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The Eastern Townships Photo Essay

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Jewels of the North
Breezy Blackpool
Witches and Hot Pot
A Lightning Tour

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The Island of Crete

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Ancient Rome
Renaissance Rome

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Some tips on
Living Simply

The Bounding Maine
Somewhere on the Atlantic

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By Pat Mestern

Three Masted Schooner Vacation It did not occur to me that we could not beat the enemy. "Never" is not in my vocabulary. As I watched hubby lying in his bunk as green as the blanket that covered him, I had to think quickly. "Up you get," I said. "The captain says to get as many people on deck as possible. He says you will feel much better with the deck under your feet and a view of the horizon." Hubby groaned. My bulk filled the doorway of the schooner's small cabin. There was no where to go, no way he could avoid me - or the request. "Come on. I'll help you up. On your feet!" Suddenly hubby leapt from the bunk and hurled himself toward the door and the head. I got out of the way just in time. He was as sick as a dog. I did feel sorry for him. When he turned to make a dive for the cabin I said, "No you don't," and put myself between him and the door. "Up the stairs, you go." I can have a formidable presence when necessary. "In my pyjamas," he managed to say, then added "I want to brush my teeth." I knew that if he got back into the cabin I would never get him out of bed. "Yep. In your pyjamas. I'll bring your toothbrush to you. Now up on deck you go." I felt like I was directing a small, disobedient child but it had to be done. He staggered up the stairs, then braced himself as the wind blew him sideways. "Another one" I said to Captain John. "This is the last. The others refuse to get up." "Pity," said Captain John. "I'll guard the stairs so he can't go back. You get him a change of clothing." In the cabin I gathered shirt, pants, rain gear and other essentials.

What a day! The schooner's prow cut through the rolling seas, pushed by strong winds from the north. A gale had developed after midnight, broadsiding the ship like a transport, howling through like a freight train. I could hear the crew above, racing along the deck. She recovered quickly then turned at anchor, put her bow into the blast and hunkered down for a long night. The radio crackled in the Captain's cabin next door, between the two schooners anchored in the sheltered bay. From the distorted conversation, I gathered that everyone was all right. Both schooners had weathered the initial blast. The plan was to wait out the gale in the bay but once the winds died enough, make a run down coast to home port. That would be a challenge. I was up to up. Hubby was another story.

We always talked about sailing on a tall ship out of Camden Harbor, Maine. Hubby romanced the sea, having been born near it in South Africa. I, in turn, never laid eyes on an ocean until I was thirty-seven years old. Hubby commiserated about the fact we lived so far from salt water so much, that years ago we made a pilgrimage to Maine - just to dip him once. I quickly fell in love with the ocean and its various moods. Of all the shores we visited, the siren call of Maine's rock bound coast and picturesque harbors repeatedly brought us "Down East" to enjoy lobster, pretty villages and friendly folk - not specifically in that order. The Camden area, in particular, drew us like a magnet. Home of the tall ships, the village is the epitome of what one expects in Maine. It especially romances schooner sailing, wooing experienced sailors, and the uninitiated to experience the sea. The sea and I became inseparable and hubby never told me his deep dark secret. Over the years we visited east and west coasts in North America every two years or so, and hubby never spilled the beans.

Not long ago, to celebrate our maturing years (and the fact we could finally become members in good standing in CARP (Canada's version of AARP)), I surprised hubby at Christmas with an all expenses paid, three day sail on a three masted schooner off the coast of Maine. He turned green but never revealed his problem. Here we were, nine months later, in the middle of a nasty blow, and hubby is the colour of his PJ's. All this raced through my mind as he struggled to get dressed while leaning against the fore cabin on the starboard side. Not many people saw him. Five crew and seven passengers were all that braved the wind and slanting, wet deck. "Cross over to port side," one of the crew shouted. "Put your feet against the bottom rail and brace your back against the cabin. Hang on and enjoy the ride!" It was then I noticed the patches behind hubby's ears. "Hormones?" I asked. "Seasick medication," he answered. "I should have stuck them on last night." We joined the other passengers, backs against the cabin, water soaking shoes and pants, as the schooner set her prow to slice gracefully through the high, rolling waves. When free of safe harbor and around the island, she turned south and ran with the wind, beauty in motion. With the sea at his feet and the horizon at eye level, hubby began to feel better. His face changed from pale green to pasty white - to ruddy red - his usual Teutonic color.

