Aboard the Heritage Day 1: Rockland to Port Clyde
It’s a hot, humid morning when I take the stairs and descend into the steamy, wood-fired heat of the Heritage’s galley. In a few hours we’ll depart our dock at Rockland’s North End Shipyard; in the meantime, the passengers are assembled for a breakfast of scrambled eggs and ham.
Seated with my back toward the woodstove, I begin to sweat almost immediately. For the most part, it’s a genuine, heat-induced perspiration, but there’s a degree to which my sweat is unnatural and embarrassing. Flop sweat, you might call it.
As my stinging eyes scan the dry, smiling faces sitting across from me, I feel like an interloper. Almost everyone in the galley has been aboard the Heritage at least once before; they all wear t-shirts and hats emblazoned with the Heritage logo—fabrics that had been purchased years ago and have long since faded from countless wash cycles or brutal punishments under bright sun.
I’d been warned of this phenomenon. I’d been told by several people in the Maine windjamming industry that the Heritage has its own cult—a feverish pack of devotees for whom summer would lose all splendor if it weren’t accompanied by at least one voyage aboard the “Great Windship.”
This is a benign cult — it’s not as if they’re going to bathe the forward deck in the crimson blood of virgins — but their dedication to windjamming is nonetheless intimidating. If I’d nursed any presumptions that on my fifth trip of the season I was a fledgling expert in all things sea and sand, this cadre of like-dressed believers obliterated any illusions.
When the clinking of silverware on plates finally ceases, Captain Doug Lee rises from his seat and addresses his guests. He works his way around the galley and asks everyone to introduce themselves, say where they’re from, and enumerate their various sails with Captains Lee.
The record holder, by a mile, is Harvey Rubin, a retired school administrator from Flushing, New York. Rubin has sailed with the Lees on a whopping 34 trips.
But there are a slew of other tallies that are nothing to scoff at. Over the years, many of this week’s passengers have amassed double-digit trips aboard the Heritage.
These numbers are due in part to a generous promotion on the part of the Lees (for every nine paid trips, your tenth is gratis), but that couldn’t possibly account for every repeat passenger. Repeat vacations, after all, often fall prey to their own high expectations. If you’ve ever experienced the perfect vacation, there’s a good chance you tried to re-create that magic and somehow failed. Perhaps there was something about the second or third time around that couldn’t quite compete with the time-softened remembrances of that initial trip. Perhaps you eventually sought R&R elsewhere.
Morgan Parmenter at the helm.
I don’t yet know what it is about the Heritage that keeps passengers coming back for more, but I intend to keep a sharp watch.
In the meantime, we have places to go. When the groceries are loaded and stowed, the crew casts off the lines, and Linda Lee tows us out of our berth with the yawlboat. The cook, a buxom, tattooed lady named Morgan Parmenter, takes the helm and as the vessel eases into the channel, then she steers us into the outer harbor.
On our way out, we approach a French square-rigger swinging to her anchor. It’s an impressive sight, and Captain Doug Lee—an aficionado of such things—moves to the foredeck with his camera to snap a few shots. When Captain Doug spots Rockland’s assistant harbormaster sitting in a Boston Whaler at the square-rigger’s starboard beam—and marring an otherwise beautiful composition with its intrusive fiberglass shell—our captain calls out to him.
“Get out of my damned picture,” Captain Doug bellows.
The assistant harbormaster—perhaps knowing better than to tangle with likes of Captain Doug Lee — immediately fires the outboard engine and sheepishly backs out of the frame.
As we round the square-rigger’s bows, the bawdy Heritage crew calls out to the Frenchmen.
“Bon jour!” they shout in cartoonish French accents.
Jan Czasak, one of the Heritage deckhands, swaggers to the port rail and makes the Frenchmen a proposal.
“We have chocolate,” he yells. “Give us your women!”
Goodwill ambassadors these are not.
Nonetheless, there’s something endearing about this spectacle. After all, it’s not as though the Heritage crew is going to swing on halyards to the opposing deck and engage the Frenchmen in hand-to-hand combat. They’re just sailors greeting other sailors in the only manner that suits. These aren’t yachtsmen, mind you, so there’s no currency in a polite exchange of tout de l’heures. Better that everything remain aboveboard, and the Heritage boys stay true to their heritage.
