She is magnificent under sail; she is a rustic and fun haven at anchorGrace Bailey graces the seaprimarily along the rugged Penobscot Bay shorelines of Maine.
The companion schooners to the Grace BaileyThe Mistress and The Mercantileboth loaded their human cargo and then beat us out of the harbor; we would have to rouse a little earlier than the 10 a.m. blowing of the conch shell by Captain Ray signifying the start of a five day Windjammer experience. But the beatings had stopped and we were all stuffed with the morning breakfast rations.
We cowered around the worn and torn map unfolded on the mahogany framing planking abreast the helm. Fingers traced a route to Eggemoggin Reach, a short haul, about 25 minutes, for the first leg of excitement that later had us anchored at Bucks Harbor, embedded behind Cape Rosier, north of Camden. It was late June, and our original itinerary was downwind to Boothbay Harbor for the annual Maine Windjammer Days, but the bad beat steered us in the opposite direction.
We raced other schooners along an invisible course, and it was neck to neck with the Anqelique, or as our captain aptly phrased it, "And She Leaks". By this time the Camden harbor had emptied itself out and now all ships were heading for anchorage. At Bucks Harbor Captain Ray glided Grace like a classic Coupe de Ville squeezed into a Volkswagen parking spot between the Angelique and The Mercantile. The hulk of an anchor clanked and we were pegged down for our own ad hoc Windjammer Days in the nestled arms of the tight harbor. Most of the 14-ship Maine Windjammer Association fleet had avoided Boothbay Harbor for these safe waters. Seven of these ships have been designated National Historic landmarks, and many were here today.
Captain Ray moved from St. Croix, U.S.V.I. with his schoolteacher wife, Ann, where he was captaining a charter boat. In 1982 Ray heard about the traditional schooners sailing out of Camden and moved north as a Grace Bailey deck hand. "When in St. Croix I read about them. I said, 'I got to go there. I gotta sail on them'," says Ray. Then he was the captain of the Mistress and then the Mercantile. Four years later he was the proud owner of the three ship Maine Windjammer Cruises Fleet (www.mainewindjammercruises.com) that also now included the six passenger Mistress.
The original Windjammer Cruise Fleet started sailing for the tourists back in 1936. Penobscot Bay is the original and first cruising grounds in the world for passenger cruising. The Grace Bailey and Mercantile are not replicas. You will find original decking, graceful clipper bows, (new) hempen rigging, hand-carved wooden blocks, and polished fairleads. There is no high technology sailing going on here, but real skill sailing, using canvas sails. Captain Ray doesn't need modern electronics and GPS devices, and they are not found onboard except for a FCC ship-to-shore radio. He doesn't even need a sextant, because he knows the sea routes by rote.
As the first year owner of the fleet, Ray renovated each ship, a massive and expensive undertaking. It took him a year to rebuild the Grace Bailey from scratch; once out of dry dock he added the finer touches: burnishing brass, deck repair and replacement, new rigging, and some redesigning. Ray and Ann received national attention as preservers of historic vessels. His ultimate goal is to build a Square Rigger. "I need about $4 million to get it going and about two years to build it," says Ray. His two nautical loves are shipbuilding and sailing. Ann and Ray's grown daughters, Alyssa and Krista, grew up on the schooners, and they are experienced sailors themselves; Ann occasionally cooks aboard ship when not teaching kindergarten.
Typical authentic Coastering Schooners have U-shaped hulls allowing them to bump and hug the glacier scarred and scraped granite Penobscot Bay coastline. There is no motor onboard an authentic windjammer. The diesel powered push is supplied by a yawl boat lowered from the transom when needed for power, and with the yawl's 4-cyclinder diesel engine, The Grace Bailey is nudged neatly stern to shore. Blowing the conch at sunset is a Caribbean tradition, a sound not unlike a love sick moose, a blare shaped by the spiral turns of the shell.
If it were later in the season more guests would be acceptable to a quick dip in the icy waters; only a Boston-area chiropractor marathoned, trailing a wooden rowboat oared by his wife (also a chiropractor) and two teenage daughters.
Lobster pots have different colored buoys to identify their owners, according to Captain Ray. The abundance of lobster buoys shows you where the deep water lies. The absence of traps foretells an underwater ledge, so we sail a gauntlet of buoy lines on either side of us through a narrow strait.
I occupied a single cabinthe Mattie Suiteonce occupied by the former owner prior to Ray. We had a lighter crew this trip, about 16 of us. Many guests slept topside under a canvas awning, many uncomfortable with the close quarters below deck. All passengers enjoy the historical working museum, and one lady (not on this trip) has sailed on the Grace Bailey over 80 times.
Grace Bailey was the Great Schooner Race Winner in 1993 in the Coaster Class and the overall winner in 1994. She was originally designed to carry hard pine from South Carolina and Georgia to Edwin Bailey's lumber mills in Patchogue, New York. Built for Bailey by his good friend, business associate, and master shipbuilder, Oliver Perry Smith, she was launched in 1882 and named for Bailey's daughter, Grace, who was born the same year. The Grace Bailey was registered for foreign trade, and made several trips to the East Indies. She was renamed the Mattie in 1906, Grace's favorite niece. She relocated to Maine in 1910 as a coasterer carrying cargo, lumber, and Maine granite from Vinalhaven Island (once called the Fox Islands) and Stonington (where we made a day stop) for the New York City's General Post Office and Grand Central Station.
