“Repeat after me,” Captain Tim Forderer said to my fiancée, Naomi, in responsorial increments: “It’s OK . . . for me . . . to be . . . decadent.” Naomi dutifully followed her prompts-although not fully convinced of the righteousness of the mantra-and the skipper of Ciao Bella, the 64-foot Swan we were chartering-complete with first mate/chef-hugged her as though reinforcing one of the 12 steps of Self-Reliants Anonymous. Two days out of Camden, Maine, anchored in placid Smith Cove, south of Castine, we’d been breakfasting in the cockpit, and Naomi had wished out loud for paper napkins so we wouldn’t have to soil the cloth ones. Overhearing her, Captain Tim had then sidled over and conducted her pledge of allegiance to this reverse spiritual awakening.
It was hard for Naomi, a mother of three with a full-time job, not to consider such things. And it was impossible for me to feel like some grand old man of cruising who’d paid his corporate dues and was getting his just rewards. Heck, just seven years earlier, I’d hitchhiked around the Atlantic on seven different boats-how else would a journeyman editor see the world?-and here I was stepping aboard a year-old spit-and-polish Swan for a five-day, 150-mile, late-summer, crewed charter in midcoast Maine.
This wouldn’t be a simple change of mind-set, but once it had been methodically effected, miraculous transformations would result. For the two of us, this would be a lesson in letting go-in allowing others to do our daily chores, in transferring responsibility for all logistics from our shoulders to those of the crew.
Ciao, Ciao Bella
For Naomi, it was her first luxury charter, first domestic charter, first monohull charter, and inaugural Down East cruise-and it would add five more days of sailing to her burgeoning résumé. For me, this would be a homecoming of sorts. I’d lived in Camden in the 1970s, in a Victorian house in the shadow of the Camden Hills, and I’d explored Penobscot Bay in a variety of boats and seasons. Visiting my old haunts was a goal we’d noted on the pre-departure questionnaire about destination, food and drink, and lifestyle preferences. But more important, the next five days would allow me, a dedicated minimalist, to put a handle on the crewed-charter experience.
We joined Ciao Bella at Camden’s Wayfarer Marine on a brilliant, fall-like day in mid-September. Tim and his first mate/chef/significant other, Lisa Jouris, greeted us warmly and hefted our duffels aboard. “Ciao Bella is actually a Swan 60,” Tim explained during his introductory tour of the boat, “but she has an extended transom, all above the waterline, for more room on deck and more stowage below.”
On entering our aft-cabin quarters, Naomi was bowled over by splashes of white, purple, and red in a vase of lilies beside the center-cabin double. “They opened just before you arrived,” Lisa offered, as though she’d planned it that way-and she probably had! “How about a Diet Coke, caffeine-free?” Tim asked Naomi, who melted then and there, for this was her soda of choice. Tim knew that. It was on the questionnaire. “The key to a crewed charter,” Tim explained, “is the quality of the communication before the charter begins.”
Some good crewed-chartering karma was going down, and we hadn’t yet left the dock. But after the usual crunch liberating ourselves with clear consciences from our respective offices, the five-hour drive from Rhode Island to Camden, and rapid immersion into a new lifestyle, those vibes needed more time to percolate in the two pilgrims from the south. This was no surprise to Tim. “When guests arrive,” he said, “they’re still in the mode of their usual lives-furrowed brow, stressed out. In 24 hours, they’ve shed that skin. By the end of the trip, they’re mush.”
We cast off, consumed home-made cream-of-broccoli soup and chicken sandwiches on the run, and set sail for Seal Bay, a nearly landlocked anchorage on the east side of Vinalhaven island. During the 20-mile passage, Tim told us about a 16-day windward delivery he and Lisa had made from Hawaii to Los Angeles. “That was our first date,” he said as though they’d gone around the corner to Starbucks to get acquainted. Their relationship progressed-Lisa greeted Tim at the finish of a West Marine Pacific Cup race between San Francisco and Hawaii wearing a sundress and a few dabs of intoxicating perfume-but when she met him after the return trip clutching a home-cooked meatloaf, their partnership became a done deal. Tim’s very favorite meal, you see, is meatloaf.