To digress, we boarded ship after supper on a bright autumn Sunday and spent the evening getting to know our fellow passengers. Someone brought out the obligatory guitar and harmonica. Strange how the old camp songs sound so good resonating across water. Early the next morning a hearty deck breakfast was served, rules were laid down and we were off, an inboard motor pushing us out past the headlands. All hands (and passengers) leapt into action as Captain John shouted "Sails Up!" The smell of salt, canvas sail and old ship was intoxicating. Does it get any better? We sailed at a good clip around the maze of coastal islands. The sea seemed remarkably calm, but as explained by the good Captain, we were never out on the open Atlantic with only England "over there." We were sailing through safe inner passages - relatively speaking. Lunch on deck and more island gazing followed until we sailed past the working fishing village of Stonington and anchored in a small bay for the night. A lobster and corn bake on the island's deserted shore completed a fantastic day. There was nothing to sailing. Life is good! Relax. Enjoy yourself.

We woke up to a "mausey" day (as my grandmother would say). It had a hazy grey look that "inlanders" associate with rain. After breakfast we made a run up-coast, on a bit of a breeze but anchored in a sheltered bay just past two o'clock. "We are stopped early today. We will be here for the night," Captain John explained. "There is a storm brewing - a gale - blowing in from Canada." Hubby and I laughed. Doesn't all bad weather come from Canada? It was not really a laughing matter. My bones were aching. We were in for a "Canuck Comet." By supper time we knew the true meaning of "fog bound" coast. We could not see from starboard to port side. That did not stop our merriment. The kitchen brigade cooked up a full turkey supper with all the trimmings. Dessert was homemade ice cream, cranked in an old fashioned machine. Passengers were reluctant to go to bed. Everyone had a story to tell, a song to sing. Some appeared a little worried about the weather front, although the Captain had never said anything which might frighten people. As a matter of fact, he was rather tight-lipped about the situation. This was not a good sign as far as I was concerned. Strong men tend to be silent men when there is a serious problem to solve. Before we retired to our minuscule warm cabin, the Captain said "Tie down everything that isn't nailed to the wall." Taking no chances, I climbed into my bunk fully clothed, with my duffel bag under my head. Perhaps hubby didn't hear too well. Perhaps he did not worry too much. He change into PJ's - puke green PJ's, rolled over and went to sleep. We had, I heard Captain John quietly tell one of the crew "until midnight. . ." It is a terrible habit I have of listening in other people's conversations. True to his word all hell broke loose at five minutes past midnight. Within the first fifteen minutes of the onslaught of howling gale, hubby was up and off to the head. I solved the sleeping problem by hunkering at the bottom of my bunk, arms around knees, counting the number of times hubby leapt to the call. Then I thought about the "old salt." No doubt it would have been safer to watch other people sail off in the sunset on a classic schooner. But if one does not take chances, life leaves them behind. This has always been our philosophy. Never let grass grow under your feet. Never turn away from a challenge. Never forsake an opportunity for not having "done it before."

We arrived in Camden several days before we were scheduled to sail. Although we had packed one duffel bag each for the ship, we did not own bad-weather clothing which was listed as a requirement on board. Several days on shore allowed us to enjoy Camden and to purchase rain gear from a local fishermen's co-operative. We still have it, hanging on hooks in the basement waiting for the next flood.

We had "inned" our way across the North East, spending several days in Woodstock, Vermont and North Conway, New Hampshire before booking into the Camden Harbor Inn, with its beautiful harbor views, close proximity to everything and sumptuous meals. The Inn was not without its own thrills as I found out the very first time we ever stayed in the place. At reception a young woman told us that she had once lived only thirty miles from our home town and was familiar with my authorings. She assigned us to Room #6 and said with a twinkle in her eye, "Have a good sleep." I did, until the last night of our stay. The room was beautifully decorated with a charming view over the harbor. It was tucked away on the second floor of an old addition to the side of the inn. It had a comfortable lived-in feel to it, even though it had been recently expanded and redecorated.

I woke up at some point during the night, chilled to the bone. Hubby slept quietly beside me. Reaching for the blanket, I was aware of someone in the room - standing at the foot of the bed, profiled by the window. This cannot be happening again, I remember thinking. It appeared to be a bearded, stoop shouldered old man, wearing a dark uniform of undetermined age. I sensed him looking at me - through me. Scared speechless, freezing cold, I lay perfectly still. Thirty seconds passed, maybe one minute. Hubby shifted his weight and suddenly the man disappeared. Poof! Into thin air. I grabbed the blanket threw it over my head, slithered as close as I could to hubby and put a body lock on him. Was it a shadow? Was it an apparition? Why now? Why in this room? Why in Maine? In the morning when hubby said "I feel like I've been sleeping in a vice. My sides are sore," an explanation was due. "Who do you think it was?" he asked. I had my suspicions.

