Lessons in the Simple Life: Maine Schooner Style

On our sailing trip aboard Isaac H. Evans, a 126-year-old schooner, we had access to the endless outdoors: voluminous sky, sea, and islands—and stars galore.

Big water, little sky. The scenery while sailing Maine's Penobscot Bay is spectacular. Photo © Laurel Kallenbach

Yet, on a schooner, you’re confined to a small boat except for the times when it’s anchored and you debark. The reality of “tiny” hit me when I first saw our cabin; there was so little space in our bunks that we couldn’t sit up in them. We had to sort of crawl in horizontally. And only one person at a time could stand up to dress or brush their teeth. (There is a tiny sink in the cabin, which was quite convenient.)

However, over time, Ken and I wrapped our brains around the idea of “smallness,” and the bunk became a cozy haven—especially when at night we placed a hot soapstone (heated in the massive galley stove) under the covers.

Ken tucked into the lower bunk in our cabin on the Isaac Evans schooner. (Some cabins have double beds; you get a choice.) Photo © Laurel Kallenbach

I’m not saying we didn’t smack our heads a few times on the beams, but I realized how little “stuff”—and space—you need on this type of adventure.

Loo with a Shower

Having a nice hot shower in the teeny-tiny head—basically a Port-o-Potty—was also a funny lesson in “less is more.” Here’s the drill for whenever you decide it’s time to freshen up.

First, you go barefoot and wear as few clothes as possible into the shower/toilet. Then, inside the head, you stand in front of the toilet (the only place you can stand, really), undress, hang your clothes on the wall pegs, and cover them with the tiny plastic shower curtain. The four inches behind the curtain are the only part of the head that don’t get sopping wet.

Next, you grab the handheld showerhead and spray yourself with the hot water. Turn the water off (we’re always conserving water on a boat), lather up with shampoo and soap; then rinse. There’s not much elbow room, but after a couple of days, it feels wonderful to be clean.

Having a sink in the cabin was handy...but you still have to climb the ladder to get to the loo. Photo © Laurel Kallenbach

Finally, you towel off, pull on your (mostly) dry clothes, and emerge smelling clean, fresh and rather victorious after having succeeded in the tiny-shower quest.

Needless to say, there are no hair-driers—unless you count the breeze.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

 

Four Days Before the Mast: Adventure on a Maine Schooner

 

The Isaac H. Evans under sail. Photo courtesy Maine Windjammer Association

“Camping on the water.” That’s how the website describes a sailing trip aboard the Isaac H. Evans, a 126-year-old schooner that departs from Rockland, Maine’s harbor and sails around Penobscot Bay. On board are 20 lucky passengers—including me and my husband—and we’re in for a historic sailing experience.

The Evans was built in 1886 for oyster-catching and hauling, but nowadays it’s outfitted with small bunk rooms with electric lights. For four days in early June, it was home to me and Ken. We were keen on doing an unplugged, historic sail—a unique way to have a vacation. (Trips range from just overnight to a week in length; we chose the four-night adventure.)

Owned by Captain Brenda Thomas and her husband Brian, also a captain, the Isaac Evans is wind powered, although the gasoline-powered yawl boat—aptly named Tug ’n Grunt—pushes the boat when the wind dies. So not only do we get to enjoy an experience from days long past, but schooner sailing is eco-friendly too: very low carbon emissions. For more on this, see “15 Reasons to Take a Wind-Powered Schooner Trip in Maine.”

All Hands on Deck

On the morning we leave Rockland Harbor, Phil Bidwell, our first mate, instructs passengers on how we can help the crew of five to raise the sails. Helping out with the sailing is completely optional—but learning about sailing is half the fun! So, we all pitch in and line up along the rope lines to raise the giant mainsail, which is surprisingly heavy. We were advised in advance to bring gloves to keep from getting rope burns from the thick rope, which furiously whips through our palms.

Guests help the ship's crew hoist the sails. Photo © Laurel Kallenbach

Once all the sails are up, we glide along so smoothly that I can hardly feel the movement. As the crew bustles around, we watch as the lighthouse passes by. Twenty minutes after setting sail, two porpoises swim in tandem along the starboard side.

