The Cruise

For years it was my dream to take a sailing cruise. I won’t do big cruise ships. They kill whales and dolphins and mess up small ports where they stop. So how to cruise? Sail!

I was turning seventy and decided that now was the time, so I booked on Schooner American Eagle out of Portland, Maine, during the fall color season.

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Boarding

And I invited girlfriends to join me.

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Barbara, Jill, me and Kathy

We motored away from the dock in Rockland a little after ten am on Wednesday. It was a glorious sunny Maine morning, not even cool enough to be called “crisp.”  Everyone was on deck to watch town slip away.

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Soon almost all on board had taken seasickness medicine or put on our pressure point cuffs designed to prevent seasickness. Due to the smooth sailing, however, none of that was necessary. By day two I’d taken off my cuffs, never to put them on again.

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Protected (from noting) with my anti-nausea cuffs

We headed north, staying near the coastline, searching for the elusive fall colors. Maine had enjoyed a long warm fall, and that meant the leaves were just starting to change.

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But change they did! In just the few days we were sailing there was a noticeable difference.

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A few things about the cruise as a whole, starting with the not good. The only, ONLY not good was the lack of wind, and that certainly was not the fault of Captain John or the crew. It meant, however, that we had to motor rather than sail for a good part of the trip.

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Buoys mark lobster traps in a calm sea

That said, everything else was as close to perfect as one can imagine. The four-person crew and the captain were experienced, friendly and helpful, and they all had a good sense of humor.

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Captain John explains some of the basics.

Though there was no wind, shortly after we left groups lined up to help tug the ropes and hoist the sails. We knew we would find wind eventually.

The weather was beautiful, perfect, even the last day when we were totally fogged in. After warm days, blue skies and lots of sun (and some mild sunburn), the fog was a treat.

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Taken a few hours after rising when the fog was finally burning off

The food was amazing, and there was so much of it! Beautiful salads, plenty of fruit, and everything was homemade. Each meal had breads, biscuits, cookies or pies – all baked in the schooner’s wood stove oven.

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Lunch set out on deck

We stopped the last full day, Friday, on Wreck Island for a lobster boil Matthew the cook had even roasted eggplants and made fresh baba ganoush.

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That along with good crackers, fresh veggies and several kinds of cheese proved the perfect appetizer. Then as we ate on the beach, one of the crew came around with wine.

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I ate two lobsters, by the way.

We went ashore each day and two crew members, Chris and Justin, organized us into rowers and supervisors for the trip.

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We roamed two small towns, one on an island, and visited another tiny island where we hiked through the woods to a lighthouse.

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Everywhere we stopped the towns or islands were beautiful, full of vibrant fall colors, and where we saw people they were friendly and welcoming.

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Church in Castine, Maine

One stop was long, and the four of us went separate ways but soon enough we had all slipped into a local pub for a glass of wine. Justin and Chris were there, just finishing a beer, so Jill quickly bought them another round to ensure we’d have enough time to leisurely sip our wine.

One bit of excitement was when we got attacked by a pirate ship.

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The Pirate Ship!!

I was on deck, lazing in the sun and gazing out to shore, paying no attention to a cluster of people on the other side of the ship. Suddenly, BOOM!!! We’d been fired upon!

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Justin’s fancy earplugs

The crowd on the other side of the boat was laughing and pointing at Justin. He had pulled a tiny cannon out of a box and stuffed paper towels into his ears as earplugs. Soon he lit a fuse and there came another BOOM and a puff of smoke.

This was followed by the folks on both schooners laughing and waving at one another. A few BOOMS. The only breaks to the lovely quiet on the water.

For three full days we glided between islands, sometimes at full sail when we picked up some wind.

Pumpkin Island

When the breeze was cool I slipped into my cabin to read, but otherwise I was on deck soaking in the beauty and the clear salt air.

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Similar to my cabin, but mine was smaller!

I really cannot say enough about how good this trip was! We met people aboard who were on their fifth sail with Captain John on the Schooner American Eagle. They said they’d tried other sails but this was the best. Although we had no other experience on schooners, we all agreed it could not have been better. Five star rating!

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Days Three and Four

Day three dawned gray and cool. Not ones to be put off by a little bad weather, we set off to Bath via back roads as recommended by Michael, our Couchsurf host.

But what is it about cemeteries? Both Barbara and I were drawn to one along the road. It had death dates in the early and mid 1800s. Although some had not died until they were in their seventies or eighties, many had died in their thirties, and quite a few were children or babies. The fragility of life two hundred years ago.

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Bath is a sweet village on one of the many inlets along the coast. Michael told us that if the Maine coastline were stretched out into a straight line, it would be longer than the California coast. I looked it up, and yep. Maine’s coastline north to south is 228 miles long compared to California’s which is 840. But in a straight line, Maine beats California by about fifty miles, with a grand total of 3478 coastline miles. Compare that to its 228 mile length and that is a lot of inlets!

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Bath has a major shipbuilding industry and there are also several small shops that build small wooden boats.

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It has a very walkable downtown with an odd bookstore, interesting shops, antiques, and lots of warm clothing available. It also has one of the most beautiful libraries I’ve ever seen.

