Down East 2013 ©
When the morning fog burns off, the sun shines brightly from a deep blue sky, the air is calm and hot, and the water around the Heritage is glassy still.
It’s a lazy morning: a few passengers row around Long Cove; ospreys chase bald eagles over spruce trees on the nearby shore; and Jan Czasak sits on the quarterdeck and plays an unhurried set of chanteys on his beat-up guitar.
The crew is in no rush to raise the anchor, and that suits everyone just fine. The big topic of conversation this morning is how exhausted we all feel.
It’s hard to reconcile just how strenuous sailing can be. Our exercise yesterday was moderate at best: we rowed back and forth from the lobster bake on Spectacle Island, we raised the sails, and we hauled the yawlboat, but other than that we pretty much loafed about.
Lowering the flag at sunset.
Nonetheless, we’re bushed. As easy and agreeable as it was to sail downwind yesterday, we still burned a great deal of calories by simply sitting on housetops. As the Heritage gently pitched, yawed, and rolled, each muscle in our bodies maintained the constant—yet nearly imperceptible—duty of keeping our heads on straight. After six straight hours of holding a steady equilibrium, I feel just as tired as if I’d hiked all day.
But it’s a satisfying exhaustion. It’s the kind of tiredness that makes you feel blissful, at ease, perhaps even a little high.
As the passengers and crew luxuriate in this quiet anchorage, I take a seat next to Captain Doug who’s perched on the aft cabintop of his Heritage.
If you’ve ever embarked on a home improvement project, you know the pride that comes with completion. Even if your task was as simple as repainting a room or planting a tree, there’s a good chance you sat back and admired your handiwork long into the twilight hours, and maybe even patted yourself on the back for days and weeks to come.
Now imagine if you’d designed a 95-foot coasting schooner, built it with your own hands, and made a decent living driving it around the coast of Maine.
It’s understandable then that Captain Doug Lee is proud of his vessel. And he’s quick to remind his passengers that the Heritage is the only windjammer in the Maine fleet that was designed and built by her captains.
Just as architects seldom build the houses they design and homebuilders seldom live in the houses they construct, boats are rarely built by their designers and rarely sailed by their builders.
And it’s not just rare in today’s fleet. The same was true back when schooners carried cargo.
Nowadays, of course, passengers have replaced cargo, so Captains Lee designed the Heritage with passengers in mind. The cabins are relatively spacious and each one is equipped with a power outlet for laptops, cell phone chargers, and digital cameras. The galley is sprawling and comfortable. And the heads are user-friendly.
There are some who would question the authenticity of the Heritage experience. After all, she was launched in 1983—the era of Rubik’s Cube and Reagan, not hoop rolling and Roosevelt. But Captain Doug would shrug off such black-and-white thinking. During the bygone era of sail, each vessel was designed to haul the dominant cargo of the day, whether it was timber, stone, or fruit. Today’s coasters carry passengers, so, as Captain Doug sees it, the Heritage’s accommodating design is just another evolutionary step in an ongoing continuum.
Sailing the Heritage.
Besides, if you weren’t aware of the Heritage’s launch date, you might never suspect she’s so new. Unlike the Friendship of Salem, which was imbued with ultramodern elements, the Lees kept it real. They built the Heritage with tried-and-true methods and materials from days past; even going so far as to hand-forge her ironwork.
It’s close to 11:00 a.m. when the wind finally picks up, the anchor is weighed, and we raise sail.
If you ever sail aboard the Heritage, prepare yourself for the irrepressible catchiness of “Haul Away Joe.” Each morning after the sail ties have been cast aside and the halyards uncoiled, we sing this chantey as we raise the sails.
Way, haul away,
We haul away together,
Way, haul away,
We haul away, Joe.
The crew and passengers are encouraged to invent their own verses. Before hauling begins, each tune-minded volunteer picks a number. For instance, you might raise your hand and say, “I’ll take Verse 2.” Although I never mustered the gumption to assault the passengers with my own warbling, a made-up verse might go something like this:
My name is Ben and I’m here to write some stories,
Of the mate who smelled so bad we had to tow him in a dory.