Eagle Island Perspective
When I lived in Camden, occasionally I’d volunteer my services to Captain Erland Quinn, who delivered coal and appliances to Penobscot Bay’s island residents with his canoe-sterned freighter, Hippocampus. On one such run, in the same season as our charter, we off-loaded coal on Eagle Island, just east of North Haven Island, for a Mrs. Howard, who served us tea and biscuits in her kitchen. I recall looking out a window over the panorama of islands bristling with red and white spruce and remarking how beautiful it all was. “Oh, you should have been here 30 years ago when they logged the islands,” Mrs. Howard said. “Back then, without all the trees, you could see forever.”
As Ciao Bella reached in a light northeasterly between Bald and Eagle islands and into East Penobscot Bay, I warmly remembered that eye-opening lesson in perspective. The sun was nudging the tops of the evergreens on Vinalhaven as we negotiated the keyhole into Seal Bay and anchored just south of a cruising catboat, a fiberglass sloop, and what appeared to be a classic spoon-bowed wooden Casey yawl rafted up in the middle of the anchorage.
The 80-foot, 121-year-old centerboard schooner Grace Bailey-veteran of the West Indian trade, a timber and granite freighter until 1939, and since then a passenger-carrying windjammer-was tucked up against the east shore of the bay. At dusk, a pulling boat cut a silver ribbon across the mirrored mahogany surface, a spell was cast, and despite the mercury hovering in the high 40s, Naomi and I asked for cocktails in the cockpit. Gin and tonics, cheese and crackers, and a blanket promptly appeared in the companionway, and we quickly warmed up to the temperatures and the concept of a crewed charter.
It was so still and quiet in the bay, it was hard to believe that, in 1880, about 3,300 people (more than twice the current population) lived on Vinalhaven while granite was being cut in its quarries for construction of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and New York’s Brooklyn Bridge. And it seemed miraculous that a direct link to that era lay proudly at anchor beside us; well over a century earlier, the Bailey carried Maine granite to city construction sites to the south. After dinner with Tim and Lisa-steak, caramelized onions, sweet-potato mash, asparagus, and fruit-of-the-forest pie, all washed down with a fine red wine-we dragged ourselves aft and, while musing on how decadence can grow on one, crashed.
Our second day’s destination was Castine, on the Bagaduce River, a 25-mile sail to the north, and I was on a mini-mission. I have a treasured volume-Maine: A Guide Downeast-with the inscription “To Nim Marsh, shipmate, aboard the State of Maine for OpSail ’76. Regards, M.C. Hill, Master, 6/24/76.” Castine was picked not only for Ciao Bella to hole up in a protected anchorage should the remnants of Hurricane Isabel pass through but also for me to rendezvous with the State of Maine, the Maine Maritime Academy school ship, on which I’d accompanied the Tall Ships fleet from Bermuda to Newport, Rhode Island, a quarter of a century earlier. But a full day of exploring lay between Ciao Bella and her just-in-case hurricane hole.
After a breakfast of cereal, fresh fruit, and strong coffee, we sailed-again in a light northeast wind-to the Fox Islands Thorofare, which cuts between North Haven and Vinalhaven, scattering rafts of puffins as we approached them. Ciao Bella motored to the roadstead off North Haven village, where we anchored as a small Murray Peterson schooner ghosted through under sail, its solo crew facetiously waving a seat cushion at the mainsail to conjure a zephyr.
