Schooner Adventures with Maine Windjammer Cruises.
The historic Grace Bailey.
She is magnificent under sail; she is a rustic and fun haven at anchor—Grace Bailey graces the sea—primarily along the rugged Penobscot Bay shorelines of Maine.
Camden is where the mountains meet the sea. Edna Vincent Millay wrote poetry from the top of the mountain overlooking Camden Harbor; Don McLean of “American Pie” fame lives here. In the summer enjoy bicycling, kayaking, hiking, or shopping in the unique shops and delis for unusual ice creams, big chocolate chip cookies, or fresh clam chowder or lobster bisque.
Grace Bailey is popular during the summer, just like a short summer romance that is never forgotten. Grace Bailey sails out of the Camden, one of several close-knit towns still clinging to the last vestiges of a bygone schooner era. Other schooners plying the summer tourism trade unfurl their flags from Rockport and Rockland, but Camden is the schooner hub, with three ships under the command of that nefarious raconteur captain, Ray, his apprenticing midshipman and nephew, Casey, Bearded Ben, first voyager and cook Emily, and her assistant, Brian. I must say, they kept us all from looking “too yachty.”
Conch honking Captain Ray
announces the start of
Grace Bailey’s five night voyage.
A passenger list of swabbies boarded the boat the night prior, after a dinner on our own at the many quaint cafes and bistros in Camden. Be warned: after boarding Grace “the beatings will continue until morale improves.” The Camden Town Public Landing is jammed with boats of all types, all awaiting the next morning motoring out of the harbor and into deeper adventure.
The companion schooners to the Grace Bailey—The Mistress and The Mercantile—both loaded their human cargo and then beat us out of the harbor; we would have to rouse a little earlier than the 10 a.m. blowing of the conch shell by Captain Ray signifying the start of a five day Windjammer experience. But the beatings had stopped and we were all stuffed with the morning breakfast rations.
We cowered around the worn and torn map unfolded on the mahogany framing planking abreast the helm. Fingers traced a route to Eggemoggin Reach, a short haul, about 25 minutes, for the first leg of excitement that later had us anchored at Bucks Harbor, embedded behind Cape Rosier, north of Camden. It was late June, and our original itinerary was downwind to Boothbay Harbor for the annual Maine Windjammer Days, but the bad beat steered us in the opposite direction.
Grace Bailey plys the rugged Maine Coastline.
The novice maties first set the mainsail and then set the foresail. Then we pulled on the lines, heaving the throat portside, and then on the starboard, the heaving of the peak. The sails snapped in place and caught the wind, and the lines were tied to the kingpins. Up went the triangular staysail.
We raced other schooners along an invisible course, and it was neck to neck with the Anqelique, or as our captain aptly phrased it, “And She Leaks”. By this time the Camden harbor had emptied itself out and now all ships were heading for anchorage. At Bucks Harbor Captain Ray glided Grace like a classic Coupe de Ville squeezed into a Volkswagen parking spot between the Angelique and The Mercantile. The hulk of an anchor clanked and we were pegged down for our own ad hoc Windjammer Days in the nestled arms of the tight harbor. Most of the 14-ship Maine Windjammer Association fleet had avoided Boothbay Harbor for these safe waters. Seven of these ships have been designated National Historic landmarks, and many were here today.
Heave the peak starboard.
Captain Ray moved from St. Croix, U.S.V.I. with his schoolteacher wife, Ann, where he was captaining a charter boat. In 1982 Ray heard about the traditional schooners sailing out of Camden and moved north as a Grace Bailey deck hand. “When in St. Croix I read about them. I said, ‘I got to go there. I gotta sail on them’,” says Ray. Then he was the captain of the Mistress and then the Mercantile. Four years later he was the proud owner of the three ship Maine Windjammer Cruises Fleet (www.mainewindjammercruises.com) that also now included the six passenger Mistress.
The original Windjammer Cruise Fleet started sailing for the tourists back in 1936. Penobscot Bay is the original and first cruising grounds in the world for passenger cruising. The Grace Bailey and Mercantile are not replicas. You will find original decking, graceful clipper bows, (new) hempen rigging, hand-carved wooden blocks, and polished fairleads. There is no high technology sailing going on here, but real skill sailing, using canvas sails. Captain Ray doesn’t need modern electronics and GPS devices, and they are not found onboard except for a FCC ship-to-shore radio. He doesn’t even need a sextant, because he knows the sea routes by rote.
