Voyage by Schooner

The sail home, through salt foam and surge, was so furious one wintry day that the Adventure's mast bent her deck beams and her timbers started to crawl. One sailor, legend has it, got stuck by his oilskin in a gap in the deck and couldn't get loose until sharp-eyed Captain Hynes brought his flying ship around onto the other tack.

Her hold full of ice and fish wrestled from the Grand Banks' inhospitable waters, the schooner was racing toward her New England market, determined to outstrip the other vessels in this frigid and dangerous trade.

Called the ''Old Queen'' for her speed and success, all-time champion of the dory fishing schooners, the Adventure worked a hard career out of Gloucester and Boston from her 1926 construction to the day she carried her last load of cod and haddock in 1953. Though solid and seaworthy, by the time of her last voyage she seemed an anachronism among automated beam trawlers and draggers. She had outlived all the ships of her class, the thousands of tall and glorious schooners that had once dominated the fishing industry on the fertile North Atlantic banks.

Many of these giants lay, moldering and abandoned by this date, in shipyards and harbors, but the 121-foot, two-masted Adventure managed narrowly to escape this fate. Refitted with nearly 6,000 square feet of sail, the well-seasoned schooner now commands the hard blue waters between Portland and Mt. Desert Island, Maine, and sometimes beyond, part of a community of hardworking, gaff-rigged ships refurbished for the tourist trade.

Where fish pens, sorting checkerboards, and broad-beamed dories once sprawled on the Adventure's deck, now a well-crafted antique ''seine'' boat lies waiting to transport passengers to the islands and harbors on the ship's wind-determined itinerary. In the holds where the ship's record-breaking hauls of cod, mackerel , and haddock were stored on ice for market, the Adventure's voyagers now find neat, commodious cabins, well paneled and sealed against any memory of their former oily occupants.

Fully equipped with mainsail, foresail, jumbo, and jib - and auxiliary topsail and queensail for lighter air - the Adventure, like many Maine windjammers, carries no engine on board. Instead the aptly named Hercules, a trusty, wooden yawl small enough to be hoisted onto the stern, nudges her along her way on the rare occasion when winds are flat or channels narrow.

Our first day out of the tricky double harbor at Camden, Maine, the Adventure proved just how seaworthy an old oaken vessel can be. Powered by the Hercules just out to the double sentinels - the Curtis Island lighthouse and the bell buoy off Northeast Point - the stately ship kept all hands, including those of the newly initiated passenger class, extremely busy hoisting her massive sails with almost wrist-thick halyards. Just ahead was the schooner the Stephen Taber , survivor of the days when windjammers carried freight up and down the Hudson River.

Outside the harbor, from the first surge forward, the Adventure dispelled any lingering notions that she might be a fragile maritime antique. Heeling to starboard, the strong ship flew to the east at 10 to 12 knots, quickly putting Camden's granite mountains, Battie, Bald Rock, and Megunticook, into the background across a well-churned wake behind her. In a kind of aerial harmony with the ship's proud motions soared a beautiful osprey, or fishhawk, as if surveying the wide domain surrounding his massive, volcano-shaped nest on a rock islet a few miles ahead.

While shipboard rituals on the Adventure no longer involve hooking brim-filled dories onto deck, her amiable captain, Jim Sharp, keeps an agile crew of three, Peter Drury, Pete Wetherell, and B. P. (Hooter) Jones, active tending the ship's impressive sails and gear. Passengers enlisted to help with morning duties learn to use the ship's 1902 donkey engine, better known as the Bulldog Bertha, which with a syncopated clankering of her machine teeth hauls the ship's enormous anchor from the slimy bottom. Others operate the hand-pumped fire hose, which squirts jets of water on the massive chain and anchor as they emerge.

When not drowned by a salty mist, wafts of delicious wood smoke may float back from the galley stovepipes to passengers on the Adventure's afterdeck.Diaries from the great days of Boston and Gloucester schooner fishing invariably include awe-inspiring records of the staggering meals produced on the pounding seas. This is a tradition still celebrated on board the Adventure by culinary wizards Margaret and Liz Qualey and Gail Belleveau with superb homemade chowders, breads, roasts, and pies. Few passengers object, however, to breaking this fine tradition of wood stove cookery once for a lobster feast on one of the islands that dot the Penobscot, Jericho, and Blue Hill Bays.

