Aboard the HeritageDay 2: Port Clyde to Linekin Bay, Boothbay
The schooner professionals aboard the Great Windship Heritage have it pretty good. The forward cabinhouse is so tall that any crewmember lazing about the foredeck is completely hidden from the captain at his helm. As such, the foredeck is often a debauched scene of cigarette smoking, guitar playing, and bawdy language. The crew, like delinquent teens hiding behind the family garage, gets away with behavior that, on any other ship, simply wouldn’t fly.
But it’s not as if the crew is bending any serious rules. In the grand scale of things, even the worst of the crew’s unchecked behavior is fairly mild. Besides, there’s a tacit arrangement between the captains and crew: as long as the work gets done, the foredeck will remain the fiefdom of the crew. If things get out of hand, however, the crackdown will be swift and encompassing.
The crew understands this fine line, respects its boundary, and does good work. But, during long tacks, when there’s virtually nothing to do, the crew does not engage in arbitrary busywork.
At first, I chafed against this reasonable approach. Yesterday, while motoring through the fog with little to do, I picked up a bucket, filled it with saltwater, and began rinsing the decks.
“What are you doing?” asked Linda Lee.
“I’m rinsing the deck.”
“We do that once in the morning,” she said.
I knew from previous trips that it’s a cardinal sin to say to a captain, “Well, on the So and So, they rinse the decks four times a day.” So I kept my mouth shut, joined the crew for a lazy afternoon on the foredeck, and found it to be utterly pleasant.
Heritage and Nathaniel Bowditch at anchor.
In fact, by the morning of Day 2, I was a bit of a pro at the do-nothing approach, and was looking forward to spending another full day lounging with the crew.
But first, I take a chance at getting an audience with the Lees.
Captain Doug Lee is an expert on the subjects of schooners, sailing, and local history. Expertise, per se, isn’t a rarity in the fleet, but the breadth of Captain Doug’s expertise is backed by a literal maritime museum on display in his house. Captain Doug jokes that he needs to build an addition just to store his private collection of archival photographs. Plus, the captain has been in the windjamming business longer than just about anybody.
These credentials seem to attract a unique clientele. For the most part, the passengers aboard this trip are erudite yachtsmen, experienced Navy veterans, and amateur historians, but these learned gentlemen seem less interested in tapping Captain Doug’s expansive knowledge as they are in somehow matching it. It’s as if they’re chess masters queuing up to challenge Deep Blue.
In short, you need to take a number to chat up the captain.
So, while Doug Lee holds his own against all comers, I rejoin the crew on the foredeck.
Jan, the deckhand, tells a story of how last winter he partied his way through most of Greece, Italy, France, and Hungary until he ran out of money and had to walk penniless through the xenophobic countryside of Slovakia. When he reached Austria, people were much more inclined to give him rides, so he hitchhiked to Berlin where he met up with his father, and together they flew home to the States.
Tales like this aren’t uncommon among, um, schooner professionals. Naturally, windjamming is a seasonal business, so, if you’ve saved enough money, you can spend your winters however you see fit. Granted, you’re not going to make a lot of money on a windjammer, but you won’t be paying for food or rent, so saving is somewhat easy. Loads of sailors take the opportunity to travel during the off-season. The Green Boats’ Andy Gardiner, for instance, spent last winter holed up with two friends in a sketchy wayside town in Costa Rica. Hilary Clark from the Lewis R. French spent three months traveling alone in India. Adam McKinlay, the Heritage’s mate, returns home to Colorado every fall to be a ski bum. (Ski professional?) And there are plenty of sailors who fly south for the winter to crew on yachts and other windjammers in the Caribbean.
Ryan Shay lounging by the dolphin striker.
Which brings me to the mysterious migratory patterns of Atlantic puffins.
One of the advantages of a Boothbay Harbor trip is that Easter Egg Rock—a puffin colony—lies directly on the course line.
Puffins are by no means endangered, but they are rare to Maine. This wasn’t always the case. In the 1800s, puffins used to be common to Maine’s outlying islands, but they were hunted for food, and by 1900 they were largely gone. In 1973, however, the Audubon Society and the Canadian Wildlife Service sponsored a program known as Project Puffin. The goal was to re-introduce puffins to Eastern Egg Rock—a former breeding ground for these goofy looking auks.
Puffins, which resemble an unlikely cross between penguins and toucans, grow to 10 inches in height and weigh about as much as a can of soda (which makes you wonder just how hungry 1800s Mainers must have been). The puffins’ primary food is herring and other small fish. To catch their quarry, puffins swim under water—for about a minute at a time—by flapping their wings and steering with their feet. Chicks are usually fed by their parents, who carry fish to their offspring several times each day. The average life expectancy of a puffin is upwards of 20 years; the oldest-known puffin lived to the ripe old age of 36.
Furling the headsails.
In winter, the puffins’ trademark bills and feet become a dull shade of their former selves, but the colors once again become vibrant orange during the spring breeding season.
After fledgling, juvenile puffins migrate away from their colonies for two to three years. Where they go is not well known.
Eventually, however, they return to their colony of origin, and may even nest near the very burrow where they hatched.
From 1973 to 1981, 954 chicks were taken from Newfoundland and transplanted into hand-dug burrows on Eastern Egg Rock; 914 fledged. These transplanted puffins began returning to the colony in 1977. In 1981, four breeding pairs nested on the island, and the first native chick was born. As of June 2007, this once decimated colony had grown to 90 breeding pairs.
As the Heritage sails around Eastern Egg Rock, we see dozens of these playful birds flying, swimming, and diving under the hot summer sun as we point, holler, and snap photos.
The second advantage of a trip to Boothbay Harbor’s Windjammer Days is the lobster bake. Granted, each windjammer trip has its all-you-can-eat lobster bake, but on the Boothbay trip you get two. The first is sponsored by Boothbay’s Chamber of Commerce: any windjammer participating in tomorrow’s parade is welcome to drop the hook in Linekin Bay, row to the dock on Cabbage Island, and get in line for a heaping plate of lobster, steamers, corn on the cob, and a hard-boiled egg. (We’ve all heard of egg timers, but would you guess that an egg itself is a timer? When an egg sitting atop a steaming bed of rockweed becomes hard boiled, it indicates that lobsters cooking underneath are also ready to eat. Yankee ingenuity at its finest.)
I take a seat at a seaside picnic table alongside Alex and Sarah Kocsis from Columbus, Ohio. The Kocsises are here on their ninth Heritage trip (which means their next trip is free).
There’s probably no better example of the Cult of Captains Lee than this couple. Years ago while en route to their yearly Heritage vacation, Alex Kocsis suffered a heart attack. The Koscices missed the first day of the trip while Alex recovered in the hospital, but they boarded the Heritage on the morning of Day 2.
"I figured I could rest just as easily on the Heritage," Alex quips.
After dinner I find the Heritage crew playing badminton on the lawn. When they spot me standing on the sidelines, they generously cajole me into playing. I hesitate for a moment (games that require hand-eye coordination aren’t exactly my forte), but then grab a racket and lumber onto the field.
In the meantime, the wind has picked up, and it’s blowing parallel to the net. This means that no matter where the birdie is struck, it eventually rides the breeze to my exact location.
Nightmares are forged on much less.
The Heritage crew is gracious, however. They throw high fives when I manage to do well, and they’re quietly forgiving when I do not.
Soon a thunderstorm washes over Cabbage Island, the game ends, and I row with the crew to the rain-slicked Heritage.
On the quarterdeck we watch as a rainbow fades into oblivion, and the crew interprets the shapes of passing storm clouds with a candor that would make Rorschach blush.
The Heritage crew.