Down East 2013 ©
As the joke goes, Maine has two seasons: winter and the Fourth of July. Today is Independence Day and the old adage proves true. It’s a beautiful summer day: last night’s high winds and storms are long gone; Mackerel Cove is flat as a fritter; the air is hot and still.
Captain Garth takes passengers on shore trips to the Public Landing near the Swans Island ferry terminal. I tag along.
When we reach the shore, Captain Garth asks if I know of any nearby fireworks displays scheduled for this evening. I don’t.
Fourth of July colors.
We both fire up our cell phones—the use of which isn’t permitted aboard the Lewis R. French — and we call around to inquire. I find out from my wife that the only two events are inconveniently located in Thomaston and Searsport. Garth, through his contacts, learns the same.
Back aboard the boat, a few people are readying themselves for a swim. It might be a scorching day in July, but these chilly waters don’t make for a day at the beach: the surface temperature is still a bracing 62 degrees.
Despite this, Cully lathers himself in soap and jumps in for a quick bath.
You’d think that Cully, an Alabaman, would be unused to such cold, but he seems completely unbothered as he swims leisurely around the boat. A North Carolinian passenger, on the other hand, appears less at ease when his body enters the water; he quickly scampers up the ladder and shivers under the sun on the quarterdeck.
Trip after trip, I’ve seen this situation repeated. Crews and passengers will plop side by side into the same chilly waters, but the schooner bums always fare better. Perhaps working outdoors or living aboard during spring fit-out redefines cold.
Napping in the yawlboat.
When the mate dries off, it’s time to raise anchor.
Raising the anchor with a manual windlass is by far the most physically exhausting task aboard a windjammer. Even with a team of four, it is backbreaking. To make matters worse, the crew deployed the much heavier storm anchor last night.
You would think, then, that the crew would try to rustle up extra hands to crank the windlass for them, but Cully and Hilary are turning able-bodied volunteers away; it is a task they are determined to be a part of themselves.
This is perhaps the best illustration of what separates schooner bums from the people we know in everyday life: their willingness and desire to do hard labor. Watching the Lewis R. French crew at work, you get the impression that messmate Hilary Clark would vault over a brick wall if there was a line on the other side that needed hauling, and mate Cully Dorer would pass out and die before he’d voluntarily stop cranking the windlass.
Furling the headsails.
And you see examples of this all the time.
For instance, later in the afternoon, after cook Jenny Wells finishes her lunch duties, she takes the helm for an hour or so and teaches a passenger the finer points of navigating the narrow channels of Merchant Row. This is Jenny’s break — a time when she’s free to go below for a well-deserved nap — yet she chooses to continue working instead.
We motor in a dead calm through Merchant Row and pass Stonington. When we reach East Penobscot Bay, however, the wind picks up, and, for the rest of the afternoon, we sail in a perfect 15-knot breeze. To the west, the lowering sun blazes a shimmering path atop the water, and we follow it to Islesboro.
When we anchor in Gilkey Harbor, Cully and Hilary climb onto the head rig to furl the headsails, and Jenny goes aloft to wrestle the topsail before serving us another well-crafted meal.
As the sun sets behind the nearby Camden Hills, the sky turns orange, pink, then purple. We might not see a fireworks display tonight, but this will do just fine.
Up next: Whale Watching Aboard the Angelique