magic [maj-ik]; adjective: mysteriously enchanting, considered to possess mysterious powers, (informal) wonderful; marvellous; exciting
Maine is magic.
There are so many words to describe it and yet none really fit.
Four years ago, I read an article about the J&E Riggin and immediately felt a draw; I had never been sailing in my life and yet I knew I had to do it, to experience it for myself. Despite all of these overwhelming feelings, it still took me two more years to finally get out to Maine. The J&E Riggin, an oyster dredger from 1927 converted for passenger sail, offers 3, 4 and 6-day cruises around Penobscot Bay. Not knowing one gosh darn thing about sailing and not knowing whether or not I would even enjoy it, I found myself signing up for the 6-day Music, Sea History and Storytelling Cruise. I fell in love: with sailing and with Maine.
In the two years since, I’ve been sailing on the Riggin a total of 4 times, with my fifth adventure coming up in September. Last May, I decided to treat myself for my birthday. That one was too short, only 3 days. Last September, I came back again for a just slightly longer 4-day. Most recently was a 6-day cruise this past July for the Great Schooner Race 2016. Six days is really the only way to experience everything these windjammers have to offer.
The current owners (‘stewards’ they like to say) are the husband and wife duo/super team Capts. Jon Finger and Annie Mahle. Annie is also the chef and the meals she turns out of her tiny little galley are impressive. Some 95% of the food she serves is local, a lot of it coming from a CSA and a significant amount coming from their own home garden. While Annie is a trained chef, she’s really figured out how to utilize what’s available to her and in season any given week. Every trip, so far, I’ve come home and had to recreate at least one thing that she made. Last fall she roasted a head of cauliflower with butter, mayo, mustard and capers… I think I came home and made it over and over again for months.
Like many of the historic windjammers, one evening of every trip is spent on a small island for a traditional lobster bake. Lobster, corn, potatoes, and lotsah buttah. Burgers or dogs for those who don’t like seafood. Plus s’mores for dessert. The Riggin crew operates under a leave no trace policy. Everything that is brought to the island, leaves the island with us (and sometimes additional trash) and everything natural found on the island is left alone to fluorish.
As incredible as the food is, it’s just an added bonus to the sailing and the scenery of Penobscot Bay. There’s no itinerary. Seriously. Ask Capt Jon where we’re headed and he’ll tell you he doesn’t know. Or he may list off a few possibilities. The journey is determined by the wind. (In the cases where there is no wind, an external yawl boat is dropped into the water to help push us along but is only used when absolutely necessary.)
As we sail, some people are on the lookout for lighthouses and wildlife. Porpoise and harbor seal are a fairly frequent sight, the seal especially can be found basking on sun filled rocks. It’s always fun to spot the other windjammers from the fleet sailing around the bay as well. Others still, will read or knit or nap on deck. You choose what you want to do.
Soon everyone falls into a routine. You sleep when you’re tired, you wake up when you want to. There’s coffee on deck by 7am and there’s almost always hot water and coffee available on deck or in the galley. At 8AM, the ship’s bell rings to signify breakfast. It rings again at noon and again at 6PM. It’s not uncommon to feel like you just ate not that long ago. Depending on where we anchor at night, we often get an hour or two of shore time in the morning to explore the little seaside towns before setting sail again. (A favorite for many is Brooklin, ME; home to Wooden Boat School.) Passengers are encouraged to help set sails and weigh anchor but it’s never a requirement. People talk and tell stories about their lives. When you spend that much time with people in close quarters, it’s inevitable that close bonds are created.
Capt. Jon and Annie (and their daughters and the crew and the other passengers) have become like family. I’ve felt that way since the first time I ever stepped on board. They welcome you with open arms into their summer home. Every time I go, it gets harder and harder to leave.
In Annie’s first (she has two more) cookbook At Home, At Sea she writes, “Jon tells the story of driving all the way from Indiana to Maine for the first time. When he stepped out of the car and breathed in, he knew he’d found the place where his heart was most full. I feel the same. I feel less encumbered in Maine than I do anywhere else I’ve ever traveled or lived.”
I whole-heartedly agree.