Pirate Adventure Cruise
The Isaac H. Evans is ghosting across West Penobscot Bay in light airs under a silvery haze. Off our starboard quarter, we see the Heritage gaining slowly on our position. As the Heritage looms nearer, she blankets our wind and our speed drops; the blurred figures standing on her deck soon come into sharp focus and we see her captain, Doug Lee, strut coolly toward his portside cannon and dump black powder down its shiny brass barrel. They’re preparing to fire on us.
Aboard the Isaac H. Evans, there is sudden pandemonium. Captain Brenda Thomas calls out to her mate. “Brian! Load the cannon!”
Brian scrambles to a storage box and rummages for the powder, fuses, and a butane torch. In the meantime, Captain Brenda spins the wheel to starboard.
We are outgunned. The Heritage boasts a cannon atop both her starboard and port rails, but we have just one and it’s on the wrong side. Captain Brenda’s only hope is to harden the vessel into the wind, bring her port side along the Heritage’s beam, and blast ‘em.
Alas, Captain Doug Lee has steered too close for us to swing our bow, so we’re sitting ducks. The passengers and crew aboard the Heritage cover their ears, Captain Doug lights the blank charge, and the cannon fires a wagon wheel–sized smoke ring across the water and into our headsails.
It’s a decisive victory for the Heritage, but the scallywags aboard the Isaac H. Evans are not disheartened. When Brian returns fire across the open water to port, the giddy laughter that accompanies the blast makes clear that the kids and parents who signed on for the Isaac H. Evans’s 4-day Pirate Adventure Cruise are absolutely delighted.
And why wouldn’t they be? Captain Brenda has gone to great lengths to create a kid-friendly cruise. In each kid’s cabin the captain has provided a pirate hat, eye patch, and plastic cutlass; pirate-themed coloring books, stickers, and temporary tattoos; and pirate-themed mints and snacks. On deck there are two fishing rods, bubble makers, and various noisemakers. And atop the after-most cabinhouse there’s a four-pound bag of decidedly non-pirate-like M&Ms for the taking.
Captain Brenda is great with kids so it makes sense that the Isaac H. Evans is one of the few Maine windjammers to allow them. Of the vessels that do allow small children, the kids are often thrust into the alien setting of quiet, adult-like contemplativeness. On this trip, however, it’s the adults who’re subjected to the unfamiliar: the long-forgotten energies of youth.
There’s also a sense that the tail is wagging the dog here. Five children had originally been booked on this trip, but two young brothers and their father cancelled at the last minute for health reasons. That leaves only three children and their attendant guardians amid ten other passengers with varying degrees of enthusiasm for make-believe.
When the two boys backed out earlier today, there was palpable skepticism. Could the imagination of so few overshadow the grounded reality of so many? And, if imagination did succeed, would the resultant sprightliness prove unbearable?
So far, circumstances are looking good for everyone. The three kids quickly immersed themselves into their new roles as pirates-in-training, and the adults have thus far been amused by the kids’ well-mannered skullduggery.
For the most part, the kids are free to indulge their playful whims. Apart from some activities planned for tomorrow’s lobster bake and the final evening, there are no schedules here; however, according to the rules aboard the Isaac H. Evans, the children must complete four steps if they wish to graduate from pirates-in-training to fully certified buccaneers:
- Steer the ship
- Talk like a pirate
- Polish the cannon
- Swab the decks
As ye can imagine, the hearties aboard the Isaac H. Evans took to the first two chores smartly.
For one passenger, at least, there’s a greater incentive to perform these duties than just a paper pirate certificate. Eleven-year-old Hannah Hodskins of Alfred, Maine, is aboard the Isaac H. Evans for her third trip; someday she wants to be Captain Brenda’s apprentice.
Madison at the helm.
Captain Brenda takes on a few apprentices every season. Apprentices are usually teenagers who’ve sailed with Captain Brenda in the past.
“Sailing with them as passengers gives me a sense of what they’re capable of,” says Captain Brenda.
Apprentices don’t get paid and they’re generally asked to do the work that no one else wants to do. Still, it’s an excellent way to learn the ropes in this business, to see if it’s right for you, and to spend a few weeks cruising Penobscot Bay with free room and board.
Hannah is eager to prove she’d be a capable apprentice, and Captain Brenda is happy to give her a few odd jobs. This morning, for instance, Captain Brenda asked Hannah to climb into the yawlboat, put it in neutral, and kill the engine — salty stuff for an 11 year old.
Still, there’s not exactly a line forming for deck swabbing and brass polishing, but we’ll see what the coming days bring.
In the evening, after a long day of hazy skies and light winds, we eat poached salmon with asparagus and wild rice, and drop anchor a few moments before the sun sets over Bucks Harbor.
A pirate’s life, indeed.
Johnny Evans climbs the rigging.