A Fox Islands Deceit
Fox Islands was the name given these two islands by English explorer Martin Pring in 1603, and this moniker, I’m ashamed to say, in the 1970s inspired two young Maine editors with too much time on their hands to contrive a deception. Both of us worked with the late John Gardner, revered dean of small-boat evolution, design, and construction, who was always discovering, in fields, barns, and tidal creeks, missing links between obscure traditional boats-say, a stem rabbet that might relate a Peterborough plank canoe to a Rushton Canadian Model. The links were often so esoteric we wondered if any of National Fisherman’s readers would notice if we slipped a totally bogus design into one of John’s columns. Thus was born the Fox Islands Carry Boat, a sailing barge, the story went, that removed the excess fox populations from North Haven and Vinalhaven and took them to the mainland for disposal.
“Who’d ever question it?” asked my partner in crime. The statute of limitations on such publishing transgressions has long since passed, so I now could freely admit guilt, if indeed we’d done the deed. But we never did, a decision that I now applauded as I stepped ashore at the little village of North Haven, population 381, and one of the first summer communities in the country. The earnest and pristine Fox Islands didn’t deserve association with such deceit. The Rockland ferry, Capt. Neal Burgess, had just departed its slip, and as the rumbling of its big diesel dropped away as it left the thorofare, the village was quickly transported to a century past.
Naomi and I followed the unmistakable aromatic amalgam of paint, varnish, pine tar, and bedding compound down Main Street to its source-J. O. Brown and Son Yacht and Boatbuilder, Est. 1888-where an old coasting schooner was being rebuilt in one of the sheds. Backtracking, we ambled past the ferry slip and followed Main Street up the hill and into a neighborhood of Maine farmhouses with filagreed porch pillars. Returning to the harbor, we stopped on Church Street, where, to capture the feel of a 19th-century community, we spread wide our sensory wings and gathered only the rustle of gentle breezes filtering through the leaves of the honey-locust trees.
After serving home-made pizza and vegetable soup in the cockpit, Lisa hauled up the anchor with the windlass, Tim drove Ciao Bella out the thorofare, and we set sail for Castine in about 12 knots of wind that had by now clocked to the southwest. The National Weather Service informed us that Isabel, packing 50-knot winds, had just arrived on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. With Naomi and me getting lots of time on the wheel, we broad-reached at close to seven knots between Butter and Bradbury islands, spotting seals, puffins, cormorants, and loons along the way. We gave Green Ledge, southwest of Cape Rosier, a wide berth, then bore off to the northeast on a course for Castine Harbor. We ran down past Maine Maritime Academy (MMA), the old State of Maine, and the MMA sail-training vessel, the schooner Bowdoin, veteran of 26 voyages to the Arctic. Then we short-tacked into Smith Cove.
Our Hurricane Hole
Late in the afternoon, under gathering clouds and a rising wind, we joined six sailing vessels and a trawler yacht already anchored under the lee of Holbrook Island Sanctuary. Among them were three charter boats from my home port of Newport, Rhode Island: the Swan 48 Yellow Drama, the Farr 72 Starr Trail, and the 173-foot Perini Navi megayacht Independence. As Ciao Bella‘s summer base is Jamestown, Rhode Island, across Narragansett Bay from Newport, this was like the beginning of Old Home Week for the crew of the 64-foot Swan.
This Crewed Charter in Maine Turned Frayed Nerves to Mush
Before we went below for a nap, Captain Tim overheard Naomi challenge me to a “one-sump-pump-button” shower the following morning. Sensing his guests were losing the luxury-charter perspective, he donned his figurative captain’s hat, told us we’d never use all the water Ciao Bella‘s 30-gallon-per-hour watermaker could generate, and ordered his recalcitrant charges to get in the shower and stay there until cocktails. Or at least until we were wrinkled like prunes. “You’re on a crewed charter. That means you can be totally decadent,” he said. “If you were on a bareboat, because of all the work involved, you could be only semidecadent at best.”
