Thursday, May 22, 2008
I wake up to the sound of the yawlboat's motor; the Mercantile
is already in motion. I get dressed and go topsides for a cup of coffee. The sails are still furled, there's little wind, and Penobscot Bay is flat calm. The air is warm and sunny with a touch of humidity. It's going to be a hot day back on land.
Matt rings the breakfast bell and Alison carries quiche out of the galley and onto the deck. When I'm done eating, I walk back to the quarterdeck and say hello to Captain Ray.
"Do you think you can find Camden?" he asks me.
"I think so."
Captain Ray turns the helm over to me while he goes forward for a plate of quiche. I point the bow at the distant silhouette of Curtis Island Light and make small corrections to the wheel. The Camden Hills loom off the starboard side; the windows of the seaside homes glint in the morning sun.
When Captain Ray is done eating, he takes the helm and I help Andy and Matt wash dishes in plastic basins on the aft cabin house. This isn't seamanship by a long shot, but it's a necessary part of windjamming and it feels good to chip in.
Andy and Matt have been buddies since high school in Memphis, Tennessee; they've got an easy rapport and crack jokes as they pass sudsy plates down the line for rinsing and drying. Despite this long history of friendship, they're not exclusionary. They might be the cool kids at the back of the bus, but they're not the types to launch spitballs at any flatfooted outsiders who enter their sphere. They're not pandering, either. Sure, their job requires them to greet each passenger with a warm smile, but I get the sense they'd be no different off the clock.
enters Camden Harbor and Andy eases the yawlboat's throttle to idle speed. As we drift, Captain Ray instructs his green crew on the docking procedure, and they practice throwing lines in the forgiving sprawl of the outer harbor.
It's been four days since we left the dock, but the memories of those tense moments are still fresh. I feel nervous - not for our safety, but rather for the pride of the crew. Tonight at the bar they'll probably take some knocks from the other schooner bums. Our rocky departure last Monday is probably already the stuff of legends; another plot line for As the Anchor Drags. They don't need an encore performance today in a crowded harbor.With the crew readied, Andy throttles up the yawlboat and the Mercantile
drives down the inbound channel toward town. When we're midway there, Captain Ray gives the order for Matt to sound our approach. Matt draws a deep breath, raises the conch shell to his lips, and blows a warbled, sputtering, skin-crawlingly flat note. Matt laughs nervously and takes another deep breath. This time the note is low and steady.
It feels like we're going too fast as we glide past the long lines of sailboats docked closely around the channel. The waterway is narrowing and we're drawing ever closer to Megunticook Falls, yet our pace remains steady. I go to my usual spot amidships and grip the top of the cabin house and sink my fingernails into the varnished pine.
The Passengers and crew.
When we're almost out of sea room, Captain Ray spins the wheel sharply to port and our speed drops. The Mercantile
carves a hairpin turn at the head of the harbor then drifts slowly toward her home berth. A few moments later, the Mercantile
gently nudges the raft of Green Boats as she slows to a quiet halt.
I go below to my cabin, gather up my belongings, and say goodbye to the passengers, crew, and Captain Ray.
"We'll see you on the Grace Bailey
," says Captain Ray.
"I'm looking forward to it."
When everyone clears out, I throw my dry-bag high over my shoulder, hop down from the Mercantile
, and walk steadily across the dock floats toward home.
Coming soon: A three-day cruise aboard the Mary Day.