As the first year owner of the fleet, Ray renovated each ship, a massive and expensive undertaking. It took him a year to rebuild the Grace Bailey from scratch; once out of dry dock he added the finer touches: burnishing brass, deck repair and replacement, new rigging, and some redesigning. Ray and Ann received national attention as preservers of historic vessels. His ultimate goal is to build a Square Rigger. “I need about $4 million to get it going and about two years to build it,” says Ray. His two nautical loves are shipbuilding and sailing. Ann and Ray’s grown daughters, Alyssa and Krista, grew up on the schooners, and they are experienced sailors themselves; Ann occasionally cooks aboard ship when not teaching kindergarten.
Part of the majestic schooner fleet.
Typical authentic Coastering Schooners have U-shaped hulls allowing them to bump and hug the glacier scarred and scraped granite Penobscot Bay coastline. There is no motor onboard an authentic windjammer. The diesel powered push is supplied by a yawl boat lowered from the transom when needed for power, and with the yawl’s 4-cyclinder diesel engine, The Grace Bailey is nudged neatly stern to shore. Blowing the conch at sunset is a Caribbean tradition, a sound not unlike a love sick moose, a blare shaped by the spiral turns of the shell.
If it were later in the season more guests would be acceptable to a quick dip in the icy waters; only a Boston-area chiropractor marathoned, trailing a wooden rowboat oared by his wife (also a chiropractor) and two teenage daughters.
The aft stateroom is the largest,
and most private, complete
with an upright piano.
Lobster pots have different colored buoys to identify their owners, according to Captain Ray. The abundance of lobster buoys shows you where the deep water lies. The absence of traps foretells an underwater ledge, so we sail a gauntlet of buoy lines on either side of us through a narrow strait.
The Grace Bailey comfortably sleeps 18-25 passengers in staterooms fore, midship, and aft, She has 12 private double cabins with either double beds or twin beds, all with a window or porthole for light and ventilation. There are two private single cabins and three Pullman berths. The four heads (one in each cabin area) are in busy use. The aft cabin is the largest stateroom, with a double bed on the floor deck and a private head—and a full-sized upright piano—a great family retreat for the chiropractors and daughters.
I occupied a single cabin—the Mattie Suite—once occupied by the former owner prior to Ray. We had a lighter crew this trip, about 16 of us. Many guests slept topside under a canvas awning, many uncomfortable with the close quarters below deck. All passengers enjoy the historical working museum, and one lady (not on this trip) has sailed on the Grace Bailey over 80 times.
Ship’s chef, Emily, assures
no sailor goes hungry.
Emily is a Culinary Institute of America student and she cooks everything on an authentic fire-breathing Shipmate woodstove. There is rivalry between all the windjammer cooks to see who can fire up their stove first and get the meal served the quickest, and the winner is announced with the clang of the ship’s bell. This evening Emily is just a minute behind the Angelique. I am amazed how she coordinates all the entrées to sort of all come out of the oven hot at the same time. During nippy mornings and evenings the warm galley is the most popular spot onboard, where hogsheads of molasses were once stored. Two companionways in the galley provide easy access to the cabins and upper deck. Get to the showers right after breakfast or dinner for the hottest water of the day because the pipes are designed close to the stove for an added free amenity.
Lunch is normally served topside, picnic buffet style, while breakfast and dinner are more communal in the galley. Breakfast is usually pancakes or waffles, cereals, muffins, crispy bacon, and breaded eggs, with fruit as a dessert. Lunch is a variation of luncheon meats, sandwiches, salad, lemonade, fried chicken, etc., and cakes; you don’t want to miss Emily’s pot blackened chili. Dinner meals are varied which usually chicken, as one of the entrées. All leftovers are biodegradable and thrown overboard to feed the lobsters.
The fare was beyond compare.
Grace Bailey was the Great Schooner Race Winner in 1993 in the Coaster Class and the overall winner in 1994. She was originally designed to carry hard pine from South Carolina and Georgia to Edwin Bailey’s lumber mills in Patchogue, New York. Built for Bailey by his good friend, business associate, and master shipbuilder, Oliver Perry Smith, she was launched in 1882 and named for Bailey’s daughter, Grace, who was born the same year. The Grace Bailey was registered for foreign trade, and made several trips to the East Indies. She was renamed the Mattie in 1906, Grace’s favorite niece. She relocated to Maine in 1910 as a coasterer carrying cargo, lumber, and Maine granite from Vinalhaven Island (once called the Fox Islands) and Stonington (where we made a day stop) for the New York City’s General Post Office and Grand Central Station.
