Down East Dreamers and Doers

You can explore Maine forever and still miss an anchorage or two. Passage Notes from our August 2011 issue.

Sailing in Maine

Nadine Slavinski

After sailing Namani, our 35-foot Dufour sloop, across the Atlantic and throughout the Caribbean, we headed back to our home waters in southern Maine. There, my husband, Markus, our son, Nicky, and I quickly found common connections with a wide range of cruisers, from young families to empty nesters and retirees. Our easy friendships are based on what we all share: the ability to dream big and go far on a modest budget, tackle never-ending repairs to older hulls, and apply a sense of humor to lives led at the mercy of the elements.

Like us, Fred Sewry and Susan Brown of Spirit, a 1987 Contest 36-footer, were tackling hull work in Yarmouth’s Yankee Marina. The couple had found themselves dissatisfied with a quiet retirement. “We wanted to do something with our lives, so we did the normal thing—we bought a boat and got out of town!” says Fred. For starters, they sailed Spirit from Maine to Florida and back. What do they enjoy most about cruising? “It’s fun just meeting people,” says Susan. “You never know what story you’re going to hear. Some stories are true and some aren’t, but everyone has a tale!”

One of the highlights of their U.S. East Coast cruise was “passing the Statue of Liberty,” Susan recalls. “I was surprised that I was that impacted by that experience.” Fred, on the other hand, says that one of the highlights of their trip was meeting our family in Yarmouth, a true compliment and one of his rare moments of not cracking a joke—we think!

Cruising in Maine is full not only with possibilities but also with the pleasure of not going anywhere. One morning, I found Susan and Fred contentedly sipping coffee in Spirit’s roomy cockpit. “Our plan is to sail the coast of Maine this summer,” says Susan. “Our long-range plan is what happened five minutes ago!”

Fred, for his part, quickly moved on to more pressing topics. “This is neither here nor there,” he says. “Tell me what kind of bottom paint you use!”

Technical details also peppered conversations with the Armors, Liz and Jeff and their daughter, Jennifer, who sail on Boundless, a 47-foot Morgan built in 1979. We met during a serendipitous ferry ride, thanks to Nicky. He was swinging on a handrail, letting wooded isles and lighthouses slip by unnoticed, when a little girl joined him. “I live on a boat,” said Nicky. “Me, too,” Jennifer casually replied. Overhearing this exchange, we parents practically fell over each other to get acquainted.

Liz, a teacher, and Jeff, a percussionist, completed an Atlantic circuit in 1994 aboard the boat they owned then, a 28-footer named Different Drum. Then they stepped up to Boundless and started a business. With Different Drum Sailing, the Armors host high-school and college students on weeklong educational sailing adventures. “When they first come on, most of the kids have never even been on a boat before. After four or five days, they’re running the whole show!” Jeff says.

Young Jen lends a hand. “She’ll show the students how to check the oil on the engine and how to run the outboard,” Jeff says. Not bad for an 8-year-old! Jeff runs the business full time while Liz and Jen join him in shifts from their home base at a Virginia school. They enjoy summer cruises as a family in between paid sailing gigs.

Having visited more famous cruising grounds farther north, the Armors still prefer Casco Bay. “I like Casco Bay better,” Jeff declares. “There’s more variety. Between the seals and the bunkers and all—we don’t find that in Penobscot and Acadia.” The bunkers he refers to range from 1800s stone forts to World War II emplacements; other Boundless favorites include Eagle Island, the home/museum of Arctic explorer Robert E. Peary; secluded bays bursting with blueberries; and the brick-lined streets of historic Portland. “The people are wonderful and welcoming,” says Jeff. One bayside resident even rowed out to greet Boundless with freshly baked cookies.

The Armors dream of cruising abroad again, as do native Mainers Tracy Adams and James King. “Tracy wanted a summer cottage, and I wanted a boat that could sail to Antarctica, so we compromised!” says James with a laugh, and so they bought Island Girl, a 1987 Ericson 35. The couple was enjoying their first week aboard in the Bahamas when Island Girl was struck by lightning. Insurance paid for replacement electronics, but Tracy ran out of vacation time and had to return to the pottery studio she runs out of an 18th-century farmhouse near Bath. That left James to bring the sloop up the U.S. East Coast with a young crew made up of Tracy’s college-age daughter and friends. In an offshore storm, bad went to worse when James heard a pounding noise: “I took the cover off and saw the engine sitting four inches back!” James recalls. Luckily, he was able to bring Island Girl in to Southport, North Carolina, safely. Heeding a ticking clock, James trucked the boat home to finish repairs. “B-O-A-T,” he says, spelling the word. “It means Bust Out Another Thousand.”

A less optimistic pair might have been discouraged, but not they. Island Girl now earns her keep with charters, but the couple reserves time for themselves, most recently with an idyllic cruise to Isle au Haut, Matinicus, and Vinalhaven. “You could sail in Maine for years and still not get to all the islands,” says Tracy, who makes a point of exploring ashore each morning. “It’s always an adventure, and that’s what I like about coastal cruising.”

The couple dreams of faraway landfalls. “I’d like to buy a 40-something-foot steel boat and go north,” says James, intrigued by the thought of sailing to Spitsbergen, Norway. It seems these two never stop dreaming of the next horizon; it’s exactly why we seek their company. Like our other Maine friends, they exude a zest for life and the ability to look on the sunny side of the waves.

Tom Mahoney, who sails Orinoco, a 1986 C&C 38-footer, is another sailor who enjoys Casco Bay but thinks of the big beyond. “It’s a beautiful bay, with a large number of really nice anchorages. There’s great wind. The breeze comes in the gaps between the islands.” Even if the ocean is rough, he says, “You come around Portland Head Light and it’s almost like coming into a big lake. Calm and flat.”

Crewing for Tom on Orinoco are several friends. Cracking a constant stream of jokes, they call themselves the Bimini Boys. No, they’ve never sailed to Bimini, in the Bahamas. They just think the name sounds good. Last year, the gang took second place in Cape Cod’s Beringer Bowl, an overnight race from Marblehead to Provincetown, Massachusetts. Having cruised throughout New England, Tom thinks of going farther afield. “I’d like to do a couple of ocean passages and sail to Bermuda,” he says.

“We’re ready, Tom!” the Bimini Boys call out.

We also dream of tropical landfalls free of lobster pots and mosquitoes, but in the meantime, we thrive off the sight of green pines and the tantalizing, open waters of the Atlantic. Maine is an inspiring place in which to bide our time, thanks to the dreamers and doers here. When we do get the chance to push off again, you can bet we’ll first make time for a Down East cruising adventure of our own!

CW contributor Nadine Slavinski is cruising in Maine with an eye toward heading to Panama soon. She’s the author of Lesson Plans Ahoy! and runs Sail Kids Ed (www.sailkidsed.net), a website about educational resources for sailing families.