Sailing Practice

Normally the view of the harbor from Greenhead Peninsula exclusively features the familiar, functional outlines of lobster boats. Every once in a while, however, a graceful sailboat will change the view as it passes, silhouetted against the islands in the bay.

The sailboat that was out this morning looked to be getting in some practice as it tacked and changed course on a brilliant and cool morning, when sailing conditions were just about perfect.

Four-Masted Fun

Yesterday morning we drove to Bar Harbor to get a taste of travel on a large sailing ship. Our destination was the Margaret Todd, a 150-ton schooner that carries passengers on a two-hour cruise through Bangor harbor and into Frenchman’s Bay beyond.

The adventure started with a long walk down a ramp to a floating dock and then a climb into the boat. You had to be careful because the ramp, dock, and boat were all moving with the swells in the water, and you didn’t want to fall in—the temperature of the water, which follows a current flowing from the north, is barely above freezing.

We sat along the sides of the schooner, so as to avoid being doused by any water that had been deposited in or on the furled sails by last night’s visit from tropical storm Elsa. As the voyage got underway, the crew invited volunteers to help hoist the sails. Russell contributed his muscle to help get one of the sails fully lifted and secured and got some applause from the other passengers. Once all of the sails had been hoisted the ship headed out of the harbor on sail power.

We first passed an island in the harbor and some lobster boats. It was a brilliantly sunny and clear day, so visibility was at maximum. Even so, I was not able to see the bald eagle’s nest that the captain swore was on an oak tree on that island. Come to think of it, I have never seen any bald eagle’s nest that anyone has ever tried to point out to me. Actually seeing a bald eagle nest and bald eagle in the wild will have to remain a bucket list item.

As we sailed past the island the captain pointed out this bell buoy, which is the only one in the harbor. Even though the waters were left calm in Elsa’s wake, the roll of the tide caused the buoy to sway back and forth and the clapper to strike the bell. The bell makes a cool, very distinctive clang, which would be a signal to any fogbound mariner that Bar Harbor is near.

Out in Frenchman’s Bay, we were out in open water with a wide, dramatic sky above, although we were surrounded by islands, the Schoodic Peninsula, Mt. Desert Island, and the peaks in Acadia National Park. We saw a group of some small dolphins swim by, showing their dorsal fins above the surface of the water, and we enjoyed the sunshine and the feel and sounds of a sailing ship, as the sails creaked and shifted in the light breeze.

There weren’t many boats out on the bay, but we did see this picturesque boat sailing past one of the islands. As we headed back to Bar Harbor, the Margaret Todd pointed directly at some of the mountains of Acadia National Park. That’s Mount Cadillac, the tallest peak in the park, on the right in the photo below.

The Margaret Todd is docked just below the Bar Harbor Inn, an historic hotel. Guest were eating on the veranda and enjoying the sights as we pulled in. Invigorated by the sea air, we headed into a jammed Bar Harbor for lunch. Our walk on the crowded streets of Bar Harbor reminded us of just how remote and quiet Stonington is.

Sea Fever

I don’t get tired of looking at boats, and of all the boats I like the graceful sailboats the best.  Watching them glide by is a treat, and it reminded me of a nice bit of poetry about the lure of the sea and the “tall ship” boats: 

Sea Fever by John Masefield

I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
 
I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
 
I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

An American Scene

The wharf in Oakland at Jack London Square was beautiful last September — bright with fluttering colored pennants, white sailboats, and blue sky.

How many Americans spend summer days on the water, working the rudder and sail, skimming across the water ahead of a fine warm breeze?  One of these days, I need to learn how to sail.

Sailing

Chuck and Laura have purchased a catamaran, and we have gone sailing twice. The first time we got caught in a storm that rolled in quickly and unexpectedly, and we ended up having to beach the craft and walk home in the rain after being rescued — perhaps unnecessarily — by the diving boat of a nearby resort. The next day, which was sunnier and calmer, Chuck and I walked down to get the catamaran and then sailed back.

Sailing is a very pleasant way to spend the day when the sun is shining and the breeze is mild. It is peaceful out there, scudding along the surface of the waves and tacking back and forth. It’s easy to see how people can become almost addicted to sailing. When you are caught in a storm, however, you quickly appreciate the risks. The sky turns dark, rain pelts down, the sail is snapping angrily in the gusts of wind, your craft is pitching and rolling with the whitecaps, and you just want to be back on dry land.

Sailing would be a fun thing to learn, and an important part of the learning process would be figuring out when it is safe to venture out onto the water.