Local & organic foods, yoga, island nature hikes & kid-friendly sails offer blissful options for taking in the islands and coast of Maine.
by Lynn Ascrizzi
Ah, the salty tang of fresh ocean breezes, island-dotted vistas and the wild cries of swooping gulls. It’s no wonder that schooner and other sailing trips have become the heart and soul of Maine’s famed coastal tradition, since the mid-19th century.
Given the state’s 228 mile-long coast (which includes an astounding 3,478 miles of jagged shoreline), no visit here could be complete without a sea-and-sail experience.
Unique sailing excursions from Eastport to Kennebunk have long brought vacationers the natural delights of Maine’s sparkling bays and inlets, offshore islands, beaches and traditional lobster bakes.
A number of family-owned sailing enterprises, however, have added sustainable and innovative sailing options to their traditional trips. But first, it’s good to realize that sailing is already an earth-friendly experience.
“Sailing is ‘green,’ ” said Capt. Aaron Lincoln, owner and operator of the Schooner Olad, a 57-foot long, completely restored, classic yacht with a 22-passenger capacity. “These boats are built out of wood, not plastic, so the hull is made of a renewable resource. And, of course, sailing uses the wind — that’s a renewable resource, too.”
From mid-May to mid-October, the Olad takes guests on two-hour day sails and charter excursions on Penobscot Bay, out of Camden. “The Olad was built in 1927 by the Crosby family, possibly the oldest shipbuilding family in America,” said Lincoln, who keeps a store of boating history and local lore under his captain’s cap.
Besides more traditional trips, such as half-day sails that include island lobster bakes and an all-day sail and tour of Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse, the Olad offers a number of choices that put sea-goers even more in touch with the beauty of the natural world.
For night owls or the romantically inclined, there’s a “Full-Moon Sail” scheduled every month, a great way to watch the sun go down and stay in tune with the magic of earth, sea and the night sky.
Want to venture out to see seabirds, harbor seals and other creatures of the sea and coastal islands? “The best chance of seeing wildlife is on a morning trip,” Capt. Lincoln advised.
For avid birders, there’s the “Seabird Watching Sail,” (July 18), a sightseeing venture that passes amid a chain of islands. During that trip, a member of the Friends of Maine’s Seabird Islands will be on board to point out local birds that frequent the area, such as eider ducks, loons, black guillemots, ospreys and bald eagles. Harbor seals, porpoises, and minke, finback and pilot whales also make Penobscot Bay their home.
“You have a good chance of seeing bald eagles, as there are a lot of them,” Lincoln said. “And two nesting ospreys nest on top of the channel markers that lead in and out of Camden Harbor. In the 10-mile area sail, there’s an osprey nest site for every mile.
For longer, charter sails, the Olad offers food from local caterers. “People can pick from our general catering menu, bring food from home or buy food from a local market. A lot of people sail with us year after year, and they know who they want to cook their food,” he said. Many of our places are acclaimed for fresh foods produced by local farmers and food artisans, like Camden Deli, The Market Basket in Rockport and the Megunticook Market of Camden.
The Olad sails through Columbus Day. Leaf peepers can catch fall foliage sails, scheduled from the end of September to the third week in October. “Right at the bottom of the Camden hills, the scenery is hard to beat. When the leaves are gone, so are we,” Lincoln said.
YOGA AND ORGANIC LUNCH
The Miss Nina is a 60-foot, wooden, pilothouse ketch that sails from June 1 to Oct. 1, out of Belfast. She was named after the 8-year-old daughter – Nina, of boat owners Dan and Amy Miller. Their son, Henry, is age 3.
“Miss Nina was built in 1998 by Maine designer Phil Bolger and is a stable and comfortable boat,” Amy Miller said. When Nina was only 1-month old, the couple moved to Belfast from Roan Mountain, Tennesse where they had owned and operated a bed and breakfast. This is their third season sailing the ketch, a motorsailor, which means any combination of motoring and sailing may take place during a trip.
“One great thing about Belfast is all the creative people, the holistic approach to life and its history of sailing and the water. I knew I wanted to design some sailing experiences that were unique,” she said. After meeting certified hatha yoga teacher April Dove of Belfast, who also has two young children, “April and I came up with the yoga sail,” she said.
Their unique “Yoga Adventure Sail” combines yoga meditation with a short island hike on Turtle Head, a nature preserve at the tip of Islesboro. Yoga mats, hot tea and organic lunch are provided. Guests have ranged in age from 14 to 68. After a morning departure from Belfast, Dove leads a yoga meditation on board, until Miss Nina nears Turtle Head. Guests are then shuttled by dinghy to shore.
“It’s adventurous!” she said, of the six-hour trip. Guests are advised to wear lots of warm layers, sun protection, soft-soled shoes or water shoes, and to bring binoculars and a camera. “You might get a little wet when you go from dinghy to shore, and you’re hiking for 10 minutes through tall grass to get out to the point, to do yoga,” she said. Once there, Dove rolls out the yoga mats for an hour-long session, adapted to each guest’s capacity. Then, everybody hikes back for lunch.
“It’s a retreat of the senses — wind, sun and amazing food,” Miller said. “All the greens are picked from April’s garden in Northport. We ask guests before the sail, what they want to eat.” Fresh produce and gourmet food are also procured from Chase’s Daily in Belfast.