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The library in Bath

Then we backtracked to Freeport where we met Michael and fellow Couchsurfer Rachel for lunch, and since we were in Freeport, the home of LL Bean, well, we just had to visit. And we ended up leaving dollars behind in exchange for some great clothes.

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We settled back in at Michael’s house then left in the morning after a thousand thanks and goodbye hugs. Off we went back to Portland (back roads) where we picked up Kathy and headed out to roam the streets and go to Gilbert’s Chowder House. More chowder!

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Now we we are three!

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An old fire truck repurposed as a tour bus, downtown Portland

We did a bit of shopping and Barbara bought us a cigar to share.

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Then we noodled our way north to Rockland where we met up with Cousin Jill (actually, the wife of my cousin Bruce, but she is now my cousin too since she married him.)

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The final foursome

We had a light dinner of salad and then … we boarded the schooner!

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Because the sail wasn’t fully booked, we each ended up with a private room. After settling in, we wondered how in the world two people could comfortably share such a tiny space. The answer is simple: Don’t stay in the room. Head out on deck.

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We learned our way around the schooner and learned basic important terms: port, starboard, galley and head.

None of us slept well that night. Too many people in a small space. We could hear each other enter or leave the head, heard some snoring from several directions, and even heard someone talking in her sleep. After that, earplugs ensured a sound sleep.

On Wednesday morning we had a hearty breakfast and then had a bit of time to roam town and pick up last minute items we may have forgotten. Kathy and I did a strange thing: We walked to McDonalds. But there was a good reason. Honest. I wanted to see if what I had heard was true. I’d been told that McDonalds in Maine served lobster rolls!

Yes, it was true, but sadly it was out of season so I couldn’t even see it on the menu. The young woman behind the counter told us to come back in the late spring. Oh, well.

Back to the schooner where we waved goodbye to anyone around, and off we sailed.

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Maine, Days One and Two

Day One: Departure, Arrival

Barbara and I flew out of Tucson while most of the city was still sleeping. As soon as we hit cruising altitude, I fell asleep and awoke just as we entered the Dallas area.

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Smooth landing, quick dash to a new terminal, and then we were on the plane to Philadelphia.

On this leg of the flight I managed to read a while but still caught a nap.

In Philadelphia, a major cross-airport hike took us from Terminal A to Terminal F. We needed the hike by then after sitting and sitting. And sitting. Then we boarded and sat some more.

We landed in Portland, Maine, a little early and walked through the small but lovely airport. Can you imagine a terminal with seating areas filled with couches and rocking chairs? That’s Portland’s airport.

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We soon had our bags and then our car. Warning! At Dollar rentals, a second driver costs $13/day! It is only $5/day at Budget. Keep that in mind the next time you travel with a friend. We surely will. Foxx, by the way, does not charge for a second driver. Sadly, there was no Foxx here.

We made one wrong turn but corrected quickly, and soon we were headed south on Highway 1, traveling a short distance to Saco. However, in the dark and the rain, it seemed a bit long of a drive. Just as we were sure we had passed our turn, I pulled into the left turn lane to make a u-turn and voila! The street where I was making the u-turn was the street we needed to turn on,

We checked into our motel then headed out to the Sea Salt Lobster House for steamy bowls of creamy clam chowder, some calamari on the side. And hey, some chocolate cake for dessert. We were smart and split the cake.

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Long, tiring day, but here were are in Maine. As we flew in we saw acres of green dotted with fall’s fancy ladies: the maples and elms and other hardwoods all decked out in reds and golds. Hopefully it will clear tomorrow so we can do some dry wandering rather than soggy wandering.

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Day two: Wandering in the Rain

We awoke to find we had missed sunrise except we hadn’t really missed it at all. Heavy, heavy skies meant all there had been was a lightening of the color from black to deep gray, so gray that most of my photos for the day look like black and whites.

We ran across some wild turkeys.

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We first wandered south from Saco to Kennebunkport.

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Lovely little area where we found a grocery/deli/coffeehouse/bookstore/post office. The yang man behind the butcher counter insisted we must, must try a Maine specialty: the Whoopie Pie. And he said if we weren’t going to buy it, he would buy it for us.

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We succumbed.

Between us we ate less than half. Enough sugar to induce diabetic coma if we had even split the whole. We may nibble on a little more today.

North to Old Orchard Beach.

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We wandered town and had the privilege to witness a proposal on the beach! We encountered a young woman setting out photos, jars of lights, and sprinkling rose petals. She was excited and quit nervous as she waited for her girlfriend to arrive.

It was a “yes,” and we went up to be the first to congratulate them.

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North to Pine Point where Barbara stuck with clam chowder and I opted for the halibut chowder. We shared a large salad.

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North to Cape Elizabeth where we visited Fort Williams Park.

There we stood in front of one lighthouse and could see two others! Maine is a lighthouse lover’s dream!

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Then north some more, past Portland to Topsham where we stayed with our Couchsurf host Michael. What a great guy! He had six of us staying with him last night! The others leave today, we leave tomorrow. What will Michael do all alone? He has been hosting for years and says, with a big smile, that he hasn’t traveled the world but the world has come to hm. A wonderful guy providing a wonderful service.

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Enjoying a meal with Michael and fellow Couchsurfer Rachel, from China.