Steamboats and traditional two-masted gaff-riffed schooners served as both mail boats and packets with the mainland and the islands. A packet was any vessel maintaining a steady, regular schedule for transporting goods and mail. The islanders just called them “the boat”. Other schooners in the Gilded Age packet business included the Planet, Watersprite, Excursion, Dove, Nora, Spy, and Nautilus.
Captain Frank Swift purchased the Mattie in 1939, which had been offering passenger vacation cruises in Penobscot Bay since 1936. The Mattie quickly became the flagship because of her popularity. In 1990 Captain Ray rechristened the ship the Grace Bailey, after another interior renovation.
By midmorning we had taken the halyards off the belaying pins to raise the broad canvas wings and we were sailing! That evening Captain Ray set up a barbecue over the gunwale to braise steaks and chicken, which was heartily anticipated. All food is part of your windjammer cruise package. But you have to bring your own booze and cigars (Smoking is only on the fantail trampoline and only when downwind.).
The Grace Bailey has a shallow draft for shallow coves.
Drinking water is supplied in a large barrel on deck. During the across-the-Atlantic routes in the ancient seafaring days, 60 gallons of water was required per person per voyage.
From “The Professor At The Breakfast Table” published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1859: “Make (Whiskey) into a punch, cold at dinnertime, hot at bed-time. Real Bourbon’s (sic) the stuff. Hot water, sugar, jest a little shaving of lemon-skin in it—the skin, mind you, none of your juice; take it off thin.”
And with that recipe we all slept soundly.
We couldn’t have asked for better weather—80 degrees and sunny, not a cloud in the sky. In the warm afternoon sun I watched Ben create a landyard,an unusual knot called the Monkey Paw, to cover the anchor spike.
Old windjammers of the past had charismatic names: Chariots of Fame, Witch of the Wave, Herald of the Morning, Fly Cloud, Celestial of the Seas, Monarch of the Seas, Romance of the Sea.
You can be an authentic
bilge pumper like Casey.
During the Great Tea Clipper Race of 1866, Sovereign of the Seas topped out at 22 knots, heralding the age of jamming the wind. Many schooners have disappeared in the mystical realm of that bygone era, with no trace, and no hint of where they went down. But we were determined not to go that fate, and each day, Ben, Casey, or some other hapless mate has a chance manning the hydraulic hand-cranked bilge pump to keep the crate afloat. Grace Bailey is an original working masterpiece, nearly 125 years old, with much of the original equipment refurbished by Ray.
Grace Bailey has a small keel, and a collapsible centerboard that can be raised and lowered by hand from the deck. You can actually see the water below the hull through the centerboard hole. She has only seven feet of displacement. The Grace Bailey was built for speed while coastering close to shore. You don’t get a hull like this out of a mold. She is still admired for her performance and sea keeping abilities, cutting through chops and waves with ease.
These shores are untenable for large ships, perfect when you have Grace. Good behavior in waves comes from the her escheatable weight (displacement), and her underbody. There are no flat places for the water to slap or pound. Hugging the rock-ribbed coast avoids the offshore rollers and swells because we are protected by the numerous Penobscot Bay islands.
Famous American author Nathaniel Hawthorn, often sailed amongst these islands on schooners. He stated: “For our own part, we prefer a vessel that voyages in the good old way, by favor of the wind, instead of one that tears her passage through the deep in spite of wind and tide, snorting and groaning as if tormented by the fire that rages in her entrails.”
Captain Ray prepares the lobster bake.
The Maine Lobster season is from June through September. Lobster prices this season (2003) are expected to hit $7.50 per lb. Because of the cold winter this year, the lobsters are found deeper and they are harder to catch, so the prices are higher than past seasons (about $6.50 lb.).
Lobsters molts or shed their shell in order to grow. It takes about 20 molts over a 5-7 year span for a lobster to reach adulthood. Before shedding the old shell, a paper-thin shell is formed under the old shell. When the old shell is shed, the lobster is then a “new shell”, or “soft shell” lobster. They must hide in the ocean rocks and cavities until the shell hardens into a new protection of red armor cladding. Many people prefer to eat the soft shell lobster because it is sweeter and requires no tools to crack them open. The green substance under the carapace is called “tomalley” and contains the liver and pancreas of the lobster. The tomalley acts as a natural filter to prevent contaminants from entering the lobster. Most lobsters are actually green/brown with a tinge of orange on the underbelly, but they turn red when steamed or boiled. The various color pigments (chromatophores) are masked except for the astaxanthin, which is the background red pigment. Sometimes you may see a rare blue, white, or yellow spotted lobster. But all turn red when cooked. Ever think that a lobster looks like a grasshopper? Their nervous systems are similar. As anthropoids, lobsters have no cerebral cortex (in humans, the recorder of pain), so when you do boil or steam them, they don’t feel any pain!
