Meandering along the jagged coast of Maine in a two-masted schooner is my idea of a great getaway. However, I was apprehensive about going in the autumn. In the end I decided to go for it, and I am glad I did! This was going to be my second time on the Mary Day. The first time was in August of ’06 when I sailed with my husband, Cam, and 26 fellow mates. But this time Cam could not make it, and the departure date kept getting pushed further ahead for different reasons. I wasn’t sure I would enjoy being outside in cool October since I knew from past experience that the majority of the day is spent on deck, exposed to the elements.
I was happy to find out I was assigned the same cabin (#7) as before–a coincidence, I think, but it made me feel at home. And when I realized I didn’t have to share the cozy quarters, I actually felt relieved Cam wasn’t there. Last time, I slept on deck, enjoying the fresh air from my sleeping bag. This time, the night temps got down to the 40s, as opposed to the 60s we’d had on the August sail, so sleeping up top wasn’t an option. There were fewer passengers this time, and sleeping down below was snug, quiet, and warm (the cabins were heated by the wood stove). This is the same wood stove that is used to heat the water for coffee and cook all three meals! I was sad to learn that Mary Barney, the cook for many years, had passed away the year before. I thought of her often when I made the delicious recipes from her Ring that Bell cookbook I had bought on my last voyage.
Coffee is served on deck starting at 7 a.m. Early morning was my favorite time on the boat, when everyone was waking up and gathering around the coffee pots. Some were still in their PJs, or lumbering up to use one of the two heads (which are cleaned five times a day), or soaking in the sunrise. Slow conversations and squawking calls of sea birds filled the still of the morning. Breakfast is served at 8 a.m. down below, with delicious offerings such as blueberry pancakes, bacon, and fresh cut-up fruit. This time, the cook was young Ina from Canada, who had gained her experience cooking for large groups in a lumber town up north. Her mess mate (asst. cook), Leah, hailed from Colorado via Hawaii, and their cheerfulness and fabulous meals enhanced the awesome on-board experience. Lunch was always homemade soup–French onion, tomato, or chili accompanied by a different salad like spinach with cranberries, Caesar, or tossed with artichokes, and always with a homemade dressing such as ginger vinaigrette. Desserts were cookies baked in the wee hours of the morning, apple bars, or blondies. Dinner is served at 7 p.m. and is usually preempted by an on-deck snack. Home-cooked meals included Thanksgiving dinner and pasta with sausages, and there is always an all-you-can-eat lobster bake (the record is 9!). Desserts like pumpkin pie, chocolate cake, or homemade killer ice cream were consistently good.
After dinner, guests take a trip into the past, where TVs, computers, and cell phones don’t exist. Most people stay down in the cabin and play board games or cards on one of the three tables. Sometimes merriment happens in the form of music and singing by the multi-talented captain and crew. One night, deckhand Johann from California donned a kilt and sang “Underneath a Scotsman’s Kilt.” Captain Barry plays guitar, and all of the crew are naturally musical. Doing nothing except sitting up on deck, and being mesmerized by the awe-inspiring stars, is great too! The only night they weren’t super bright was when we docked in the town of Castine, home of the Maine Maritime Academy. Most often, the boat anchors in a safe harbor away from everyone. Only the sounds of animals like loons and seals can be heard, and only the light from the stars can be seen.
I was there on the last sail of the season, which was extra special because family and friends of the seasonal crew were on board to spend time with them and enjoy the crisp autumn sail. Rob was the first mate, and his calmness and skill, along with efficient deckhands Kate and Johann, helped keep the schooner sailing effortlessly. Passengers are encouraged to pitch in to raise, lower, and furl the sails–sometimes to the tune of singing shanties. Alex, Kate’s boyfriend, was aboard as a visitor but is a first mate on another Maine windjammer schooner. He and other helpers–Ally and Maddie, crew from previous seasons–were there to help out and enjoy the week. The feeling of camaraderie on a 90-foot yacht is so important. Even though the boat is large, with 30+ people it could get cramped if people were not cooperative and friendly. This time was as great as my last sail. Captain Barry and his fab crew make navigating a schooner without a motor look easy!
Funny as it sounds, getting up in the middle of the night to go up top to use the head was another favorite part of my trip. Of course, jumping out of the top bunk wasn’t that easy, but I could’ve opted for the bottom one since I had the cabin to myself. The tranquility and solitude of being on deck alone, under a tawny-orange awning lit solely by kerosene lamps, gave me a feeling of timelessness that I really can’t describe. Part of the magic of sailing on the schooner is that you feel connected with history and tradition. It connects me to my personal history as well, as both my grandfathers were sailors and came to America aboard sailing vessels, one from Italy and one from Denmark. All in all, I would sail on the Mary Day every year if I had the opportunity–spring, summer, or autumn. The cool temps didn’t detract from the soulful experience. Seeing the New England fall’s deciduous trees of orange, yellow, and red mixed with the dark green tall pines against the watercolor sky of purple and blue sky made it all worthwhile–not to mention the wonderful company!
NOTE: This trip was sponsored in part by The Mary Day.