After five mornings of raising sail aboard the Heriatge, I can tell you the melody of “Haul Away Joe” will never leave my mind. Even if I grow to be a bedridden and feeble old man, even if the names of my dearest loved ones somehow escape me, or great blocks of memory fade to lacunae, I am absolutely certain this tune will syill cling to the cortical folds.
Reeling from the canon blast.
It’s a charming melody, but you are nonetheless warned.
We leave Long Cove, sail into West Penobscot Bay, then enter the Fox Islands Thoroughfare. Winds are light in the Thoroughfare, and, without a cooling breeze, we bear the full brunt of the summer sun. On the foredeck, the crew lazes in the heat. Alex Hardt takes a seat atop the samson post and plays guitar.
It is jaw-droppingly good.
I immediately assume that Alex is a classically trained guitarist, but it turns out he’s self-taught. He took an interest in guitar at boarding school, studied up on it through library books, and practiced endlessly in his dorm room.
Alex was granted a full scholarship at his prep school. “I was their token lobsterman,” Alex modestly says. Toward the end of his senior year, however, Alex flunked out. When the school faculty met to discuss Alex’s fate, many teachers spoke out on his behalf: Alex was doing very well in their classes. As it turned out, however, those classes weren’t in Alex’s course schedule.
We’ve all known people who were too smart for high school; people with inquisitive minds who learn best when they’re free to pursue their own interests, set their own pace, and delve into topics as deeply they see fit. It’s a good thing, then, that Alex met the Lees. Sailing—with its science, strategy, craftsmanship, history, and pre-history—is an endless vein for a thinker to mine.
That goes for the rest of the crew as well. As Harry Sandler put it, “Sailing is great—that’s why I like this job—but it’s Doug’s knowledge and storytelling that make working on the Heritage so nice.”
And Captain Doug is quite a storyteller. (If there’s any doubt, Doug will sell you a copy of his spoken-word CD, And That’s a True Story.) On the night of Day 1, while we were anchored in Port Clyde, Captain Doug recited from memory, “The Night Charlie Tended Weir”—a lengthy ballad that aggrandizes a herring fisherman in the same way “Devil Went Down to Georgia” does a fiddler. Tonight, after we’d sailed around the northern shore of North Haven and dropped anchor in Pulpit Harbor, Captain Doug treats us to more stories. The first of which is how the Heritage got her name.
“When we built the schooner 1983,” Captain Doug says, “we had to come up with a name. So we played around with a few different ideas. As you know, I’m very much interested in maritime history and the era of the coasting schooner. That’s why we don’t have an engine on the Heritage; she wouldn’t be the real thing if she did. And so this vessel harkens to the ‘heritage’ of the coasting schooners, correct?
“Isn’t that a great story?
“Well, it has nothing to do with the truth. In 1983 we needed money really badly, and the name of our bank was Heritage Savings and Loan. So we named our vessel the Heritage hoping we’d get some money. But back in 1983, banks didn’t have any money. Remember that? Interest rates were 22%, they didn’t have a penny, and the whole outfit was going to hell, you see. And they said, ‘We’d love to help you, Doug, and we appreciate you naming her Heritage, but we don’t have any money. How about you try the First Federal Savings and Loan Company in Bangor.’ We did, and we got the money from them, but their name was too long to fit on the stern, so she remained the Heritage.”
Doug generally concludes his tales with “And that’s a true story,” but I suspect his trademark signoff is a playful euphemism for balderdash. Personally, I’d prefer to believe the Heritage got her name not from a bank, or the fact that she has no inboard engine, but rather from its crews—the men and women of the Rockland area who, without the Lees, might never reacquaint with their coasting heritage.
After dinner, a full-blown party erupts. Passengers mingle on the deck still clothed in their Heritage gear. The yachtsmen drink wine, the Navy vets drink rum, and the Lees entertain them with more stories.
At the starboard beam, the crew lowers a rowboat on her davits and rigs her for sail. I step down the ladder and join Adam, Alex, Harry, Morgan, and Ryan for a short sail around Pulpit Harbor. This crew has been sailing on 6-day trips every week for a month, and everyone is rightly exhausted. Tonight’s chores are done and they’re free to bed down whenever they like, but instead they go sailing under a twilight sky.
There’s no destination in mind, no place to be, no practical reason for being here other than the simple joy it brings.
Jan on the strongback.
Up next: The Great Schooner Race aboard the Lewis R. French