Already on the first day, I realize the pleasures of living on a historic boat: watching seabirds patrol for fish, seeing seals snoozing on rocky islands, gliding into quiet coves, skimming across the water, having your morning coffee on deck as the sun rises over the forested island hills.

There are other schooners to watch as well. We’re lucky enough to be part of the Maine Windjammer Association’s Schooner “Gam”: a rendezvous of all the ships in the association. So on our first day, we see a dozen other schooners sailing on the horizon—all heading to our meeting point in Gilkey Cove.

Schooners, I discover, are gloriously graceful with their angled sails, their sleek lines, and their slim prows. And, because she’s mostly made of wood, iron and brass, the Isaac Evans has an organic, living, breathing quality. I can see why our crew is passionate about what they do—even though they work super hard for long hours.

For the Love of Schooners

For Ken and me, the charm of the schooner sail is the relaxation and slow-down factor. It’s the sort of vacation where you can leave behind the 21st century for a simpler time. It’s amazing how quickly we forget about electronics and world events and just slip into a rhythm of the sun and moon, wind and tides.

Mostly, our daily routine centers around meals—which are incredible. Our cook, Wally, coaxes fresh-baked culinary delights from the belly of a 1905 cast-iron stove they call Glenna. (The stove is a Glenwood brand.) To give you an idea of the good eats, here’s a sampling of our saliva-stimulating menus over the four days: Maine blueberry pancakes, lobster quiche, fresh fish chowder and cornbread, haddock stuffed with crab, pork loin and biscuits, and strawberry rhubarb pie.

Wally is assisted by deckhand Aiden, a 17-year-old young woman who really knows the ropes—she’s been sailing since she was a little kid. For activity, there’s swimming, fishing, and rowing to uninhabited islands and hiking their rocky shores — but nobody minds if you lounge on deck and watch lighthouses drift by.

All of us passengers—even the kids—got to take a turn at the boat's helm. Photo © Laurel Kallenbach

Outdoor Living on a Historic Schooner

What I love most about my schooner sail on the Isaac H. Evans is the ocean and being in nature. As a landlocked Coloradoan, I can never get enough of the ocean. If I don’t get to the sea at least once a year, I feel bereft. And the ships of the Maine Windjammer Association make a total oceanic adventure possible. (Because the weather was cool and rainy for two days of the sail, the water was too chilly for me to literally immerse myself in the salty waves. Wading had to suffice.)

The flip side of our outdoor sailing experience can be dealing with foul weather. We contended with almost two days of rain and cold, and spent them huddled around the woodstove in the bunk area or helping the cook in the toasty-warm galley. On one particularly blustery night, our group of sailors gathered around the table, swapped stories, sang songs, and got to know each other better.

Luckily, Ken and I had brought our long underwear and wool hats—I had even purchased some Wellies for my feet (very little call for them in dry Colorado!)—yet still there were times when I was cold during this sail in early June.

During our four-day excursion, we learned to follow our course on the nautical chart, furl the sails, hoist the anchor and coil the ropes. Though purely optional, playing sailor is half the fun. Even mundane chores — vegetable chopping, dishwashing — are more fun at sea.

And to top off the excitement—and clinch the authentic Maine experience—there’s a lobster bake on the beach of a pretty little island. (More on that in a later post!)

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and erstwhile sailor

Next post: “Lessons in the Simple Life: Maine Schooner Style”

The Isaac H. Evans  is a member of the Maine Windjammer Association (MWA), a fleet of more than a dozen schooners built in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Some are a bit fancier than others; a few have engines to fill in with sail power. Some do not take children under 16.

MWA schooner trips last from two to six days, sometimes include special themes. For instance, the Isaac H. Evans offers cruises with live music, knitting, pirate adventures, puffin excursions, lighthouse spotting, photography and full-moon night sailing.

