Summer's Maine Event

(This is part one of a two-part article. Part 2)

…with the sea you never take liberties. You ask her, you don't tell her. You have to remember always that she's the leader, not you. You and your boat are dancing to her tune.
      Michael Morpurgo, Alone on a Wide Wide Sea

My wife (Pat) and I honeymooned (is that a verb?) on the coast of Maine more than 40 years ago. Over then next dozen years we returned regularly, traveling up and down the rocky coast, visiting towns and harbors and inlets, Andre the Seal, and (only once!) Acadia National Park. We followed, in a limited way, my Dad's footsteps, as he, along with a few artist friends, made regular autumn painting trips to the coast and islands. All of this pre-dates photography taking over my life, so most of the snapshots we have from those trips are just that; snapshots, made for all the reasons people make them, but with little artistic value. It was a different time.

In those years we saw the many Maine harbor towns become more crowded with tourists (of which we were a part, of course), with car traffic exceeding the capacity of the smaller villages. At some point the hassles exceeded the fun, or at least exceeded our willingness to tolerate the crowds and traffic. We began looking for other areas to wander. By the mid-90s we found ourselves going to Montana, Wyoming, Washington, and Alaska during our vacation breaks, with outlier excursions to the UK, Europe, and Norway; Downeast had become a distant memory.

A lot of life has happened since those days. We've lived in Montana since 2003, rarely thinking of any return trips to Maine. Until late winter, 2015. While visiting friends Marie and Marty, Pat mentioned reading about a Maine coastal schooner offering trips of various durations. Having extensive experience with powered boats, Marty was more than interested. Marie and Pat were willing; I maintained my usual skepticism. After some research, and revisiting memories of our long-ago travels in Maine, we found ourselves signed up for a four-day September cruise on the coastal schooner Heritage. September seemed like forever away. A along and challenging summer kept the trip somewhere in the black hole beyond the back of my mind.

September arrived as it always has, more suddenly than I ever expect. The time had come to clean the optics, figure out how to pack the photo gear for air travel (something I'd done only a few times since 9/11 changed everything), call the cat-sitter, and then head for the airport.

The Rain, in Maine…

Aboard the schooner Heritage, passing Rockland Breakwater Light

Aboard the schooner Heritage, passing Rockland Breakwater Light (iPhone photo)

After an amenity-free pair of flights (United Airlines setting the standard: we spent over seven hours, on two airplanes, with zero service, not even the offer of water or the usual pretzels and peanuts.) we arrived in Portland, ME. After spending the night in a hotel near the airport we drove up the coast through Rockland, Rockport, Camden, and beyond. I felt overwhelmed by the car and pedestrian traffic; the shear numbers left me numb. Traffic crawled within the towns, although it moved a bit better on the roads in between. We eventually found a parking spot in Camden, had a nice lunch, and looked around the harbor and public docks. Except for the mind-blowing number of people, little else had changed since our last visit decades ago. Late in the afternoon we returned to Rockland to board the Heritage. After being directed to our cabins and unloading our gear, we headed into downtown Rockland for dinner, during which wind and rain arrived. Back at the boat, we spent the night moored to the dock.

Rain, wind, fog, and chill air greeted us the next morning. The Maine coast in September. After a hearty breakfast, the first in what would be a series of outstanding meals in the warm, wood-stove-heated galley, the crew cast off. The ship's motorized yawl, Clark Kent, pulled us away from the dock and then pushed us out of the harbor. After hauling up the yawl the crew raised sails and we were underway “on tack”.

In fog and off-and-on light rain, both of which stayed with us for most of the day, we departed Rockland, sailed the Fox thoroughfare between North Haven and Vinal Haven islands, across Isle Au Haut Bay, through the Deer Isle thoroughfare past Stonington, finally anchoring in calm and secluded Southeast Harbor near Oceanville on Deer Isle. Along the way we passed Rockland Breakwater light (shown here and at the top of this page), and lighthouses at Brown's Head, Goose Rocks, and Mark Island. We made 29 nautical miles in about nine hours.

