THE CAPTAIN briskly paced the deck of his small schooner, anchored in a cove off the coast of Maine, checking one more time to be sure we had tied the sails securely. All day the Coast Guard had broadcast warnings that Hurricane David was headed our way.
When my wife Sandy and I signed up for a six-day Down-East windjammer cruise in September, we did so with a certain anticipation of adventure. As a couple of landlubbers, we got our money's worth.
Not that the danger was all that great. By the time David reached us, it had lost much of the power that brought havoc to the Caribbean. But David still carried cold, driving rains and winds gusting up to 50 miles per hour, and set our 64-foot oak and pine vessel bobbing in the whitecaps. Add a black sky, and it was enough to make at least some of the 15 passengers aboard apprehensive.
We tried not to show it, those of us standing out there on the deck in our new rain slickers, clutching the rope railing to keep from losing our balance and watching the wind whip the errant sail of a small boat moored nearby.
"Wouldn't it be nice to be sitting by a cozy fire over there," said someone (it could have been me) pointing to the lights of a cottage on shore several hundred yards away. Others murmured in agreements as we braced our rain-soaked sneakers against the rising whine of another strong gust.
"The anchor seems to be holding," assured out 32-year-old skipper, Capt. John C. Foss, owners of the schooner Lewis R. French. When David was still a distant threat, Foss and his crew of three had brought us to Bucks Harbor because it offered good anchorage in a storm. Another passenger schooner, the Isaac H. Evans, sought the same sanctuary.
While several of us topside voluntarily kept watch with the captain and his college-bound first mate, Mike McHale, 19, others below in the cabins brought out wine and whisky and rode out the storm drinking and singing folksongs. At one point, a nervous wife popped her head briefly out of the hatch to implore her husband to join her, fearing he might somehow be blown overboard. He reluctantly followed her below to the festivities.
As the night wore on, we sensed the wind diminshing, and within five hours after the storm hit, the worst was over without injury to ship or passengers. Not even any seasick cases. The next morning dawned clear and calm.
Nobody wants a storm at sea. We'd all read about the recent sailing disaster during the Fastnet yacht race. But in our snug harbor, I think many of use had relished the excitment of the evening. For a time, we could pretend we were Horatio Hornblowers or at least Errol Flynns.
Certainly, since we'd come aboard four days earlier, we'd had an opportunity.We hoisted the French's four large sails in the morning and lowered them in the evening, raised the 400-pound anchor daily with not a little aching muscle work, and -- every afternoon -- swabbed the decks. It had to be done, said the captain, to keep the wood planks from drying out under the hot sun. That could cause leaks.
We even took turns peeling potatoes and washing and drying the dishes. Still sailor's work, we assumed. One afternoon we cranked up some old-fashioned homemade vanilla ice cream. Who cared if that wasn't sailor's work? Ours was a week's sail back in time, to the 19th century, when hundreds of schooners similar to the French carried freight and passengers along the eastern coast. Nowadays, at least 14 schooners relive those days by carrying summer passengers from the Maine ports of Rockland, Rockport and Camden.
The two-masted French is the oldest of the Windjammers, built as a freighter in 1871 by three brothers who named it after their father. It is said fox, the last of the Maine-built schooners of the 19th century.
It hauled bricks, wood pulp, cement and even Christmas trees for 102 years until 1973, when Foss bought it and, with two partners, began restoring it for the tourist trade. Though the schooner has had many owners and for a time was in the fishing business, the French family still keeps an eye on the ship named for their ancester. The 16-year-old great-great-great-grand-daughter of Lewis sailed as an extra crew member one week this summer, said Foss.
In the late '20s, the French was fitted with a gas engine. But Foss removed it as part of his meticulous restoration, which required 20,000 hours of labor, much of it volunteered by students and ship-building enthusiasts who worked in exchange for food and a place to sleep. Foss bought the anchor from an antique dealer and traded somebody a propeller for the French's steering gear. It entered the windjammer trade the summer of 1976, with two and three-berth cabins for 22 passengers.
Foss, a New Yorker, who began learning to sail as a child, spent much of his youth in Maine, where he attended college. After a hitch in the Coast Guard, when he often sailed off the Northeast coast, he crewed on other schooners until he found one of his own. He and his two partners expect to begin this winter building a 95-foot schooner that will carry 32 passengers for the windjammer fleet.
We boarded the French Sunday night after an hour's flight from Boston to Rockland on Downeast Airlines' eight-passenger Piper Chieftain. There a taxi carried us to the French docked alongside two sister Schooners. Kitchen mate Paula Clough, 27 a recent University of Massachusetts graduate, showed us to our cabin. The French provided the sheets and blanket's but as new sailors we made up our own berths.
The travel brochure that sold us on the French warned that the cabins would be small. That's truth in advertising. There was room only for one person to stand at a time, but it was clean and dry and had a small window on the deck. Each cabin had a small sink with cold running water and a small battery powered light. There were no outlets for electric razors or hair dryers.
To reach the schooner's two toilets, you climbed a ladderway to the deck. There weren't any shower's; it was going to be a week without a bath for us all.
