“Heave ho!” bellowed the first mate, prompting crew members and passenger volunteers into action, one mighty collective tug after another on the halyard, the heavy lines that raise the sails.
The mainsail was next, then the staysail, and finally the jib. Even with plenty of strong hands and arms, it was a good effort. The dividend was immediate, however, as the Schooner Ladona scudded over the frothy green waves of Penobscot Bay on a brisk southwesterly wind, bound for adventures unknown.
Schooner Ladona, piloted by Capt. J.R. Braugh, is one of eight traditional tall ships in the Maine Windjammer Association fleet, which hails from the midcoast ports of Rockland and Camden. The Ladona, christened in 1922 and painstakingly restored to her original yachting glory five years ago, is co-owned by Capt. Noah and Jane Barnes and Capt. Braugh. The partners have made it their business and pleasure to offer unforgettable sailing voyages amid a cruising ground of over 2,200 islands and some of the most beautiful scenery anywhere in the world.
There are many possible itineraries once the Ladona sets sail, all subject to the winds and tides, with choices made by Capt. Braugh based on conditions at the time. This freedom to go here or there, whether by whim or weather, is extraordinarily liberating and most definitely exciting. Whatever direction the journey takes, there will always be bays and thoroughfares to explore, island paths to wander by day, relaxed dining with exceptional food, fine wine and good company each evening, and a calm harbor mooring with restful slumber under dark, star-filled skies.
With this landlubber-turned-sailor and 16 other guests, during a wonderful stretch of midsummer weather, the Ladona sailed out of Rockland and charted a meandering course through the colossal Penobscot Bay archipelago. The invigorating salty air, sublime seascapes and squawking gulls marked the passage.
The schooner anchored in Bucks Harbor the first night, Burnt Coat Harbor off Swan’s Island the next, at Marshall Wharf in Belfast Harbor on the final night, then sailed past pretty Camden Harbor and the magnificent mountains beyond on the return leg of the trip. It was a kaleidoscope of sights and sounds and precious memories. The rhythm of life on the windjammer was established early, and justifiably revolved around food.
Each day started with a casual breakfast of good coffee, fresh fruit, sweet treats and a cooked-to-order specialty, prepared – as with all meals – by Anna Miller, the fabulous executive chef. Lunch was a hearty bowl of soup or stew, salads and hefty sandwiches. Happy hour meant tasty hors d’oeuvres and a selection of wines, or maybe a cold beer for those who’d stashed some in the big ice box on deck. Following in leisurely fashion was a sumptuous multi-course dinner, a millionaire’s meatloaf creation or lobster macaroni and cheese perhaps, finished off with key lime pie or peach cobbler.
Between meals, the hours drifted by in delightful succession, as did the spectacular natural gallery of bell buoys and lighthouses, spruce- and balsam fir-studded islands, rugged granite sea cliffs and clapboard cottages tucked into rocky coves, American flags flapping in the breeze at dock’s end. In the intimate confines of the schooner, friendships developed, games were played and conversations covered the world, transporting us to travel destinations past and those only dreamt about. Relaxing with a good book, journal writing or a nap below deck in the cradling coziness of a cabin consumed the quiet time for some.
Island time was an important part of each day. Mooring off Swan’s Island, guests walked the quiet lanes from the dock crowded with lobster pots and fishing gear out to Burnt Coat Harbor Light, a pleasant few hours of healthful exercise that afforded a glimpse into the unvarnished existence eked out by residents of this remote locale. A stop at Marshall Island, entirely conserved by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, featured a lovely beach and meadow stroll capped off with a classic Maine lobster bake at the tideline.
One of the true joys of the journey was interacting with the able crew, which included four strong, young men and women, their knowledge of cruising the sea and tackling the myriad tasks at hand clearly evident in their energy and efficiency (they were also talented musicians by night). Affable and poised, Capt. Braugh effused a confidence built upon years at the helm, and together captain and crew seamlessly operated like a well-oiled machine.
A cruise on the Schooner Ladona is a bucket-list adventure and a surprisingly affordable (most four-night cruises $1,228-$1,648 per person), all-inclusive vacation of a different kind. The cruising schedule, which includes voyages of varying lengths as well as a number of themed cruises, extends into the fall foliage season. Discover more about the Schooner Ladona at www.schoonerladona.com, and for information on the rest of the historic Maine Windjammer Association ships, go to sailmainecoast.com.