We're back from a 12-day trip up the East Coast and on Maine's Penobscot Bay for a week of sailing on the Schooner Heritage (www.schoonerheritage.com) and found the dadgummedest thing: warm weather. It's howling here in the Blue Ridge with temps in the low 40s; the week before we left for the Frigid North the daytime highs were in the 50s, so we loaded up all our heavy clothes because we knew if it was chilly in the South, it would be frozen in the north.
Wrong. It was warm in Maryland, where we stopped off to see old friends, and warmer yet in Boston, where we took in the last Red Sox home game of the year during its late-season collapse and ultimate failure to make the American League playoffs. The Sox pulled off one miracle in an otherwise lovely evening at Fenway: they made the Baltimore Orioles look really good.
Then two days later we were standing on the wharf at Rockland, Maine's North End Shipyard, getting ready to board the Heritage, a lovely topsail schooner built and commissioned in 1984 by Capts. Doug and Linda Lee, who figured out how to make a living by taking people sailing on a genuine replica of a 19th century sailing vessel. They did it right: There's no engine to propel the ship, but there is a yawl boat with a Ford six-cylinder engine, hung on stern davist, that can be lowered into the water to push the ship along when the wind has died. And there's an elderly make-and-break donkey engine (named Joe, of course) to raise the anchor as well as to raise the sails. Meals are cooked on a big cast iron woodstove, fired by billets of oak and hardwood that have aged three seasons, and the ship's cooks rise before dawn each day to put on the coffee and begin baking the day's fresh breads, pies and cobblers before the anchor comes up and the day's wind draws the 5,000 square feet of sail over to port or starboard.
We've made this trip three times now and it's among the most fun things we've done on vacation. Doug Lee is not only a ship's captain but also a marine architect, a cabinetmaker, an author, a blacksmith, an expert mechanic and a pretty fair businessman, but also a crackerjack teller of tales -- all of them true stories, of course, including hilarious tales of his father's best friend Archie and his various deeds along the Maine coast.
And, of course, it was hot up yonder. We were down to tee shirts and flip flops in the middle of the bay, and shedding jackets every day after the cool morning fogs burned off.
There's a fleet of these coasting schooners, as they're called, up in Maine, and Doug and Linda Lee like to sail at every opportunity. Watching them handle the ship as they ghost along under the Deer Isle Bridge spanning Eggemoggin Reach is fascinating. The ship's mast, jutting 102 feet up, is higher than the bridge's superstructure, and to pass underneath requires lowering the ship's topmast a few feet. That mast is on a track built especially for the purpose, and seeing the crew scamper up the ratlines to let the topmast down is quite a show. It looks like you're going to hit the bridge, but there's just room to slide along beneath and go on to other sailing grounds in Blue Hill Bay, Fox Thoroughfare and other old waters that have been home to sailors and lobstermen for years.
Memorable -- and toasty. The thought of that Maine sun warms me on a raw early fall day in the Blue Ridge.