First light on the islands

The weather in Maine this summer has not been as hot as some of us might like, but as far as I’m concerned the sunrises and sunsets have more than made up for the mediocre midday action. I spent last weekend with my family in a small cabin perched on a cliff jutting over the water at the eastern entrance to the Fox Island Thoroughfare.

3shotI’m not sure what awoke me. Maybe the absolute stillness, no waves lapping at the rocks below, no wind rustling the pine boughs. Maybe it was the intense glow, like a fire, a good fire, though.

Once I sat up in bed and saw what was happening I was transfixed.

I couldn’t stop taking photos. The sky and the water were one. The black silhouette of the land was as sharp in the water as it was against the sky, like an ink smudge along the crease of a folded piece of paper.

2shotWho could tell whether the mirror was above or below. A few clouds added softness. The fir trees watched the scene with me.

8shotThe sliver of moon took it’s time going to bed for the day.

14shotThis is the country of the pointed firs, after all

13shotOur little cabin looked like a fairy tale house when I looked back at it from the dock.

12shotThe view toward our boat on the dock and North Haven beyond reminded me where we had come from and which way was up.

11shotThe Schooner American Eagle was moored in the Thoroughfare.

9shotAs I watched from my perch on the narrow porch, boat-builder Foy Brown drove by in his small outboard, commuting to Brown’s Boatyard in North Haven from his houseboat in Perry’s Creek. The buzz from his engine and the ripples from its wake hitting the rocks broke the stillness, but only for a few minutes.


4shot5shotGood morning North Haven; Good morning Vinalhaven; Good morning Maine. I love being a part of you.





Fall cruise


The Camden Hills viewed from the ferry

The Camden Hills viewed from the ferry

Jack on the almost empty ferry headed to North Haven. He was too busy reading to notice the light. Rhapsodies about the setting sun don't start happening until you are older anyway.

Jack on the almost empty ferry headed to North Haven. He was too busy reading to notice the light. Rhapsodies about the setting sun don’t start happening until you are older anyway.

Last year John and I sailed alone on an overnight to North Haven to celebrate our anniversary. This year we brought the whole family, dogs and all. Jack and I came late to the party since we had to drive up from his crew race in New Hampshire (his team won!) and catch the late ferry. The setting sun turned the white ferry pink and the ocean an extraordinary shade of purple blue. It was one of the most gorgeous rides across the bay I’ve ever had, made all the more lovely by the knowledge that I was with my son and headed to spend the night with my husband and other son — the people I love the most in the place that I love the most.

Jack with his medal. The Megunticook team beat out a dozen other men's novice junion 4 to win at the New Hampshire Rowing Championships

Jack with his medal. The Megunticook team beat out a dozen other men’s novice junion 4 to win at the New Hampshire Rowing Championships

John and Sam had sailed over earlier in the day on Wild Rumpus with the dogs.

Nature smiled on us and the temperature did not drop too much. The full moon on the flat calm Thoroughfare in the middle of the night shone through our the portholes. I got frequent glimpses, since truth be told I was awake quite a bit as the dogs roamed from bunk to bunk, nails clicking on the floor, and small whines, before trying to crawl into my bag and settling for sleeping on top of me.

Penne and Roger had a good night's sleep with me in my small bunk.

Penne and Roger had a good night’s sleep with me in my small bunk.

The next morning was warm enough to eat on deck. John cooked us all eggs and bacon served on toast.

The chef

The chef

Dining on deck

Dining on deck


The sail home, a hustling, bustling close reach was a fitting end to the fall sailing season.

Farewell North Haven until next summer

Farewell North Haven until next summer


A lake and lots of funky boats=fun

The theme of the 10th annual Polly’s Folly Fall Regatta on Megunticook Lake in Camden was cool boats. In addition to the usual Laser crowd, the race included a classic wooden moth, a sailing canoe, a Lightning, a Bluejay (sailed by the fleet’s youngest racers), a GP14, a rowing shell, and a kayak. The wind had gone elsewhere, so the second theme was cheating. Several racers were seen using paddles to move up in the fleet.


And in a first for the regatta, there was a near sinking. One of the Lasers was rigged without its plug and began to sink out in the middle of the lake. Luckily, a race organizer was able to get there in time to rescue the boat and her sailor. The deeper question here is: was JKHJr trying to sabotage his old friend Carl?

