Sailing American’s oldest merchant sailing vessel

One of my best friends, Jen asked if I would be interested in joining her on a sailing adventure. The answer was immediately YES! Later I learn that it would be on the 150 year old Tall Ship the Stephen Taber. Incredibly this ship was built in 1871 to move goods from port to port before transitioning to a charter boat. We would be sailing the many islands outside of the Rockland, Maine harbor. Um yeah, you could say I was a little excited.

Originally the plan had been to fly my plane but looking at the distance and how much fuel we could carry with four people and bags it was decided that flying commercial would be the better plan. Plus that would give us a day in Boston to follow the Freedom trail. That was the plan at least. It turned into a culinary tour of the city, where we gorged on seafood and cocktails. Ah the rough life of a sailor.

Then is was time to head further north to Maine. It was a pretty drive and fun to see a part of the country that was new to me. Arriving at the boat I was impressed with how well maintained the ship was as my head wrapped around the daunting task of keeping up with varnishing hundreds of square feet of deck and railing. Let’s just say I was happy to play the tourist.

The next impressive thing about the Taber is that the systems are pretty much the same as in 1871. No engine, no refrigeration, no auto-pilot. Hell there aren’t even manual winches on board. To get out off the dock a tinder is used to push her around until the sails can be raised. How cool is that. Once the massive sails are raise she slowly builds up steam, impressive for a 50 ton vessel. The first day was just a lovely day sail through a channel between a couple islands and tacking around others as we made our way to the northwest out to Swans island where we anchored for the night. The threat of thunderstorms in the distance gave us a light show and plenty of loud rumbles, thankfully at a safe distance.

Since I had no anchor watch responsibilities I was able to over indulge in some Bulleit rye while watching the evening drift on by. In the morning we made a run to shore for some hiking and exploring. And to pick up a massive batch of lobsters for the night’s beach feast. Jen and I somehow lost track of time and came close to getting left behind. Oops, I guess when they say 10:20 they really mean 10:20.

Sails back up we enjoyed a mixture of sun and shade, which meant hot and cold. I just kept thinking how much these sailing grounds look like the Apostle islands on Lake Superior. Simply breathtaking and how great it felt to be back on the water with the gentle rolling of the boat. Boy did I miss this. We tucked into a spot behind a small island around 4:00pm and headed for shore. First up was a beach comb where I picked up quite a bit of trash and lobster buoys – so sad how no matter where you go you find trash. Back in time for a ridiculous lobsterfest, where we each got not one but two lobsters. These were a soft shelled lobster (not sure if that is a species or a time of year) so no crackers were needed. Holy fuck were they good. I skipped dessert for another hike and some time staring out at the ocean. And with that it was time to load up. We still had to sail to our anchorage and the sun was dropping fast.

The biggest benefit of this evening sail was a beautiful sunset as we approached a bridge. I was at the helm for a bit and let me tell you this thing handles like a beast, she likes to drift side to side and there is slop in the steering. No biggie but took a minute to adjust. There were audible gasps as our masts barely cleared the bridge deck. I’ll be honest, I was holding my breath. We had no benefit of sun or moon as we approached the anchorage but with forecast winds of 35 knots it was good we could tuck in with good 180 degree protection.

The following morning is was a quick start as we needed to get back to Rockland for a Schooner boat parade leading up to a celebration of Maine’s 200th (plus 1, thanks Covid) celebration. This would be our most sporty day and while we didn’t see the 35 knots of wind (I’d say it was in the 15-20 knot range) it the perfect amount to load up the ship on a broad reach. I headed into my cabin for a bit just to listen to the water rushing by the hull. God I love that sound.

Back in the bay we lined up with three other tall ships to run circuits around the bay. People lined the breakwater and waved as others walked out to the lighthouse on the end. Slightly dizzle, we headed to the dock to get setup for the land based celebration including hosting the Governor of Maine on our vessel for dinner. Let me pause here and say that Randy, the executive chef on board, prepared one after another amazing meals. He has worked as executive chef in many NYC fine dining establishments and how he brought that same level to a galley with a cast iron stove boggles my mind.

Since we were on the dock and it was our last night we got shushed off of the Taber around 11pm and wandered over to a local bar. It just so happened to be karaoke night. Some shots of Don Jolio, some singing, some helping a pass-out drunk girl to her ride home, some more shots. Well you get the idea – we had a great time and closed the place down. I feel so luck to have spent time with Jen, her sister, and another of her best friends Rana on this trip. Definitely a bucket list item with such great friends.

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