Despite the worsening weather, the well-scrubbed guests again had their G&Ts in the cockpit, then headed toward the companionway for dinner. Naomi peered through the translucent Lexan hatch, then turned back to me, horrified. “They’ve only set two places!” she blurted. “Do you think they’re annoyed with us?” No, the captain and first mate/chef weren’t agitated; they simply wished for us a romantic candlelit dinner of grilled salmon with a pasta dish called puttenesca orzo, mesclun with arugula, cranberries, and goat cheese, and a brownie sundae à la mode for dessert.
That night, we were wakened in the wee hours by driving rain and 25 knots of wind moaning through the rigging, causing Ciao Bella to heel and tug at her rode. By morning, the blow was well on its way east toward Nova Scotia, but with a big sea running outside in the bay, Captain Tim decided to remain in Smith Cove for another day.
A Day Ashore
There was a third reason Tim and Lisa had chosen Castine as a port of call: It was an interesting place for charter guests to be during inclement weather. So rather than killing time on the boat until conditions improved, as we would have had we been sequestered in some remote anchorage, Tim ferried us into Castine in Ciao Bella‘s RIB, and we spent several hours idling along quiet streets lined with elm, locust, and basswood trees, stopping in small shops, and acquainting ourselves with the town’s long, convoluted history.
No tours of the State of Maine were scheduled while we were in town, so I sadly shelved my visit to the vessel that had given me such a Masefield experience so many years ago. Instead, we hiked with Lisa and Tim in Holbrook Island Sanctuary, on the west side of the cove, foraging for treasures with which to fill a shadow box. As I write, displayed under glass in my living room are a crab shell baked orange by the sun, a pair of bayberry-blue mussel shells, two deep-mahogany pinecones, a couple of sleek conjoined acorns, a heart-shaped striped lucky stone, and a natural birchbark scroll on which Lisa inscribed, “Ciao Bella, Maine, September 17-22, 2003.”
In late afternoon, Tim took us back to Ciao Bella, then mysteriously sped off toward town. Within an hour, he returned, gleefully bearing eight freshly cooked pound-and-a-quarter lobsters for our dinner. After dinner-two lobsters apiece!-Naomi leaned back, took a deep breath of satisfaction, and sighed, “This certainly has been a full day . . . a wonderful day.”
Tim smiled and said, “When the weather’s bad, we try to be somewhere where our guests can do other things.” And Lisa makes it her business to know what activities are available-kayaks, shopping, museums, hiking-thus, our full day. None of us noticed that we didn’t go sailing.
Our fourth day broke with a blanket of fog rolling up Smith Cove, obscuring all around us. But the wind and seas were down, and we hauled anchor, cranked up the 150-horsepower Yanmar Turbo, and with the Furuno radar and B&G GPS showing the way, we backtracked south, our destination the WoodenBoat School of Boatbuilding, established by WoodenBoat magazine in Brooklin, 30 miles to the east as the boat plies.
This was a pilgrimage to our Mecca; during the past two years we’d restored, “by the seat of our pants,” a 55-year-old lapstrake English sailing dinghy, and we wanted to learn what we’d done right.
At a point east-northeast of Seal Bay, where we’d spent our first night, we hooked a sharp left and entered narrow Deer Island Thorofare with barely an eighth of a mile of visibility.
Not to worry: At Ciao Bella‘s port wheel was a KS Bootronik SeaBook M12 cockpit display with Nobeltec electronic-charting software, and at her starboard helm was a Furuno/Navionics radar/ chart plotter with B&G Hydra 2000 series instruments. Not only could we see precisely where we were at any given time in relation to any hazards and how we were being set by the currents; we also knew the ebb and flood times for the tides and their heights and velocities.
All this technology pleased Naomi and me no end, for Don Johnson’s Cruising Guide to Maine, Volume II: Rockport to Eastport (1995; Wescott Cove Publishing Company, $35), which our charter broker, Ed Hamilton, had kindly sent us, said about the thorofare: “The main channel is well buoyed, and if you pay close attention to the chart, you should have no problems. However, in fog, with a complete lack of visual reference, it is not as easy a passage as Eggemoggin Reach.” Our electronics gave us that visual reference.