Maine Windjammer Association members "raft up" for the annual Schooner Gam in Maine's Penobscot Bay. Photo © Laurel Kallenbach

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15 Green Reasons to Take a Wind-Powered Schooner Trip in Maine

Choosing your transportation well is an important part of greening your vacation. On a Maine windjammer trip, the transportation—a historic, wind-powered schooner—is the vacation. As you sail past quaint lighthouses and pristine, rocky islands in Penobscot Bay, you’ll feel like a sailor of yesteryear, traveling by sea without creating carbon emissions.

The Isaac Evans sails past the Rockland Breakwater. Photo by Annie Higbee, courtesy Maine Windjammer Association

Through the Maine Windjammer Association you can book one- to six-night sails aboard 13 historic tall ships. Some cruises have a special focus—lighthouses, pirate adventures, photography, knitting, stargazing, food and wine, family trips.

But regardless of the type of trip, you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy the views and feel the breeze without a noisy engine or gasoline fumes to spoil the experience. (However, schooners have motor-powered yawl boats to push the ship on windless days.)

Sailing, Sailing

My husband and I sailed for four nights aboard the 126-year-old ship Isaac H. Evans, now a National Historic Landmark. We arrived, settled into our cabin—teensy but cozy—and Captain Brenda Thomas and her crew oriented us 18 passengers to life aboard a ship. When we set sail, we glided along like magic. No worries about seasickness here.

A schooner trip is a little like camping on water—no need for fancy clothes, just a mix of foul-weather gear for rain and a swimsuit for hot days when you feel like diving into the clear ocean water.

Here are just a few excellent reasons to sign aboard one of these beautiful sailing ships for a unique Maine getaway:

  1. Be the captain. Take the helm and learn how to steer the ship.
  2. Kids have a blast. Regardless of your age, you’ll learn something about maritime history and be enchanted by life at sea. (Not all ships take children; the Isaac H. Evans specializes in family trips.)
  3. Help hoist the sails: Lend a hand with the sails and anchor.
  4. Learn sailor lingo. After a day or two, you’ll be throwing around terms like “fore,” “aft,” “bow,” “stern,” and “jib” like a pro.
  5. Be entertained as porpoises and seals frolic around the boat.
  6. Feast on fresh-baked lobster on the beach.
  7. Sit on deck and watch as the pine-covered islands drift by.
  8. Row ashore small islands and explore them on foot.
  9. Explore picturesque fishing villages.
  10. Eat heartily. Menu highlights include blueberry pancakes, fish chowder and cornbread, crab-stuffed haddock, fresh green salads, homemade strawberry-rhubarb pie.
  11. Enjoy the peace and quiet of traveling “unplugged.” No TVs, phones or computers on this vacation!
  12. Master the art of coiling lines so they don’t tangle.
  13. Ask the captain to tell some sailor’s tales. Captain Brenda Thomas can recount stories of notorious female pirates!
  14. Spot loons, gulls, osprey and other sea birds through the ship’s binoculars.
  15. Watch the moon rise over the water as the ship is anchored in a quiet cove.

Crew member Aiden Ford takes a break from her sailing duties on the Isaac H. Evans. Photo © Laurel Kallenbach

P.S. The crew of the wind-powered Isaac H. Evans is eco-conscious. They recycle everything, collect food scraps and give them to a local pig farmer, and practice Leave No Trace principles when visiting islands. They even encourage guests to collect any trash they see, leaving islands cleaner than when they came. When you spend as much time outdoors as these sailors do, you learn to appreciate and protect nature.

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Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor


 

Uncovering Callanish’s Secrets: An Archaeological Tour

Seeing, touching and photographing the astonishing Callanish stone circle on Scotland’s Isle of Lewis is only part of the delight of visiting. Because I’m more than a little obsessed with these prehistoric treasures, I wanted to learn what archaeologists think about this particular circle when I visited. So I did a little research and dug up a wonderful guide, Margaret Curtis, who has observed and excavated sites around Callanish for almost 40 years.

Archaeo-astronomer Margaret Curtis gives tours of the Callanish standing stones. Here she's explaining the Triple Goddess stones inside the Callanish III circle. © Laurel Kallenbach

I first read about archaeo-astronomer Margaret Curtis on artist Jane Tomlinson’s blog post,  and knew that I had to meet Margaret. The Visitor’s Centre has her contact info, and so I phoned her before I left the States to request a tour. Just like that, I had an appointment with a local expert!