How to Have Fun in the Fog

Lines and pitch-coated block on the Heritage

Pitch-coated block and lines (iPhone photo)

For much of the day we were cold, wet, windblown, and having a wonderful time. During occasional periods of dense fog, when little of our surroundings could be seen, I prowled the Heritage studying the beautiful woodwork and interesting bits of hardware, of which there's a great deal on a sailing ship. On the lookout for anything that might make unusual compositions and photographs, I worked (photographically) on coils and bundles of line (rope); the sails; the three rowboats; and more. The fog made for very even, soft light. Keeping the camera and lens dry in the wind-driven drizzle proved to be impossible; I had some luck using my hat to cover the lens while moving around on deck. When the fog let up a bit I made a few “moody” lighthouse photos. For these, and for later photos of the islands under a clearing sky, I used a bag of rice, which I'd purchased in Rockland, as a beanbag on which to steady the camera.

I also made a large number of snapshots with Pat's iPhone 6, something I'd never done before. We chose to leave our ancient point-n-shoot camera at home, instead relying on the higher-resolution iPhone for these pictures. The phone only saves jpegs, so I'd have a somewhat different workflow processing those files at home, compared to the raw files from the old point-n-shoot. Most of the pictures used in this article are from the iPhone.

Captain Doug Lee entertained with hilarious stories during our evening meal, a feast prepared by ship's cook Shaun and his “helpers”. During the day they baked (again, on the wood stove) eight loaves of bread, two of which went into the stuffing in the pork roast. They also baked pies, more bread the next day, etc. We never wanted for food! Coming up on deck after dinner, a little before 8:00 PM, we found it had become calm and quite dark, while the cloak of heavy clouds remained. It had been a full day. Time for bed.

About 1:30 AM, in the beam of a small flashlight, I climbed up to the deck for a look at the night sky. My hope that the clouds would depart was surpassed by a breathtaking black sky filled with stars. Photographing them from the gently rolling ship's deck would have been impossible, but I did stand in awe at the silence, the solitude (no other fools on deck at that hour), and the stars.

Sunny And Slow

Rowboat Archie and schooner Heritage, from 'Lobster' Island

Rowboat Archie and schooner Heritage (anchored), from 'Lobster' Island (iPhone photo)

Dawn arrived bright, clear, and very calm. After breakfast we backtracked a bit toward Stonington. Light wind made for slow going; fortunately we'd no need to hurry. By early afternoon we'd anchored at Wreck Island, a state-owned 15-acre wildlife sanctuary. Today it would be temporarily renamed “Lobster Island.” Two trips with the 16-passenger rowboat Archie moved the passengers to the island. A couple more trips by crew members brought all the materials and food for a huge lobster lunch. The “leave no trace” sanctuary required everything be brought to the island: food, utensils, firewood, the large metal pot, even the fire ring. At the end of the feast everything would be packed up and returned the the Heritage. Clearly the crew had done this many times, as they pulled it off without a hitch. They'd arranged for perfect weather, too, giving us a brilliantly sunny, warm day.

After our amazing lunch, and all trace of our presence on the island had been removed, we began sailing back toward Rockland. Perhaps “sailing” isn't the appropriate term, thanks to insufficient wind to fill the sails. We had a schedule to keep, making it necessary to put into service again the Clark Kent. The little yawl pushed us at a reasonable pace most of the way back to North Haven.

A nice sky and sunset at the end of a perfect day along the Maine coast.

A nice sky and sunset at the end of a perfect day. (Canon EOS 5D MkIII, Canon EF 24-70mm F/2.8L II USM lens)

The day wound down with an interesting sky and a lovely sunset; once again, aided by the bag of rice, I made a few photos with the DSLR. Because of darkness we anchored for the night only a few miles from our home port. An early start the next morning got us back to the ship's dock in Rockland, where we gathered our gear and loaded the car.

The Heritage, her crew, and owner-captains Doug and Linda Lee provided a great time, lovely views of a beautiful part of the U.S., wonderful and often hilarious stories, and an overall interesting experience. Consensus among the Montana contingent: well worth doing, although given the logistics (and expense!) of the Montana-to-Maine-to-Montana trip we're unlikely to do it again.

The coastal schooner Heritage is a large, impressive, stable ship. You'll find specifications, photos, and trip itineraries on the Schooner Heritage Web site.

In Part 2 we'll drive north up the Maine coast to Mount Desert Island to visit Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.

September, 2015

All products and brand names mentioned are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.