When we checked out we asked the receptionist if anyone had complained about Room #6. The answer was hesitant. There had been several who mentioned they felt uncomfortable in the room. One picture on the wall of the reception area gave a clue to the identity of my visitor. "Who is that?" "One of the former owners of the house." "Well," I said. "The problem with Room #6 might just be that he is still in residence."

The irony of the situation is that four years later when we booked into the Camden Harbor Inn, we specifically asked not to be given Room #6. I was tired and just did not feel like dealing with a ghost on my vacation. No problem. Room #6 was taken, we would have Room ---- which also had a charming view. Room --- turned out to be the old Room #6! More renovations had been done to the inn and room numbers were changed. Not taking any chances, when we were alone in the room, I told the "old salt" that if we had to share the room we were going to get along. No spooking allowed! I had no problem!

Hubby asked one morning why I was looking out the window in the middle of the night! And he is not a spook believer! I gave him some reason - 'not able to sleep' - 'nice night' and did not tell him I slept like a baby all night. I thought about the old man during the gale. Did he captain a schooner? Did he die at sea?

When gale force winds subsided to a steady, strong north blow, we were ready to leave safe harbor. If all went well, the ship would make home port in record time. With most of the passengers sick, the crew and the remaining healthy souls, turned out early for duty. Captain John wisely let the other schooner pull anchor first, watching closely to see what sail she would set and how soon. He ordered anchor hoisted soon afterwards then all hands raised the sails. When everything was set to his liking the passengers were dispatched to tend to the "sickies." They would feel better on deck, if they could get their sea legs under them. I did not have much luck. Most felt they would feel better if I left them in their bunks to die. Hubby was my only success story. He looked as though the road to recovery was at hand. The wind whipped through his fine white hair. He actually laughed. "I could enjoy this. What a ride!" We were soaked to the skin, had not eaten for fourteen hours and were having the time of our lives.

The ninety-year-old vessel was in her element, strutting her stuff like a peacock - sails full, tackle snapping, ropes straining. She flew like an angel, angling beautifully through the waves, thrilling sailors and non-sailors alike. Captain John at the wheel beamed broadly. This was his kind of ride! "I am hungry," I said remembering the bounteous turkey dinner we had enjoyed the evening before. Hubby groaned. The furthest thing from his mind was food. "Do you never get seasick?" How was I to answer? This is the first time I have ever been to sea. One thing for sure, I was saltier than my "old salt" of a husband. Three hours later the schooner rounded the point and entered the gentler waters of the protected outer harbor. Bodies began to appear, staggering into the fresh air from hatch and cubby hole. The kitchen crew were already in the galley, preparing a substantial lunch to take the place of the breakfast no one ate.

By this time hubby was fully recovered and it was he who regaled the newcomers about the thrilling ride down coast, after his wife threw him out of the cabin. Those that felt up to the task helped lower the sail and we chugged into harbor on the auxiliary motor. By the time lunch was served on deck, with the village and Mount Battee as a back drop, most had recovered their sense of humor - some their appetite.

It was difficult saying good-bye. We had spent three days in cramped quarters with nineteen other people, a cross section of humanity from around the U.S.A. I hugged a homebody from Iowa who had shared secrets about raising grandchildren. Hubby warmly shook hands with an antique car buff from Texas. A crew member gave me his recipe for lobster dip. A priest from Chicago helped us negotiate the slippery gangplank.

"What now?" hubby asked. "To the Inn for a hot shower and good sleep. You can take your patches off now. You will not drown in the shower." Never did a shower feel so good. We spent several more days enjoying the Camden area before driving up to Bar Harbor for an injection of "Acadia." Our last day at Otter Cliffs we watched a sleek schooner gracefully sail past, far enough out to avoid the rocks, close enough to be seen by the naked eye. Her size was trivialized by a modern cruise ship, further out, making for the port of Bar Harbor. "Do you know what?" said hubby. "I would like to sail again. What about you?" I gave him an odd glance. He had that far away dreamy look in his eyes. He meant it! "Maybe," I answered. "But next year I think we will roller blade through Ireland."



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