A Thorofare Gam
As Ciao Bella approached the thorofare’s entrance, a sécurité signal bearing a familiar name burst over the VHF. It was Morgan’s Cloud, the 56-foot aluminum McCurdy and Rhodes cutter sailed in the high latitudes by CW authors John Harries and Phyllis Nickel (see “Weather To Go in 30 Minutes,” December 2003), who’d recently logged a rough Atlantic crossing against the westerlies.
We slowly approached the Billings wharf until Phyllis-standing on it taking lines from John-materialized out of the soup. We learned they were decommissioning Morgan’s Cloud *at Billings Marine on Moose Island while they attended to land affairs after their four-year voyage. John and I conducted some *Cruising World business over the VHF (“We’re a relentless lot,” I told him), and Ciao Bella continued on her way toward the WoodenBoat School in Brooklin.
Lisa was on lobster-pot watch on the bow, Naomi and I were port and starboard boat spotters in the cockpit, and we ran the gauntlet toward the east end of Eggemoggin Reach in a true Maine “thick o’ fog.” We anchored just north of Babson Island, and Tim drove us in to one of the WoodenBoat wharves, navigating with a compass on his watch. As the gift shop was about to close, we hit it first, pored over the neat books, woodworking tools, and clothing, grabbed a catalog so we could mail-order for some of it later on, and then headed anxiously for the boat shops and sheds.
Eating Major Raven
Now I’ve eaten a lot of crow in my life, and for me to arrive at WoodenBoat magazine headquarters wide-eyed and hyperventilating is akin to consuming major raven. When the magazine was launched in 1974, the inaugural issue was passed around my Camden editorial office, and I pompously noted something like: “Will never make it. Worships at altar of wood.” Nearly three decades down the line, I walked onto the grounds of WoodenBoat magazine, circulation 105,000, and its WoodenBoat School as a zealot within the cult.
For a couple of hours, Naomi and I swooned over Norwegian prams, Swampscott dories, yacht tenders, sea skiffs, Haven 12 1/2s, and kayaks and canoes in various stages of construction, and we were smitten by a 14-foot version of our 10-foot sailing dinghy, Frith. To Naomi, the uncompleted boats seemed even more beautiful than their finished counterparts because you could see the thought and craftsmanship their builders were investing in them. We grabbed a course catalog in the event we’d like to one day build the 14-footer, and Tim ferried us back to Ciao Bella and a dinner of pork chops, squash au gratin, and sautéed spinach, with peach strudel for dessert.
On September 21, two days before the autumnal equinox, we received a sneak preview of fall. Dawn broke with a west-northwest wind, a clear sky, and, with no fog, an entirely different view of our anchorage. Moored just inshore of us were Beetlecats, Haven 12s, classic white Maine launches with bright coamings, a Rozinante yawl, three lobster boats, and assorted dories and tenders, and in the crisp air, the mirage of the Deer Island Bridge loomed surreally over Eggemoggin Reach to the west.
When I lived in Camden, I knew the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School (HIOBS) director and several of the instructors and their wives, but I never visited the island. So on the last full day of our charter, we retraced our course through Deer Island Thorofare in 12 to 15 knots of wind, bound for Hurricane, close to 30 miles to the southwest. Long, undulating strings of white-winged scoters skimmed past us as we tore through the thorofare, and our exhilarating reach rendered Stonington village a palette of red, green, yellow, and white splashes.
Captain Tim gave me the helm, and he and Lisa adjusted the sails to course changes and the vicissitudes of the land-distorted breeze, the pawls of our winches emitting staccato protests as sheets were trimmed. Tim, a champion dinghy sailor in his youth and an inveterate racer; Lisa, his disciple and avid sail-set tinkerer; and Ciao Bella, inspired windship with a Class C second-place finish in her first Swan Regatta in Newport, Rhode Island, last summer, were reveling in the lively passage. So were their guests, who still couldn’t believe their good fortune.
