Tall Ships

Before the days of steam engines, the world relied on manpower, wind, and water to get things done. Wooden ships with tall masts sailed the seas under yards of canvass sails. Journeys were long and dangerous; many perished in battles, pirate attacks, and storms that battered the ship and sent all hands into an unforgiving sea.

Though today, wood and rope have been replaced by steel, and sexton by GPS,  it is still felt that only by matching hands against the elements under sail does a seaman truly learn about the sea.

When in Portland, Maine recently, the “tall ships,” a collection of sailing vessels from around the world sailed into Portland harbor. Ships large and small, including a replica of a Spanish galleon, provided tours and sailing opportunities to throngs of visitors, while pirates roamed the streets, flags flapped in the breeze, and music filled the air.

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Since the festival extended into Monday, I had the opportunity to board the USS barque Eagle, the Coast Guard sailing training ship. Gleaming in polished wood, and brass and strung with miles of cabling,  yards of canvass sails, and baggywinkle (see the link), it is a magnificent vessel of a former time, preserved for today.

All aboard Matey!

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Fogged In

It is foggy in Portland, Maine. The clouds have touched the ground and everything is shrouded in a hazy mist of white. The fog horn on the bay warns of approaching land, not discernible with the naked eye. Like the whistle of a night train in the distance, it is a soothing sound.

It is said in many places that if you do not like the weather, wait 10 minutes. I have to agree with my daughter that no place I have been is that more true than here. Perched as it is on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, the weather changes as prevailing winds push clouds and potential storms that back up and collide with one another instantly altering the forecast. One minute the sun is shining and the next you can be fogged in or it can be pouring down rain.

This happened when we tried to go for a whale watch recently. We awoke to a steady rain, which tapered off to reveal blue sky and bright sunshine. As we headed for the boat however, skies turned cloudy, and once underway misty fog threatened to obscure cottages lining the rocky shore, yet not before getting a magnificent view of the tall ships in the harbor.

Heading out to sea, we passed through several cloud banks. The boat pushed through gentle swells that rocked and rolled enough to affect many without “sea legs.” Though I could not see much due to the fog I enjoyed the fresh, salty air and the wind against my face and in my hair.  At one moment, a halo of pinkish clouds formed almost a rainbow of bright in an otherwise dull gray sky. A lovely vision.

We did not find any whales this day, just a few seals and one enormous sunfish, so the trip was disappointing in that respect. Yet, for me, spending several hours on a boat on the open sea was enjoyable, if a bit long due to the absence of what we came out to see. Now to decide, do I try to go again (you get a “no whales” free trip guarantee)?

I don’t have to think too hard about that. This may be my last visit to this area of the country, so if the sun shines I will spend the morning on the water.

 

Down on the Farm

As I have mentioned, life with my grandchildren is a whirlwind of activity. In addition to the Children’s Museum, library, trampoline and bouncy house places, parks, playgrounds, and the beach, there are butterfly parades at the local Audubon Society and trips to “the farm.”

Agricultural tourism is BIG in Maine. Every place, small or large, seems to have a special event, view, tour, or self-guided option. Thus we found ourselves at Pineland Farms, not once but twice in one week.

Pineland Farms, New Gloucester, MainePineland Farms, a large working farm in New Gloucester, Maine, a community nestled among the rolling hills a little outside Portland, offers the public a chance to discover, learn, and explore rural life.

Though the farm is open for self-guided tours any day, Friday mornings gives children and their parents (grandparents) an opportunity to collect eggs in the hen house, milk a cow, see a baby calf, or hoe the garden or sample its goodness (in season), all under the guidance and tutelage of the farm educators. Among other things, children are fascinated to learn where milk comes from (when they squeeze the teat) and having a big animal gently take hay from their outstretched hand.

The day we went a new born calf was a popular attraction.

Hours old calf, Pineland Farms, New Gloucester, MaineAfter tromping through the barns and around the farm, you’ll be hungry so visit The Market and cafe in the Welcome Center, where you can enjoy a farm fresh lunch or take home some farm fresh goodness (fresh baked bread, honey, local jams and jellies, maple syrup, cheese, etc.) many of which are made at or from ingredients grown on the farm. If open, you can visit the creamery and see how cheese is made.

Equestrian Center, Pineland Farms, New Gloucester, MaineOn the lovely, winding way back to Portland,the equestrian center is open for visitors to tour the stalls and see the horses or watch riders put their mounts through their paces. Wander across the street and and you’ll find a flock of sheep.

If you have any energy left over (or plan another trip), nature trails offer opportunities to watch for birds, fox and other forest creatures, or just enjoy the babbling brook, fields, ponds, and forests as you walk. Trails are open year round  for hiking, mountain biking, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing. Fish in the pond in warm weather or go ice skating or take a long run down the sledding hill (bring your sled) in winter.

We returned to the farm again on Saturday for the annual Sheep Shearing Festival where we watched sheep being sheared the old fashioned way, by hand, and using those new-fangled clippers. Australian shepherds herded a small flock all to the tune of whistles and prompts by their shepherd. For young and old alike, it was fascinating to watch the dogs in action.

In addition to the working farm demonstrations, there were crafters available to let help you experience carding wool and spinning it into yarn and making a sheep “doll” by using needles to felt the raw wool into the appropriate shape, then take it home with you. You could purchase hand woven wool socks, hats, scarves, and mittens (not unwelcome on this blustery spring day), hold and pet a rabbit, and for the little ones “shear” their own shaving cream sheep, along with other craft activities.

Once again, a farm fresh lunch at The Market and cafe was welcome before we all headed home exhausted, yet content from our day in the country fresh air.

More about Pineland Farms: The site of a former “School for the Mentally Incompetent,” the old administration building and dormitories offer a natural setting for conferences. And if you like, you can stay in one of several original farm houses on the property.