The elements of wind and sea combine to take one back to a bygone era, a time when life moved at a slower pace--especially if one is traveling aboard a turn-of-the-century vessel.
Our sailing adventure took place on the windjammer Victory Chimes, a three-masted sailboat based in Rockland, Maine. She is the largest in Maine's windjammer fleet. Originally built to haul lumber on the Chesapeake Bay, she was first launched at Bethel, Delaware in April, 1900 as the Edwin & Maud. She came in at a time that wind-powered travel was going out. Had two World Wars not given her a new lease on life, she would have been gone long ago. At the end of World War Two, her cargo space was converted to cabins and she began a new career of hauling vacationers. Today she has space for 40 passengers.
Sailing on the open sea, can become boring with the same scenery of sea and sky--if that is all one sees. We spent a few days sailing up and down Penobscot Bay, darting in and out among the islands and peninsulas. The rugged granite coastline and the hundreds of pine-covered islands that dot the bay make for an ever-changing view. We had beautiful days of sea, sailing, and sun and no problem of boring scenery. In that time, we had no choice but to relax, which doesn't come easily to people constantly used to schedules and deadlines.
Captain Kip Files has the passengers help the 10-member crew hoist the sails each morning, which takes only 20-25 minutes--after that, you are on your own. The first few days out found us wound tight and looking for more to do and our only schedule was for meal times. Even more frustrating was the fact that Captain Files would not tell us where we were headed.
"I don't know, wherever the wind takes us," is all he would say.
We thought he was just being enigmatic, but winds and weather do determine both the length and direction of each day's sail. Since Captain Files didn't know (or wouldn't divulge) our day's destination, at the end of each day we had First Mate Jeff Richards map out the area covered that day on a place-mat-sized map of Penobscot Bay. Our days were given to reading, relaxing, and wildlife viewing or simply watching the lobster fishermen work the waters around us.
We saw several schools of dolphin, a few whales, bundles of seals, and untold numbers of birds. Wildlife watching became a preoccupation. The natural environment and lack of structured shipboard activity eased us into relax mode. The ship's gentle rocking and the creaking of her wood was very conducive to some afternoon napping. Demanding time expectations take their toll. Whether we realize it or not, we need to come a part and rest awhile. At the end of our sailing adventure we found the process had brought much needed restoration to our spirits.
On our second day out, the captain and crew did conspire to get our adrenaline pumping. It took place as we were traveling through Eggemoggin Reach, passing under Deer Isle Bridge. The ship's tallest mast stands eighty-four and a half feet high. It looked as if the mast were going to touch the bridge. Someone asked the captain how high the bridge was from the water.
"Eighty-five feet," he replied.
A quick calculation and we all came to the same conclusion...only six inches of clearance, and with the chop in the water, it would be close, if we cleared at all. Looking at the mast and the bridge, they appeared very close, and the distance was closing fast, just then we heard a loud clanging sound.
We didn't hit the bridge. First Mate Richards, likes to tease the guests. As all our attention was focused on watching the mast and the bridge draw closer, he started the jibe. It was the ship's rigging that made the clanging sound. Sometimes he takes it a step further, he later explained to a couple of us. The mast is topped with a brass ball. At times he starts the jibe and tosses a golden tennis ball into the crowd of guests at the same time. Between the optical illusion, the clanging, and the falling ball, everyone assumes the brass ball has just been knocked off the mast. What the Captain hadn't explained was that the Deer Isle Bridge is 85 feet above the water at high tide. We weren't going under at high tide.
Each night's anchorage found us in another unique location. Shortly after anchoring and stowing the sails, one of the crew starts up the yawl boat and begins ferrying passengers to shore for an evening visit. One night it was Bucks Harbor, another it Southwest Harbor on Mount Desert Island (Maine's largest island). Our third night at sea found us anchored in Burnt Coat Harbor on Swan's Island. This island underwent a revival several years back as the names of the lobster boats testify. "Born Again," "Genesis, and "Bread of Life" are a few examples. On a rocky outcrop, overlooking the harbor entrance stands a lovely lighthouse. On shore excursion, several folks made it a point to make the mile hike out to the lighthouse.
Our last night out found us anchored in Stonington Harbor on Deer Isle. Stonington takes its name from the granite quarries that brought wealth to the island early on. (The John F. Kennedy Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery is built of Deer Isle granite.) The advent of steel and concrete severely depleted the demand for granite so island residents turned to fishing, mainly for lobster, as a source of income. The town of Stonington is the quintessential New England fishing village. One store sign that caught our eye said, "Auto Parts and Fishing Gear," not two items we would normally consider finding in the same store.
The next morning was a solemn affair. The peace and serenity of our sailing journey was ending. All we had left was that day's sail back to Rockland. Then back to schedules, deadlines, phones, and faxes. Back to the rushed hustle of everyday life which will bring about the need for another restoration at sea. Such is the cycle of life.
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Text and Photos [c] PROSE & PHOTOS/ Thomas R. Fletcher