Camden, Maine — YOU will discover that a windjammer cruise is merely one long meal, interrupted by interludes of sailing,'' says Ken Barnes, skipper of the coastal schooner Stephen Taber, as he introduces 21 new passengers to the rules of life aboard a 114-year-old schooner. We were gathered on a Sunday evening on the Taber's main deck, having arrived earlier in the day from many parts of the United States and Canada. We had parked our cars, stowed our gear below, and were eager to begin our six-day cruise. Now we found ourselves seated aboard in the gathering mist of Camden's picturesque harbor, suddenly feeling no longer a part of the 20th century, with visions of earlier times and sea adventures pressing upon us.
In the faint glow of two hurricane lamps, and with lights from ships across the harbor reflected in the night, full-bearded Ken explained that meals would be announced by bells and predicted that soon we would be responding to any bell -- including accidental ringings by the jibsheet -- by heading toward the galley. Although free to rise at any time, we were to stay out of the galley until breakfast was served at 8 o'clock, or eight bells. This sounds simple until you learn that one bell can be 8:30, 12:30, or 4:30. We could help with kitchen chores or sailing tasks or not, as we pleased. And quiet hours were to be strictly observed, beginning at 11 p.m., or six bells.
By 10:30 p.m. all was quiet on board as we made our way to our cabins. I had asked for a single berth, and was at first amazed to see how small it was, tucked aft under the starboard deck, with the sloping transom of the ship forming most of the floor. But at sea, one's cabin isn't important, as so little time is spent there. Double cabins, of course, were much larger. Sleep came soon, as we were lulled by the occasional distant clang of a bell buoy or the low hum of a diesel engine in Camden Harbor.
Waking early, I had time to take a closer look at the ship. The Taber being a coastal schooner, it has a centerboard that can be hauled up so she can get in and out of shallow harbors. Fore-and-aft schooners such as these were common in the 19th century, carrying goods up and down the entire Eastern Seaboard. The Taber is one of the smaller of the dozen or so windjammers plying the Maine coast with the 20th-century summer tourist trade. She is 68 feet long and 22 feet wide, which makes her quite stable. She has two masts, and carries two jibs, a foresail, and a mainsail.
Aft on the quarterdeck are the wheel, compass, radar, and depth sounder. The latter two, in addition to a VHF radio, are the only modern safety devices in this otherwise authentic vessel. Rigging, lines, fittings, and sails are traditional. Because she was overhauled in 1981, there is little except design to indicate the 114 years' longevity of this beauty, the only sailing vessel on the National Register of Historic Places.
Ken and his wife, Ellen, used to be professors of drama at a university, but one summer they came to Maine for a windjammer cruise, and that was it. The following winter Ken and Ellen found themselves the proud owners of the Taber, spent the springtime refurbishing her, and have been enchanting tourists with her since 1979. Their love of the Taber is reflected in many nice touches -- flowers everywhere in planters, hanging pots on the deck, and even in the galley, itself a work of art; heavy oak beams and paneling, beautifully finished in clear varnish; a gorgeous three-inch-thick oak table; brass lamps and fittings; and an antique cookstove provide a most gracious setting.
My inspection was interrupted at 6 a.m. by the sounds of ice being delivered, clattering in the galley below, and the smell of wood smoke. Jill, an ex-kindergarten teacher who is the Taber's assistant cook and crew member, brought hot beverages topside for early risers. We stood sipping and watching the mist rise from the still harbor.
Although quarters are tight in the galley, all 22 of us were able to sit in comfort and enjoy our meals together. We came to cherish the galley as a place not only for meals, but also for gathering in the evening or on rainy days for reading, games, stories, and songs.
Ellen is a superb cook, and among the memorable dishes she later presented were boiled haddock and sour cream, sausage and eggs, ``Newfie Bread,'' fish chowder, corn bread, New England boiled dinner, roast turkey, strawberry shortcake, and homemade ice cream. Each meal was a feast.
Noon meals were served under way on deck when the weather was sunny. It was a glorious experience to sit on a cabin top and enjoy a hearty meal while feeling the wind and salt spray.
Customary with a windjammer cruise is a lobster bake. One gray day, we anchored near Stonington and went ashore. A fire was laid under an enormous pot. Inside, some 40 lobsters were covered with 10 pounds of steamers (clams), a layer containing a couple of dozen ears of corn, and finally a layer of seaweed. This savory meal, eaten on a rocky Maine island a world away from civilization, was a highlight.
We soon passed Northeast Point, and the hills of Camden, Megunticook, and Battie rose in the distance behind us. We sailed east into Penobscot Bay, one of the most popular cruising areas in the US. The bay is 30 miles long and 30 miles wide, with five large islands and countless smaller ones, with good protection from the open sea.
Passing above North Haven Island 10 miles out, we were excited by a nest with two eagles in it. Later we saw seals, dolphins, cormorants, and osprey. When curious about our location, we studied the chart laid out on the aft cabin top. Ken was always pleased to show us how to use the compass and dividers, navigational tools that help plot a course by dead reckoning.
Dress is completely informal. My only clothing purchase for the trip was a pair of good-quality deck moccasins, and I was tickled to discover that on a wet deck, they really grip! For the rest of the time, my old camp clothing and beachwear proved sufficient. Binoculars and a camera are a must.
One evening in Prettymarsh Harbor, off the western side of Mount Desert Island, Ken played his guitar and sang. We watched the sun set to our west, while at the same time the moon rose in the east, each sending a shaft of beams across the water toward us -- white beams to port, red to starboard. An evening -- and a cruise -- not soon forgotten. Practical information
Maine windjammer cruises leave from a number of ports from June to September. Prices range from $395 to $425. Most sail on Monday mornings and return Saturdays. Contact the Schooner Stephen Taber at 70 Elm Street, Camden, Maine 04843; (207) 236-3520. Or write to Maine Windjammer Association, PO Box 317P, Rockport, Maine 04846, or call 800-MAINE80.