As it turned out, Donald and Nita Macleod, the owners of Leumadair B&B where I stayed, are good friends and supporters of Margaret’s research. So, Donald drove me and Margaret on not one, but two, tours of Callanish—which encompasses far more than just the large circle I’d journeyed to see. Many megalithic sites—including other circles, stone rows, burial cairns, and single standing stones—dot the countryside and farmland. Collectively, these 20-plus sites are called the Callanish Complex.

Monoliths, Moons, Mountains, and Myths

Should you be so lucky as to hire Margaret Curtis to be your guide, you’ll be wowed by her  knowledge and her enduring passion for sharing the secrets of the Callanish Complex.

Here's Margaret Curtis with the Callanish I endstone. This stone marks the end of the avenue of standing stones that leads up to the central circle. © Laurel Kallenbach

Over the decades, Margaret’s  life’s work has included logging untold hours examining the stones; finding ones covered by thousands of years of peat; and unearthing hidden, but important, sites.

Yet earthworks and rocks are just part of the story. Like the Callanish builders four to five millennia ago, Margaret is also a student of the sky. Although she never formally trained as an archaeologist or astronomer, she has chronicled how ancient people carefully planned the Callanish sites to mark a number of astronomical events, including a lunar rise and set that occurs only every 18.5 years. Now that takes decades of observation on both the part of the builders and the archaeological sleuths! (Over the years, Margaret has done her extraordinary work with her first husband, Gerald Ponting, and with her late husband, surveyor Ron Curtis.)

The standing stones on this Scottish isle align with the sun and moon, yet there’s a third element at work here that makes the Callanish Complex extremely brilliant and, well, complex. On the horizon to the south are mountains, dominated by Mt. Clisham. If you use some imagination, you can see the head, breasts, belly, and knees of a reclining form. In English, she’s called Sleeping Beauty, but in the old Gaelic she’s “Cailleach na Mointeach,” the Old Woman of the Moors. I like that name much better.

Behind the Callanish Visitor Centre is the reclining figure of the Old Woman of the Moors. The blue mound just to the left of the highest peak is her face. You can just make out the nose in the center of her "face." © Laurel Kallenbach

The Man (or Woman) in the Moon

Cailleach na Mointeach, who also represents the Earth Mother or Earth Goddess, is the key to why all the Callanish standing-stone sites were built, archaeo-astronomers believe. The circles are all located in areas where viewers could see the once-every-18.5-year lunar event: when the full moon, at its rare southern extreme, rises from the sleeping body of the Old Woman of the Moors.

This celestial event was important enough that prehistoric people erected stones that would frame this special moonrise and moonset. As she wrote in Callanish: Stones, Moon, and Sacred Landscape (coauthored with Ron Curtis), Margaret says: “Seen from the Callanish area, the moon at its south extreme rises from some part of the Sleeping Beauty, passes low at due south, sets into the Clisham Hills, then reappears briefly and dramatically in the deep valley of Glen Langadale.”

Callanish III stone circle, where the two center stones frame the face of the Old Woman of the Moors. This is where the moon rises every 18.5 years. © Laurel Kallenbach

And there’s more: when the full moon reappears in the valley, a living person can stand inside the ring of stones and be silhouetted by the moon—a vision that’s as heart-stopping today as it must have been in 2200 BC. (You can see some photos of this at The Geo Group website. The last event occurred in 2006.)

Walking with the Wise Woman of Callanish

Now in her early 70s, Margaret is truly the Wise Old Woman of Callanish. She says she’s personally most interested in the area from a scientific point of view, but she acknowledges that her work also draws from local history, folklore, and ethnology. She’s given tours to modern pagans and goddess worshippers, and she admits that their insights into earth-based rituals inform her work. After all, there are no written records about Callanish, so oral tradition in the form of legends can contain kernels of truth.

