It was the summer of 1990 when my boyfriend of three years approached me with a dog-eared copy of Yankee magazine. It had a feature article about sailing excursions off the coast of Maine. The story highlighted several antique windjammers available for three- to five-day cruises through the islands of Penobscot Bay. “Let’s do it!” he said. Here’s some information that will help you understand my reaction. I am nobody’s outdoorswoman. I was born and raised in New York City. I get motion sickness on merry-go-rounds. I’m not a fan of nature or bugs or camping or foul-weather gear. I have dreadful allergies to dust, mosquitoes and pollen. My idea of a lovely summer afternoon? An air-conditioned movie matinee or maybe a visit to the local art museum.   Spending four days on a stinky antique boat was definitely, absolutely, unequivocally not my idea of a vacation. But, here’s another piece of information for you. I was head-over-heels, arse-over-teakettle in love with this man. So, I said, “Yes” We set off in my boyfriend’s sportscar after work and drove up the coast from Boston, stopping en route for dinner. By the time we arrived at the dock, the other guests and most of the crew had already gone to bed. So we boarded the Isaac H. Evans and crawled into our cramped cabin. I wondered how I had gotten myself into this situation and whether I could come up with some excuse to abandon ship before we set sail the next morning.  Never the soundest sleeper, I awoke at dawn and went up on deck to use the “head.” What happened next is one of those moments that stay with you all your life like a scene from some magnificently art directed feature film.The sun was just rising and there was a misty fog hovering over the water, which was so still it looked like a glassy sheet of steel grey ice. The smell of the ocean and seaweed on the cold wet rocks was sweet and pungent. And as I inhaled and looked out to sea, I suddenly noticed dozens of small dark heads, their huge black eyes staring at me in motionless curiosity. There was no one there to hear me except those harbor seals, but I’m certain I gasped, “Oh my God.”   There was more enchantment in store for me throughout the cruise. From meeting the other guests, many of whom were writers, artists and retired teachers, to indulging in a delicious all-you-can-eat lobster bake. There was plenty of time to read and sip wine while the boat sailed past Penobscot’s countless islands with their snug harbors, picturesque beaches and towering pines. The seals had only been a friendly introduction to the wildlife we saw. Dolphins, bald eagles, whales and osprey were frequent sightings. And this city girl even tried her hand at hoisting the mainsail and raising the anchor. It was exhilarating!  I was hooked and the windjammer trip became an annual tradition for us. Except for the August when I was eight months pregnant (I was hooked but I wasn’t insane), my now husband and I have sailed almost every year. It is still just as wondrous, but there have been two major developments — one here and one there — and our relationship with the Isaac Evans has evolved.   Several years ago, the ship’s mate, Brenda Walker Thomas, purchased the Isaac Evans and became the fleet’s first female captain. Her story mirrors mine to some degree although clearly her life was more dramatically changed. Brenda was a banker who did some bookkeeping for the owner of one of the old schooners. She took an overnight sailing trip on that boat and as she explains, her “connection with windjamming was instantaneous.” She left the world of financial services and signed up to crew on a smaller boat first and then on the Evans. She purchased the boat several years later. And today Captain Brenda, who is a smart businesswoman as well as a skilled seawoman, sails the Isaac as well as a smaller pleasure boat called the Rendezvous. Her husband (we had the delightful experience of attending their wedding on the Evans a couple of years ago) is also a captain now, and this year we look forward to meeting their 5-month-old son. His name is Kai, which, appropriately, means “water.”

Our Mad loves Captain Brenda.

The change on our end is an enthusiastic addition to our sailing party. While my daughter was a young child, we enlisted loving aunts and grandmothers to watch her while we went on our annual sails. By the time she was 8, she was ready to join us, and her connection, in the words of Captain Brenda, was also instantaneous. If I was proud of my small contributions to sailing the ship, I am always in awe of my offspring’s strength, enthusiasm and sheer fearlessness. She hangs from the jib halyard; she jumps off the side of the boat into frigid Maine waters; she lounges in a hammock suspended off the stern. (I think I’ll just sit with my book, thank you very much.)   We sail again next week and it will be a wonderful, relaxing way to end a hectic if fun-filled summer. Whereas our trips on the windjammer were once romantic getaways, today they are much-anticipated family affairs. Four days of glorious scenery, bracing wind and sea, delicious meals and interesting stories. Four days without email, voicemail, texting or Facebook. The time together, unwired, is all too rare these days and it is as precious to me as that first morning memory


Did I mention the sunsets?


Start the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.