Our fellow passengers ranged in age from 22 (the minimum is 16) to a 59-year-old Gerald Early, an ex-Merchant Mariner from Corning, N.Y. who was making his sixth trip with the French. They included a lawyer, two professional photographers, an investment analyst, two computer programmers and a computer technician. Nine males, six females.
Breakfast was at 8 Monday, but most of us were up well before that. Erma Colvin, 24, the ship's cook who hopes to take the test for a captain's license this winter, served up French (appropriately enough) toast, sausage, juice and peaches in the crowded galley, which was dominated by a wood-burning iron stove.
As ponderously inefficient as the stove looked, Colvin had it well under control, offering up three hearty meals a day that always included something freshly baked: cakes, cookies, breads, cinnamon rolls and, one night, four different kinds of pie -- wild blueberry, apple, Key lime and Banana cream.
At 10, the crew cast off the lines, the rest of us began hauling up the sails, and we were off. In the distance we could see other schooners in the windjammer fleet headed for open water under full sail in a strong breeze. On all sides of use lobster-trap markers bobbed on the waves. We were seldom out of sight of them.
The captain picks the week's itinerary according to how the winds will blow, so you don't know in advance what islands your will visit. He said he had not been out of sight of land all summer, except during a fog. That first week in September, out trip took us to three island villages north and east of Rockland. We sailed by day and anchored in a harbor well before dinner at 6.
Our first day out was sunny and warm and we seemed to skim the sea as we raced by small, craggy islands topped with thick stands of fir and spruce. We saw fishing cottages and the summer homes of the rich. Pleasure craft, Lobster boats and sister schooners crossed the horizon.Sometimes a seal or a pair of porpoises would draw our attention.
Our days were spent on deck reading, talking, napping, day-dreaming -- the idle pastimes of any cruise even when there's an activities director, swimming pool, shuffleboard or cocktail lounge (none of which, fortunately, the French had). Though the space was confined, there were nooks and crannis (forward of the mast, behind the galley) where one could be alone for a while.
The French did carry a motor yawl, and on those days we sailed into a port we lowered it and the captain ferried us ashore for an hour or two of sightseeing, mailing postcards or restocking our private supplies of beer, which we kept iced on deck. In periods of calm, the yawl also nudged the French along at up to four knots (one concession to the gasoline age).
In Stonington, a male passenger took the opportunity in port to have a shower. He paid $5 to a motel operator and got razzed for it for the rest of the week.
On one of our trip's ashore, the captain bought 30 lobsters just out of the trap's and that night we feasted on the beach of an unpopulated island. The lobsters, enough almost for two each, were steamed in a tub of water over a driftwood fire. A mound of seawood covered them to keep them moist. We dipped them in butter and washed them down down with the ship's chablis. That, by the way, was the night of the four pies.
In mid-trip, several of the passengers could stand their unwashed hair no longer and we organized a washing party. Don Becker, 22, a computer technician from bridgewater, N.J., lowered a pail by rope into the frigid sea water, the rest of us lathered up with Ivory dish soap, and then -- as if going to the guillotine -- we rested our heads over the railing and got rinsed with numbing seaweed and saltwater.
By chance, on out fifth and last night out, seven of the windjammer fleet sailed into the same anchorage, Pulpit Harbor, so named because of the pulpit-like rock at the entrance. We dropped sail with as much precision as we could muster, hoping we wouldn't blunder at week's end in front of all our fellow tourists. We'd learned our lessons well, though, and won a compliment from the captain.
Among the schooners was the Victory Chimes, the only three-master and the largest of the windjammers, carrying up to 46 passengers with somewhat more formality than existed on our easy-going vessel. As if to show us up, the Chimes hoisted a full array of flags, up on mast, across the length of the ship and down the other. In response, the Isaac H. Evans fired off a tiny firecracker cannon as it lowered its Stars and Stripes.
For a while the harbor scene became boisterous with good-natured shouts between ships. Many passengers plunged into the chilly waters to wash away the week's grime, and soon rowboats carried visitors from one ship to another. Dinner was served on deck so we could watch the setting sun.
On Saturday we sailed at 7:30, before breakfast, making a quick run back to Rockland by 11 a.m. After we docked and secured the sails, Colvin served a parting brunch on deck of the week's leftovers -- tuesday's cinnamon roll's Wednesday's corn chowder, Thursday's cinnamon ham and Friday's roast beef. That's one way to freshen memories of a grand week of 19th-century sailing.
For brochures on schooners sailing out of Rockland, Rockport and Camden, Maine, write Maine Windjammer Association, Box 317, Rockport, Maine 04856, or phone (207) 236-4866.
On the Lewis R. French, the cost per person in June and September was $260 (including three meals a day), $285 in July and August. Board on Sunday nights with Monday breakfast the first meal served. Return Saturday by noon with a parting brunch at dockside. Provide your own liquor.
Round-trip air fare, Washington to Rockland was $175 via Eastern Airlines to Boston and Downeast Airlines to Rockland. Taxi fare and tip to the schooner was about $5 per couple. Boston-to-Rockland Greyhound Bus service is available, and the 185-mile trip takes about six hours.
The brochure advises a warm sweater and rain gear. Take that advice. Bring a second sweater, a jacket or a seat shirt for extra warmth. We needed them at night. Dress is very casual, mostlys jeans and T-shirts and rubber-soled shoes.