Halibut mucklers, dory rollers, buoy kegs, chocks, and nippers - the essential tools of the Adventure's original trade - now adorn the main cabin bulkheads (stripped of 20 coats of paint and a layer of fiberboard to reveal rich fiddleback maple paneling). Several pieces of equipment on board, however, are less antiquated, Captain Sharp having made a few concessions to the modern age during his faithful restoration of the ship. Of his supersensitive, fog-penetrating radarscope - which has in the past even picked up sea gulls clustered in groups - Jim said, ''If granddaddy'd had this stuff, he would have used it.''

The Adventure's other compromise with modernity allows her direct communication not only with the shore, if necessary, but also with the 15 other schooners in the passenger trade in the region. Most of the captains sailing out of four windjammer ports, Belfast, Camden, Rockport, and Rockland, see themselves as united in an effort to preserve a tradition of sailing in a class of ships which represents the culmination of centuries of experimentation in ship design. During the 16- to 18-week cruising season (between late May and early October), these sailors maintain jovial contact - for advice, weather reports, or more crucial messages - over their crackling marine radios. ''What about your LBs (lobsters)?'' asked Jim Sharp during one such dialogue with the captain of the beautiful Roseway. ''Well, we've got the creatures on board,'' replied Captain Young.

During the winter season, when not working on the ship, the Adventure's dedicated captain operates perky, red, 1,800-horsepower diesel tugboats out of historic Searsport, Maine, the documented home in 1889 of 77 sea captains. Nineteen years ago Captain Sharp left his suburban Philadelphia finance business to make a life of windjamming in Maine. During the gorgeous coastal summers since, with one hand at the helm and an eye on his navigational charts, he has been telling stories about his stately ship's first career and the heroics of the men who drove her hundreds of miles out into an icy sea to bring dinner to New England's tables.

For instance, there was the stirring tale of the sinking of the Adventure II, named in honor of our own proud ship. In ''dungeon thick'' fog, Captain Sharp told us, Captain Hynes's famous ship rammed the Adventure II, causing her almost literally to split in half. All men on board were saved - but as she sank, an air bubble in the hold violently propelled her fishy cargo upward - resulting in a veritable waterfall of hundreds of pounds of fish.

The wily Captain Sharp is also careful to provide more immediate excitements. If the tides are right, for example, he may take his unsuspecting passengers up through the peaceful Eggamoggin Reach and under the 85-foot Little Deer Isle suspension bridge. By a terrifying optical illusion, the bridge will threaten until the very last moment to lop off at least half of the Adventure's mast, which towers at 83 feet above the water level.

What every windjammer voyager shares is a powerful experience of the beauty of this mystifying region. Once on our cruise, from a sheltered point between the two shoal-divided Torrey Islands, early-rising passengers overheard the birds singing in a two-part morning chorus from either shore. At night, through the geometry of the windjammer's rigging, the same travelers watched the moon rise through billowing, translucent clouds. In calm, clear weather, the Milky Way will pour its snowy wealth into the Big Dipper etched in the northern sky, repeating the performance in stars reflected in the water below. Beneath the surface, clustered, microscopic ''jellomorphs'' flicker with their own mysterious phosphorescent light.

In the unique community of windjammers now sailing the Maine coast are several ''oystermen'' from the Delaware Bay, a cargo freighter from the Hudson River, a Portland pilot schooner, Maine and New England coasters, two Gloucester fishermen besides the Adventure, and several new schooners built especially for the passenger trade. Several ships are smaller in scale than the Adventure; a few are operated by husband-and-wife teams; two are run by historic shipbuilders; one less traditional ship offers hot and cold running water in the cabins. A new centerboard coaster, constructed over four arduous winters by Capts. Doug Lee and John Foss of the North End Shipyard in Rockland, will join the proud fleet in 1983. Every vessel in the fleet offers an astounding week of adventure and camaraderie, though their differences in design mean that there should be a ship available to suit each traveler's preferences.

To sign on for a week on one of the 12 associated ships in the region, or for information about these vessels, contact the Maine Windjammer Association, Box 317P, Rockport, Maine 04856. (Check with local tourist agencies for other schooners.) For information about the ''Old Queen'' of the Gloucester ships, please call or write Capt. Jim Sharp, Schooner Adventure, Box 696, Camden, Maine 04843, (207) 236-4449.

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