Steamboats and traditional two-masted gaff-riffed schooners served as both mail boats and packets with the mainland and the islands. A packet was any vessel maintaining a steady, regular schedule for transporting goods and mail. The islanders just called them "the boat". Other schooners in the Gilded Age packet business included the Planet, Watersprite, Excursion, Dove, Nora, Spy, and Nautilus.
Captain Frank Swift purchased the Mattie in 1939, which had been offering passenger vacation cruises in Penobscot Bay since 1936. The Mattie quickly became the flagship because of her popularity. In 1990 Captain Ray rechristened the ship the Grace Bailey, after another interior renovation.
By midmorning we had taken the halyards off the belaying pins to raise the broad canvas wings and we were sailing! That evening Captain Ray set up a barbecue over the gunwale to braise steaks and chicken, which was heartily anticipated. All food is part of your windjammer cruise package. But you have to bring your own booze and cigars (Smoking is only on the fantail trampoline and only when downwind.).
Drinking water is supplied in a large barrel on deck. During the across-the-Atlantic routes in the ancient seafaring days, 60 gallons of water was required per person per voyage.
From "The Professor At The Breakfast Table" published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1859: "Make (Whiskey) into a punch, cold at dinnertime, hot at bed-time. Real Bourbon's (sic) the stuff. Hot water, sugar, jest a little shaving of lemon-skin in itthe skin, mind you, none of your juice; take it off thin."
And with that recipe we all slept soundly.
We couldn't have asked for better weather80 degrees and sunny, not a cloud in the sky. In the warm afternoon sun I watched Ben create a landyard,an unusual knot called the Monkey Paw, to cover the anchor spike.
Grace Bailey has a small keel, and a collapsible centerboard that can be raised and lowered by hand from the deck. You can actually see the water below the hull through the centerboard hole. She has only seven feet of displacement. The Grace Bailey was built for speed while coastering close to shore. You don't get a hull like this out of a mold. She is still admired for her performance and sea keeping abilities, cutting through chops and waves with ease.
These shores are untenable for large ships, perfect when you have Grace. Good behavior in waves comes from the her escheatable weight (displacement), and her underbody. There are no flat places for the water to slap or pound. Hugging the rock-ribbed coast avoids the offshore rollers and swells because we are protected by the numerous Penobscot Bay islands.
Famous American author Nathaniel Hawthorn, often sailed amongst these islands on schooners. He stated: "For our own part, we prefer a vessel that voyages in the good old way, by favor of the wind, instead of one that tears her passage through the deep in spite of wind and tide, snorting and groaning as if tormented by the fire that rages in her entrails."
While Casey and Ben steamed the sweet corn and lobsters in hot seaweed and saltwater in a large galvanized tub, Emily was preparing the salad makings, sliced on bare granite boulders like an ancient cult site. We all stood around swatting the mosquitoes, drinking beer, and laughing.
Only the four- and five-night cruises includes the New England Lobster Bake onshore, with fresh corn on the cob, hotdogs, salads, vegetables, BYOB booze, marshmallows and s'mores. A Lobster Feast (not an ashore Lobster Bake) is presented onboard the 3-day cruises.
The 5-day (5 nights counting pre-boarding on Sunday) cruises depart mid-morning on Monday and come back by 10 a.m. on Friday. The 4-day cruises are on the Mercantile and Mistress only, with boarding after 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, returning on Sunday morning. The 3-day cruises are also only on the Mercantile and Mistress, with boarding on Sunday evening, returning by 10 a.m. on Wednesday. A weekend cruise is available on the Grace Bailey or Mistress, with departure on a Friday, returning at 10 a.m. on Sunday.
As for that sea salt loving summer romance: "Kissing is good, but cooking lasts!" And it was Emily's 27th birthday on June 27th, the last night of the voyage. So guess what, she cooked herself, and us, a cake! The conch blew as the sun sank serenely in the distance.
The next morning Captain Ray backed the Grace Bailey away from the shore by swinging the main spar back and forth to catch a little breeze with myself on the helm as the ancient anchor was hand cranked to the chocks.
Camaraderie and companionship seem to be alien in our civilized world, but a necessity that boils out onboard a schooner cruise on the Grace Bailey; we all felt glum as our Maine frontyard adventure was ending. Maybe I'll come back for the lobster boat races on the Fourth of July.
Accommodations: All staterooms are below deck. Half the cabins have double beds, with full headroom, but not much space to turn around. The small porthole is actually a rectangular window that you can swing down to catch extra ventilation. All bedding is included. The Mistress, a 46-foot schooner, has three double cabins (sleeping a total of 6), each with a private head, offering more intimate sailing. The Merchantile and Grace Bailey are about the same dimensions and stateroom configuration.
You can get added cruise discounts if you join the fleet's Old Salt Clubnow with over 2000 membersfor passengers that can't get enough of sailing on these old ships, such as Old Salt Kermit, a Maine resident who was aboard the Grace, who sails "at least four times a year." You can become an Old Salt after the first cruise.
Rates are all-inclusive. The season is short and space is limited, so call now for next year.
All vessels are Coast Guard approved and skippered by fully-licensed captains and professional crews. There is free parking at the Camden harbor for those taking the cruise. If you snap a great picture while on board send it over to the state of Maine's quarterly photo contest at www.maine.ov/portal/photo_contest/index.html. Maybe you will spot an elusive Maine puffin, or possibly sail up to the Cadillac Mountain area on Mt. Desert Island, the tallest mountain on the Eastern Seaboard, part of Acadia National Park.
By Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine. Read the Jetsetters Magazine feature about Rockland's Old Granite Inn.