Shore leave. for the lobster bake.
On the last full day of the voyage it was the onshore Captain’s New England Lobster Bake between beach boulders below the escarpment of arboreal pines clutching the granite isles like a natty hairpiece. The island’s uninhabited shores make us feel a world apart as we scrambled over the tide pools with boulder hops. You can cruise a lifetime and never have a lonely anchor like we had. But we weren’t totally alone. Then the skeeters come out and it was a battle of the bugs. Effective clothing and plenty of skeeter dope tamed things down a bit.
A traditional Maine
While Casey and Ben steamed the sweet corn and lobsters in hot seaweed and saltwater in a large galvanized tub, Emily was preparing the salad makings, sliced on bare granite boulders like an ancient cult site. We all stood around swatting the mosquitoes, drinking beer, and laughing.
Only the four- and five-night cruises includes the New England Lobster Bake onshore, with fresh corn on the cob, hotdogs, salads, vegetables, BYOB booze, marshmallows and s’mores. A Lobster Feast (not an ashore Lobster Bake) is presented onboard the 3-day cruises.
The 5-day (5 nights counting pre-boarding on Sunday) cruises depart mid-morning on Monday and come back by 10 a.m. on Friday. The 4-day cruises are on the Mercantile and Mistress only, with boarding after 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, returning on Sunday morning. The 3-day cruises are also only on the Mercantile and Mistress, with boarding on Sunday evening, returning by 10 a.m. on Wednesday. A weekend cruise is available on the Grace Bailey or Mistress, with departure on a Friday, returning at 10 a.m. on Sunday.
As for that sea salt loving summer romance: “Kissing is good, but cooking lasts!” And it was Emily’s 27th birthday on June 27th, the last night of the voyage. So guess what, she cooked herself, and us, a cake! The conch blew as the sun sank serenely in the distance.
The next morning Captain Ray backed the Grace Bailey away from the shore by swinging the main spar back and forth to catch a little breeze with myself on the helm as the ancient anchor was hand cranked to the chocks.
Camaraderie and companionship seem to be alien in our civilized world, but a necessity that boils out onboard a schooner cruise on the Grace Bailey; we all felt glum as our Maine frontyard adventure was ending. Maybe I’ll come back for the lobster boat races on the Fourth of July.
Accommodations: All staterooms are below deck. Half the cabins have double beds, with full headroom, but not much space to turn around. The small porthole is actually a rectangular window that you can swing down to catch extra ventilation. All bedding is included. The Mistress, a 46-foot schooner, has three double cabins (sleeping a total of 6), each with a private head, offering more intimate sailing. The Merchantile and Grace Bailey are about the same dimensions and stateroom configuration.
Maine resident and Old Salt,
Kermit, keeps the deck tidy.
Rates: Save on pre-season cruises from May to mid-June, and then again in September and October. The early summer cruise has dicier weather. If you sail in September/October you can count on excellent winds, great visibility, and fall foliage colors, and the anchorages are less crowded. High season is July through August. During the winter months Ray and Ann go surfing in Fiji.
You can get added cruise discounts if you join the fleet’s Old Salt Club—now with over 2000 members—for passengers that can’t get enough of sailing on these old ships, such as Old Salt Kermit, a Maine resident who was aboard the Grace, who sails “at least four times a year.” You can become an Old Salt after the first cruise.
Rates are all-inclusive. The season is short and space is limited, so call now for next year.
All vessels are Coast Guard approved and skippered by fully-licensed captains and professional crews. There is free parking at the Camden harbor for those taking the cruise. If you snap a great picture while on board send it over to the state of Maine’s quarterly photo contest at www.maine.ov/portal/photo_contest/index.html. Maybe you will spot an elusive Maine puffin, or possibly sail up to the Cadillac Mountain area on Mt. Desert Island, the tallest mountain on the Eastern Seaboard, part of Acadia National Park.
— By Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine. Photos by the author and courtesy of Maine Windjammer Cruises.