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Though today, wood and rope have been replaced by steel, and sexton by GPS,  it is still felt that only by matching hands against the elements under sail does a seaman truly learn about the sea.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