Adventure on the High Seas: Let the Voyage Begin!
Four days at sea. Destination, unknown. Fifteen first-years traipse down the dock at Portland Harbor to board the deck of the classic wooden ship Wendameen, John Alden's first schooner, built in 1912.
The Maine coast is incredible. Great breeze today. We made it all the way to Jewel Island, anchored, rowed to shore. The sun was setting and we hiked up to these old forts. From the top, nothing but islands and ocean and red skies. All of Casco Bay spread out around us. I had night watch, which was totally awesome. I could see the stars. Then the jellyfish started to migrate. Hundreds of them drifting in the moonlight.
"Drop your stuff here and eat," shouts Jess McGreehan '08, the trip co-leader and seasoned Wendameen deck hand. "You can have as much as you can eat, but don't waste. We may need it later. This is all we've got."
After massive amounts of peanut butter are consumed, a pile of luggage and would-be sailors collects in the cockpit. "Take your stuff and get settled in your berths below," says Jess, her kinky curls hopping in the quickening breeze. "One at a time, and always go down backwards."
No wind this morning. The water is pure glass. All sails up, and still we're not moving. Capt. Troy suddenly jumps overboard and says: "Swimming pool is open." All these other kids jumped in off the bow. Here we are under sail, and we're swimming in the middle of the ocean. Too cool. The wind picks up and we're hauling it at nine knots, full hull speed. Rowed ashore to Potato Island. Walked around naming the sea creatures. There's Fred the Seagull. Billy Bob the Jellyfish. Jess pulled a friend's lobster pot nearby and there were these little lobsters inside. First time I've seen her freak out, but she picked one up without losing any fingers.
Capt. Troy greets them as they reappear from the hatch. "I'll be your captain," he grins. "Let's go over a few details. There are no baths or showers, so get to know the saltwater. We've got to live on the same mother ship - and this ship gets pretty small. Be tolerant and considerate. Everybody gets to crew and clean and cook. Remember that many hands make light work.
"Oh, and if you aren't having fun," he adds. "Talk to Jess."
"Who knows how to coil a line?" she chimes in, on cue.
"Can you teach me?" says Alexandra Reed, of Glen Ellyn, Ill., who is venturing on her first sailing voyage ever.
"Absolutely," says Jess. "This is the main sheet. It weighs about 40 pounds and there aren't any winches, so we're going to do this with muscle power."
"Oh boy," says Alexandra, reaching for the line. "I really hope I don't get seasick."
Another great wind. We're clippin' it. You can feel the vibration on the helm. Went to this place called the Goslings, by far one of the coolest islands in Maine. A couple of guys decided to swim. We were at least 400 meters away, and that water was cold. They did it though, and we were rowing behind and cheering them on. Had a fire on the beach, made s'mores. There was this huge colony of seals living off the island. At night we could hear them barking and grunting. Or maybe that was my bunkmate.
Ten minutes later all stations are manned: four students to raise the jib, two on the stays, five on the main. "Stand by to tack," shouts Capt. Troy. Nearly all of her 2,300-feet of sails are set when the Wendameen points out of harbor, toward open sea.
Everyone is suddenly quiet as Portland slips away. Grins of happiness and far-away looks. A cruising rhythm is settling in. Past the Bug Light, past Spring Point Light. Portland Headlight beckons ahead.
"That," says Jess, pointing, "is the most photographed lighthouse in America. Bring your folks there on Parent's Weekend. You can tell them you sailed past it."
Can't believe this is the last day. No wind, so we're motoring. All the sails are furled. We put the boat to sleep last night. There's this massive cleanup going on. Really gross. Finding cheese and yogurt-covered pretzels in the weirdest places. It's been so great getting to know everyone. It's just starting to hit me. Can't believe I'll be back at school in just a few hours. Hope my roommate is nice. Hope I run into these guys on campus. Hope I remember this trip forever.