by Francis McGovern
All men will be sailors then until the sea shall free them.
– Leonard Cohen, Suzanne
Sometimes you need to get away and be free or try to be. This might be just finding some time for yourself, or time with family or friends or that special someone. Spending that time in Nature can have a powerful effect on your state of mind and free you from the knots that can come about in your soul.
I recently read The Three Day Effect by Florence Williams. She describes how Nature can be a cure for the stresses of our normal lives and even potentially help with healing the worst trauma. In the book, she travels to spend time in the outdoors in different locations with groups that all have experienced trauma, including gulf war veterans, sex trafficking survivors, and she even shares her own personal trauma about her divorce after the break up of a twenty year marriage. She speaks of the calming effect and performance improvement that happens for some of the participants after spending time outside on three successive days.
I decided to go and do likewise. I was feeling the stresses of everyday catch up with me. One place that I had always enjoyed and that was special for me was Maine. I consider Maine a stress free place. I first explored Maine twenty-five years ago on my two week honeymoon using a guide by Christina Tree. It was great to explore a place that was filled with love and joy, nature trails, pine trees and beautiful rocky ocean vistas. I remember using the book pre-internet to plan out our honeymoon up and down the Maine coast, and then later after I started Literary Traveler, I got to meet Christina in person and tell her how much I liked her book.
Maine is a beautiful state where you can find a little something for everyone. It was a place I wanted to introduce to my youngest son, Wesley (10). Wes is the youngest of four children, and he is a great kid with an adventurous spirit. He loves to go out to eat, (shellfish) loves the ocean and to dress up, have fun and talk to adults and try new things. So I thought a cruise on the Maine coast might be the perfect three day getaway for a father and son trip, where we could spend time in nature together.
I decided on a Windjammer Cruise on board the Angelique. Angelique is a 132’ Windjammer helmed by Captain Dennis Gallant and his wife Candace Kuchinski, out of Camden Maine. The Angelique is part of the Maine Windjammer Association. Dennis fell in love with Windjammers and has been sailing on the Angelique (and other boats) for a number of years, before he became a Captain and bought the boat.
Dennis was about my age and he looked like Michael J. Fox and sounded like Owen Wilson and he likes to say that no one likes a smart ass, except him. This is a little bit of hint that he is one himself, and he is just a little proud of it. It works for him and he wears it well. He has character and I think you should expect that of a Captain.
Wesley and I have a lot in common, we love the outdoors and love to read. As a boy I remember reading the Robert McCloskey books One Morning in Maine, Blueberries for Sal, and Time of Wonder and feeling at home in the magical islands I imagined in Maine. I wanted to have Wesley experience that feeling of wonder sailing through the islands while he still had the innocence that that’s left at ten years old.
We arrived in Camden on a Sunday afternoon, after taking a white water rafting trip on The Kennebec River with his boy scout troop, and I surprised him with the Windjammer Cruise. On Sunday night we planned to stay on the boat. First we took the chance to explore Camden harbor and had a late lunch in a seafood restaurant on main street. Then we browsed the shops and spent some time in an antique store that was housed in a converted movie theater.
We were greeted by the crew, which (at the time) was a combination of the chef and the apprentice crew members. There was Anya, Shelby and Jessie and Ian and Justin who was the first mate. Shelby was the tallest and put Wesley to work learning knots for his Boy Scout advancements. ‘Shel’ was very helpful to Wesley and got him involved right away. Jessie was the mess mate and she was an actress taking some time off from school to get some real world experience. Ian was cool and had tattoos and cap that held his longer salt and pepper hair in. He was about my age and he had his young son on board for the night who had just finished first grade.
That night I watched them played chess together and he mentioned that he played chess with his grandfather every day until he was sixteen, and I could see he was passing that onto his son. Fathers and sons can be a tricky thing. It must be difficult for him when he needs to leave a few days at a time with a cute kid at home that can be tough. It reminded me that we pass on everything to our kids both good and bad. I would have liked to take my dad on the cruise but I think sometimes you have to give your child all your attention.
There was plenty to look at on the boat. It was the largest sailboat that I had been on. It was painted off white with lightly stained wood trim and dark brown russet distinctive sails. We stayed on board overnight and prepared for a morning departure. The cabins were very nice and compact and the bathrooms were small and clean and easy to use. I got the top bunk and It was not as simple at first climbing out backwards, I did get the hang of it on the second day. Sleeping was comfortable with the hatches open to the evening air.
There was a tarp on the deck that served as a makeshift ceiling and once it was removed, we were ready to go. This was one of the first things that Wesley helped with as they welcomed him onto the crew, and it wasn’t long before they put Wesley to work helping to get ready to sail.
He got to do everything, including washing dishes in the morning, and prepping the boat for sailing when we would pull up anchor. He is a naturally curious ten year old, who likes adults and likes to talk and tell stories and jokes and loves to eat good food. He’s a bit of an old soul a little contrast with his older brother Ryan. Ryan looks like James Dean and is fiery and wild 16 year old. He’s hard to reach and has grown past the age of listening to his dad.
If you don’t know much about boats (like me) then you might not know how all the wood and ropes work, but if you look closely and learn about the boat, it is literally held together by knots. The sails and masts are connected by the ropes. Some ropes and knots are used as connectors or seals with both a decorative and functional purpose. Everything is tied down but with some flexibility to adjust and move with the wind. The sailboat has a motor but you rely on the weather and the wind to get to your next destination and you don’t always know where that is or what challenges you might face.