The white mineral deposits on the bottom half of this stone form what looks like the Horned God (Callanish I). His large torso is slightly leaning to the right, and you can make out what look like antlers on his rather small head. © Laurel Kallenbach

At the start of my tour, Margaret took me to her workshop, where she demonstrated how the Callanish stone circles were designed to be ellipses—not just poorly made circle—and how the stones were erected. She even let me hold a 4,000-year-old arrowhead—a tiny remnant of the prehistoric people who lived on this island. Mind-boggling!

Later, we ambled through Callanish I, the main stone ellipsis, which Margaret calls both “a stone-age computer” (because it marks solar and lunar events) and a “community center” (because it was a gathering place for singing, dancing, and burying the dead).

In a way, Callanish is still a community center—of World Heritage Site calibre. Over the days, I heard visitors from several continents speaking various languages, and I watched children have foot-races down the stone-lined avenue, the ancient entryway to the main circle. I saw photographers and artists capturing images of the stones on paper or in digital format. Couples paused to kiss. Baaing sheep gazed over the fence at the stones. Dogs lifted their legs to pee on the stones. Ravens alighted on the monoliths. Many people sat amid the stones and meditated or wrote in their journals. Occasionally someone would sing.

“People tuck flowers or special, meaningful items into the stone gaps and graves here,” said Margaret. She pointed out that someone had climbed up and left a carved bone atop the tall End Stone of the Avenue—the very top that had been broken off since Victorian times and that Margaret found amid a pile of rocks. The top has now been cemented on, thanks to her!

Along the way, Margaret related the individual history of many other stones, which she knows like the back of her hand. She pointed out a stone in which the hornblende crystals naturally form a shape that looks strikingly like the pagan Horned (or Antlered) God. The gneiss stones were surely chosen because of their shape, size, and the presence of quartz (a crystal associated with the sun) or hornblende (a mineral associated with the moon).

She also showed me the notches in two separate stones in the Callanish I circle. At Summer Solstice, these two notches form a square “viewfinder” through which you can see the midsummer sunrise. In addition, an east-west line of stones lets you sight through two stones to witness both the Spring and Fall Equinox.

Stones That Mark Celestial Events

There are really too many highlights from Margaret Curtis’ tours for me to relate, but here are a couple of other Callanish sites worth visiting:

The standing stones at the Barraglom Narrows are just part of about 20 prehistoric sites that comprise the Callanish Complex. © Laurel Kallenbach

1. Barraglom Narrows  stones (Callanish VIII): These standing stones are picturesquely positioned on a cliff overlooking the narrows that separate the Isle of Lewis from the Isle of Bernera. By sighting the east horizon from the third large stone here, you can spot two standing stones on a distant ridge. On Beltaine (May Day) you can see the sun rise between the two standing stones.

2. Callanish III stone circle: Sitting in what’s now a cow pasture (watch out for cow pies!), this small, elliptical circle surrounds four stones, which Margaret believes represent the Triple Goddess (one each for the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone) and her male consort (represented by a tall penis-shaped stone). If you stand at a sighting stone a few hundred yards outside the Callanish III circle, you will see the full moon rise at its rare southern extreme (every 18.5 years) from the body of the Wise Woman of the Moors—and that event is exactly framed between two stones. Four hours later, if you move to a second sighting stone that’s at a different angle to the circle, you see the moon reappear from behind the mountain in the valley of Glen Langadale. This too, is perfectly framed by two stones in the circle.

I loved visiting Callanish, especially at about 7:30 p.m., when this photo was taken. I'm wearing rain pants to cut the sharp wind and so that I could sit in the grass by the stone of my choice without getting damp. It's not all paradise. Shortly after taking this picture, I had to put on my wool cap and gloves for warmth. And the midges start biting at sunset. Still, there's no place I'd rather be.

Well, if anyone is still reading this too-long post, you’re probably as much of a standing stones geek as I am. Here’s to looking at the moon…

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and wannabe archaeo-astronomer

To arrange a tour with Margaret Curtis, contact the Calanais Visitor Centre, which will share her phone number. If you’re staying at Leumadair Guest House, which is located just a short walk to the Callanish I site, Donald or Nita Macleod can put you in touch with this local expert.

 Next blog post: An eco-friendly farm B&B with a view of Callanish

For more info, click on Visit Scotland or Visit Isle of Lewis

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