Maybe now is the best time to mention that most of the Heritage crew hails from the greater Rockland area. Jan Czasak, a deckhand, grew up in Rockland; Alex Hardt, the other deckhand, comes from a long line of Spruce Head lobstermen; Ryan Shay, a messmate, grew up in Owls Head; the apprentice, Steve Morrison, grew up in Rockland; and Morgan Parmenter, the cook, wandered to the docks from the mean hills of nearby Washington, Maine.
This is noteworthy. Many crews in the Maine windjammer fleet are comprised entirely of kids from faraway states, which is odd considering Rockland’s rich schooner tradition. In 1876, for instance, the keeper at Owls Head Light—the very lighthouse we’re sailing past as we leave Rockland Harbor—counted over 16,000 schooners sailing around of Penobscot Bay. (Granted, this number doesn’t distinguish between unique and repeat visitors, but that’s still some pretty heavy traffic.)
Linda Lee drives the yawlboat.
In some ways, you’d think windjamming would be a birthright for the sons and daughters of Rock City, but they aren’t exactly lining up for the privilege. If today’s windjammer crews are any indication, the kids in Rockland have all but abandoned their heritage. (Perhaps the most stinging example of this can be found in the naming of local sports teams: Camden Hills High School has its Windjammers, while Rockland High has its Tigers. [Tigers? In Rockland, Maine? That’s about as geographically appropriate as, say, the Richmond Yankees or Hell’s Snowballs.])
There are some indications that Rockland is re-embracing the schooners, at least on a civic level. Last spring, the city councilors voted to waive a half-million dollars in dredging fees so the windjammers Stephen Taber, Nathaniel Bowdtich, and J. & E. Riggin can have permanent berths at a new dock in Lermond Cove, and taxpayer outrage was surprisingly minimal given the town’s current political/aesthetic climate.
Rockland, after all, is often a dishearteningly practical town. This is a place where the city sewers terminate in a treatment facility mere feet from the main drag — its summertime odors mingling with the nearby bustle of commerce. (I’m sure the thinking at the time of its installation was purely economic: Why spend a few extra dollars to site our sewage elsewhere? A little smell never killed anyone, right?)
And Rockland’s waterfront is almost entirely industrial. Aside from a scruffy little beach, a public landing, and a handful of marinas and private homes, the notion of preserving waterfront for an aesthetic refuge is gruffly dismissed as a bourgeois concept.
And then there are Captains Lee who’ve managed to find a middle ground. In 1976 they—along with John Foss, captain of the American Eagle¬—bought the North End Shipyard. Here is a place with all the clamor and grime of a working waterfront, yet it serves as a launching point for the bourgeois pursuits of tourists seeking pristine coastlines aboard windjammers.
French square-rigger Belem.
And, perhaps in some conscientious effort to maintain this middle ground, the Lees hired a crew of rough-and-tumble locals to navigate the ship between those two starkly different realities.
Apart from perhaps the Green Boat crews, the Heritage crew best demonstrates the term schooner bum: they’re a ragtag band of tattooed, hirsute rabble rousers—the kinds of guys you’d want to back you up in a bar fight. And yet the Lees take serious umbrage to the term.
“These aren’t schooner bums,” the Lees have been known to say. “We don’t hire bums.”
So, in deference to my hosts, I will hereafter refer to the Heritage crew as schooner professionals.
I spend most of Day 1 on bow watch with these schooner professionals. It’s a foggy day on the coast of Maine and the wind is on our nose.
A hundred years ago, a coasting schooner may have sat at anchor during thick fog or an opposing breeze. A captain bound for ports west or south from Penobscot Bay—directly into the prevailing summer winds—may have waited for a favorable northerly wind known as a “chance along.” But we’re on a specialty trip. In two days we’ll participate in a windjammer parade in Boothbay Harbor, so we motor all day against a gentle rolling sea and anchor for the night off the charming fishing village of Port Clyde.
Alex Hardt and Ryan Shay secure the anchor.