I was not very good at learning knots as a boy, I think it took me a long time to learn to tie my shoes. Wesley has been learning knots with the Scouts and he was eager to help.
As the wind picked up I could feel the knots start to relax just a bit. It is difficult to leave home sometimes for me because my older son Ryan needs a lot of attention and I wondered, that even outside on deck staring at the sea, can you ever relax as a parent? Maybe when your kids are older and independent. But you root and hope for them always, in their joys and their triumphs and failures and setbacks. Because, just like you, they will have them for certain and life is about how you take them, adjust and overcome that makes the difference, if they have hope, it can be like the wind in their sails.
I took the opportunity to ask Dennis some questions and he welcomed them patiently. One thing he didn’t know was exactly where we would stop day today. (A little like parenting I thought.) On the first day we would pick an island and have a lobster bake. The next day we would stop at another island and then on the third day we would be home. Dennis was very approachable and easy to laugh and have fun with. He ran the ship and was attuned everything that was going on directing the crew and teaching the passengers at the same time.
When we first lifted the sails, we all needed to work together and move in sync. Not just the crew, but the passengers were encouraged to join in. We needed to move one hand over the over in between the other deck hands hands. This took me a few times to learn. The major events were putting up the sails, dropping anchor, then there was breakfast, lunch and dinner and then there was music at night and then going sleep and doing some reading before bed in the cabins. At night we read the McCloskey books in our cabins before bed.
On our first sail I took some time out to watch the deep dark blue ocean, time out to just be. The sun felt strong and hot and I liked the feeling of gliding through the sea as went slowly through the waves rising and falling. On that first day we worked up to about 8 knots. The boat was easily pushing through the waves. We sat on small platforms or benches that were part of the deck. One of the passengers had a scope and was an amateur bird watcher and when we passed a seal or a shore bird he would let Wesley look and point out the different birds.
On our first leg of the trip after we left Camden, we sailed out of Penobscot Bay around North Haven and over past Stonington, and we were looking for a place for a Lobster bake. We found the small island of Hell’s Half Acre as the site for dinner. This was about the size of an elongated baseball field. There were rough white rocks and dark blue, black and white crushed shells all around the island. One of the other passengers said that this was the beginning of the sand forming and it would be ready in a few thousand years. A small beach was nestled next to the treeline and we sat on a log and stared at the Angelique in the bay.
What made the cruise easy for me was the people on it. The passengers and crew were friendly and engaged Wesley. Everyone had a Story, the deck hands, The retired Navy submarine engineer, the FBI agent and his wife who lived in Maine and Florida, the married couple who had a college age son with them. This couple played lots of games with Wesley and were patient and friendly. One passenger was especially great with him and she showed him the proper way to eat a lobster.
Captain Dennis was maybe a more talented version of me, except he had a boat and was a pretty good musician and I had a Website and could only play a few chords. The passenger with the scope was a musician. He was recovering from a break up with an ex fiance and he clearly missed his ex-fiances kids. These were his knots. I have thought about how hard it is to not be in your children’s lives – how much it can damage them. Especially if the child feels abandoned. Reminded me of Andre Dubus III in Townie, A Memoir recalling a scene where his father left them because the parents were breaking up and the aching sense of abandonment he felt. I wondered how that must feel in reverse for a parent. I was grateful to have Wesley and the chance to travel with him.
The meals and breakfast were excellent. My favorite meal of the trip was a simple tomato soup and grilled cheese.
The next day we sailed passed North Haven and Vinalhaven full beautiful new and old homes. Slowly we went on and on passing the large estates, it reminded me that you never know what is around the bend and so many islands mean new discoveries daily.
Each of the islands had a story. Dennis told us about a place that was near the shipwreck of a circus boat and then years later Elephant Bones were found on the island. The story inspired a book The Circus Ship, Chris Van Dusen.
The last night we gathered around Dennis, and he strummed a few chords of Thunder Road.
“Do you know Bruce?” I asked.
“No But I know some other rock stars…”
Then he launched in a great acoustic version of Thunder Road with a twinkle in his eye. He sang a variety of songs from songwriters I knew and some I didn’t. They were good songs, one was about love not being enough. By now everyone had joined in some appreciative singing and felt like a fitting close to the trip. Wesley play some UNO below deck.
We said good night and spent a relaxing final morning and breakfast before we made our mid morning return to a foggy Camden. It was peaceful and still. It was a good trip with really nice people that made you feel relaxed and welcomed.
“Dad can we practice the knots?”
“It was fun to be a sailor”
We just gave a wave to crew as we walked up the hill behind Camden Harbor and went off on our way feeling better. Three days on the Maine Windjammer Angelique made all the difference.
Francis McGovern is the co-founder and founding editor and publisher at Literary Traveler. He has run the site for over 20 years. He was at Walking Magazine and then spent three years at Lycos.com where he served as a product manager for their suite of personalization products including My Fidelity and My Lycos.
Francis has also run a search engine consulting practice as well as serve as Vice President of Operations for the reviewed.com network. He has helped to lead and develop many literary tours and cruises and loves to discuss books and ideas with a group of travelers as they discover new places.