Capt. Dan Miller also owns and operates Belmont Boat Works in Belmont, a business located near the certified organic Bahner Farm in Belmont. “Dan comes home with organic veggies grown on that farm,” she said, produce that she turns into delicacies, like fried zucchini cakes with roasted red peppers, almonds and honey.
For their popular three-hour dinner sails, Miller cooks a fish and a chicken entrée. “We usually sail 40 minutes, then serve hors d’oeuvres. We’ll sail another half hour while I cook dinner. Then, we drop into a cove. We time dinner with the sunset,” she said.
Miss Nina’s excursions include other sails, such as a photography cruise with Belfast photographer Neal Parent and sails that follow the Wooden Boat Regatta race out of Brooklin (Aug. 3).
ADVENTURE SAILS FOR KIDS & FAMILY
Owen and Cathie Dorr are into their tenth season of sailing the Nathaniel Bowditch*, a restored, 82-foot-long schooner, fi rst built as a racing yacht 91 years ago in East Boothbay. Sailing season begins May 24-27, with two, three, four and six-day adventure sails. The season ends Oct. 4-7.
Besides traditional sails, like the Boothbay Windjammer Festival (June 23 -29) and “The Great Schooner Race” (July 5), the Dorrs also offer three-day, “Kids and Family” sails (July 14-17 and July 17-20), geared for children ages 5 to 13.
“We’re not the only sailing enterprises that take kids,” Capt. Dorr said. “We are the only ones that designate some trips as ‘Kids and Family.’ Some boats don’t take any kids, and some passengers don’t like the dynamic of having kids on board. We want to go with kids, as we have kids ourselves,” he said of Spencer, 11 and Emmett, 8. So, we designated two trips for that age group. Generally, all our other trips are for ages 14 and up.”
For adults who hope to lure their youngsters away from electronic games, T.V. and cell phones and to foster a love of the natural world, this family sail does more than the trick.
“What’s amazing is, in the beginning the kids are nervous, but in the end, they say it was totally relaxing,” Cathie Dorr said. “They have conversations, look for seals and porpoises, play card games, and even peel apples in the galley, help out with dishes or polish the ship’s bell. Kids love to help out. They are surprisingly self-entertaining. Parents are always surprised by how well kids do without electronic games. They don’t even miss them.
“Passengers can help raise the sail or take a turn at the helm,” she added. “We often do knot classes with the kids, have them tend lines or take photos. Fishing is big, and we have several fishing poles on board.”
Swim noodles are also available for kids and adults, if they want to go swimming off the boat, Capt. Dorr added. “We focus more on the kids. We entertain them and make it fun. If the kids are happy, mom and dad are happy. Ninety-nine percent of the kids have a great time.”
Families board in the early evening, in preparation for their first overnight in the boat’s 14, double-occupancy cabins. After light refreshments and an orientation with Capt. Dorr, families can go off to eat dinner at a local Rockland restaurant, such as the Water Works, Conte’s (Italian seafood place) and Bricks. “Some people have a pizza delivered and eat it on the boat that evening. The boat is theirs. Once they’re on board it’s their boat,” he said.
The next morning, a full breakfast is offered on board, and the Bowditch sails from Rockland Harbor. “On deck, you only hear birds and seals. Sometimes we’ll chase down a schooner and have a race. Typically, the first day out includes a lobster bake on an island beach. We try to go ashore once a day, at a small fishing village or on an island with hiking trails, so everybody can stretch their legs. We are strong supporters of the outdoor ethics, ‘leave no trace,’ ” Cathie Dorr said.
“Weather is rarely a hindrance,” she added. “We will sail in the rain, but not driving rain. There are places to get warm and toasty in the below-deck galley space. We can cover half the boat with an awning. If it’s raining, we do lobster bakes on board.”
Capt. Dorr’s brother, professional chef Paul Dorr, mans the galley cook stove and makes all food on board. “Nothing is premade,” Cathie Dorr said. “We serve family style. He might do a Thanksgiving dinner in July, ribs and roast vegetables or an Indian dish.”
At home, Dorr tends a large organic garden. “I grow all the flowers for the boat, and herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and squashes. We raise bees and supply honey,” she said. Sustainably raised, fresh produce also comes from Westkeag Farms in Thomaston. “We get our fish at Jess’s Market in Rockland, and sometimes we catch it, or dig for clams on one of the islands. Adam Campbell, who runs North Haven Oyster Co., often brings oysters out to the boat. Desserts can include s’mores, pies, cobblers and hand-churned ice cream.”
Among other sails, the Bowditch also offers a six-day venture, “Wildlife Watch” (Aug, 18-24), scheduled when minke and finback whales are likely to be sighted. Puffins, ospreys, seals, porpoises and bald eagles frequent the area. “Islands with hiking trails, like Warren and Caldewood, are part of this trip,” Cathie Dorr said.
And, like other Maine sailing ventures, “it’s first come, first served,” she said.
For more information about the sailing vessels mentioned in this story:
207-236-2323 | www.maineschooners.com
Miss Nina, pilothouse ketch
207-505-1618 | www.sailingmissnina.com
“Sailing Maine’s Salty Sea Breezes” ran in the Summer/Fall 2013 issue of Green & Healthy Maine.
*EDITOR’S NOTE: Since the publication of this article, the Schooner Nathaniel Bowditch is no longer in operation.