We picked up a mooring in front of Outward Bound and dinghied in to the old quarrying wharf as three generations of a Massachusetts family drifted in with their tanbark-sailed English Drascombe Lugger. Climbing the long weed and barnacle-encrusted ladder, Naomi and I walked over to the school’s main house, thinking about the World War II British program that in 1964 inspired HIOBS. By 1941, so many young British merchant mariners had already died in survival situations after their vessels were sunk by German U-boats, an Outward Bound School was established in Wales to mentally callus new recruits.
Aside from the school, the island is wild and uninhabited today, and it was surprising to learn that by 1880, it was a major granite-quarrying site with a population of 1,200 Italian and Irish immigrants and, according to Taft and Rindlaub’s exhaustive and entertaining A Cruising Guide to the Maine Coast (4th edition, 2002; Diamond Pass Publishing, $55, $42 softcover), “It had a post office, six boardinghouses, 40 cottages, a pool hall, bowling green, bandstand, company store, two major quarries, and several smaller ones scattered throughout the island.”
Cape Codders on the Rocks
Lisa and Tim followed us off the wharf, carrying curiously bulging knapsacks. They led us to a trail that wound around a sylvan pond and up a gentle incline to a ledge on the island’s southwest corner. As we emerged from the underbrush, unfolding before us was a 180-degree panorama of bay and islands, rafting and flying seabirds, lobster boats hauling traps, and a couple of windjammers. We were speechless.
To complete this spectacle, a bald eagle soared over to Little Hurricane Island and lit theatrically on the top of a spruce tree, leaving Naomi and me to wonder how much of this sideshow Tim and Lisa had actually planned.
To cap the moment, Lisa then spread the knapsacks’ abundant contents on the ledge: Cape Codder sandwiches (turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce), chips, fruit, cookies, and soda-a Ciao Bella picnic.
A Worthy Endeavour
“A crewed charter is an amazing way to see out-of-the-way places,” said Tim. “If you rent a cottage on the Maine coast, you’ll watch the same sunrise and the same sunset for two weeks, but on Ciao Bella, you can have a different view every day, often from a place you can only reach by boat. It’s an ever-changing adventure-different places to hike, islands and towns to explore. And the crew does all the worrying.”
Our last night on the Swan would be spent in Pulpit Harbor, 10 miles away on the north side of North Haven and an eight-mile hop to the base in Camden Harbor. Ciao Bella motored up Hurricane Sound, through Leadbetter Narrows, and out into West Penobscot Bay. The Camden Hills lay spread before us in the rich, late-afternoon light-lush green in the foreground changing to dusky purple, then coal gray, as they rolled down toward Lincolnville. As we glided into Pulpit Harbor’s entrance in a gossamer northerly, the 130-foot J-class sloop Endeavour ghosted down the bay, dropped her sails outside Pulpit Rock’s 150-year-old Osprey nest-this day occupied by a bald eagle using it as a fishing camp-and joined us in the deep, protected anchorage.
The jolly crew of the lobster boat Susan Marie, on a Sunday busman’s holiday, circled Endeavour in the fading light, offering good-natured jibes to her well-heeled charter guests, then swung over to Ciao Bella and chanted in singsong cadence to her bemused crew, “Their boat’s bigger than your boat. . . .”
Well, the Susan Marie crew was right, but 64 feet proved optimal for the two minimalists from Rhode Island on their sailing vacation of a lifetime. After our last dinner aboard-meatloaf (the skipper’s favorite, you recall), mashed potatoes, salad, and blueberry pie-Tim raised himself ceremoniously from his chair, looked down at his guests with a Cheshire Cat grin, and said quietly (and smugly, I might add), “You are now in the mush state. The meatloaf was the knockout punch.”
And it was.
Nim Marsh, CW associate editor and ascetic, lives under his upturned 10-foot dinghy on the muddy margins of Narragansett Bay. He accepts no alms.