The first race course was a windward leeward around a big rock; the second involved a small artificial duck that was hard to see in the gorgeous fall light reflected off the mountains and lake.

Below are some photos:




Last Sail


Me taking Frolic for her last sail

Me taking Frolic for her last sail

Sitting in my office looking out at the harbor, deep blue with just the right amount of wind, sunny with enough clouds to make the sky interesting, I knew.  It was time for The Last Sail.

Crisp September days with their strong breezes and bright sun make for some of the best sailing of the year. But this also can be a time of strong storms and the weather can change on a dime. Deciding when to let go of summer and have your boat hauled can be tough. Pull it too early and you might miss another week of fabulous weather. Wait too long, though, and you can get stuck spending a sleepless night listening to the wind howl and worrying about what’s happening down in the harbor.

Heading out Camden Harbor

Heading out of Camden Harbor

This time I knew.

I had been spending my afternoons like the grasshopper, playing on the water, when I should have been thinking like the ant and getting ready for fall, and winter.

Putting off working in my garden in order to frolic on the boat meant a delay in digging up the sweet potatoes — some lucky field mouse had time to eat most of the crop before I got there. There were apples to pick; cucumbers to pickle, yet more tomatoes to can and the rest of the potatoes to dig.

It was time to move off the water.

The last sail is special. Time to savor the rustle of the water along the boat hull, the gentle clunk of rigging and the creak of wooden spars rubbing, turning, working. Relish the salt spray that leaves a rough crust on my cheeks and hair. Stretch my eyes out along the blue water, past where it meets the blue horizon and uncoil all those internal knotted lines. Then store it all in the memory bank.

Looking up at the mast and gaff mainsail

Looking up at the mast and gaff mainsail


Leaving the Camden Hills behind as Frolic and I sail in Penobscot Bay

Leaving the Camden Hills behind as Frolic and I sail in Penobscot Bay

Thankyou, Frolic, for all those great outings this year, for carrying me away from the mundane and into the blue. See you next spring.

Frolic is a Dark Harbor 17, built in the 1920s and restored in recent years by Artisan Boatworks.

Frolic is a Dark Harbor 17, built in the 1920s and restored in recent years by Artisan Boatworks.

Fall blooming

Some plants, like blueberries, grow faster after they have been pruned or burned. The stress forces a reaction — a frenetic, last-chance, all-out blooming. Fall has that affect on me. Each day of warm sun seems so extraordinary. Each sail out on the bay feels like the best ever.

A glorious hike up Maiden’s Cliff — do the lake and ocean sparkle brighter this time of year because they are closer to a sun that now sits lower on the horizon; Or is it the contrast to winter’s creeping shadow?

In my garden a week ago I found as many as eight large cucumbers a day and had picked so many tomatoes I’d run out of counter space in my kitchen to line them up on their way into the canner and freezer. Still, even though we’ve been eating gifts from the garden since June, a tomato warmed by the late September sun somehow tastes sweeter than one harvested in mid-August.

Winter hangs in my awareness this time of year, like the Camden hills, heavy and majestic.

Canadian geese flying south above our field screech the message that colder nights and eventually snow approach. I hear you. I hear you. I’m walking faster. I’m sailing harder. I’m soaking in the sun. I’m getting ready.



Finding home


Many years ago I wanted to write a book called “Finding Home.” The plan was to write a series of profiles of people in the state, asking how they knew when they were home and what that meant to them. It’s a rich topic that has engaged many writers far better than me. That may be one reason why the book never got off the ground.

Still the question lurks in my consciousness each time I write a story, and especially now that I am editing a magazine celebrating life on the Maine coast.

A couple of weekends ago I asked myself again about home as my husband and I headed up to Mt. Desert Island for a friend’s 70th birthday party. I spent 10 years on MDI back in the 1990s, some of that time as editor of the local newspaper.

Our first stop was lunch in Ellsworth where the man behind the counter rang up my sandwhich while saying, “Hi Polly. How have you been?” It took some serious brain rummaging and a quick phone call to a friend to come up with his name. But then the memories started to flow.

Next stop was with Putt at the Stihl dealership in Trenton. Every year for at least 10 years I’ve stopped in to see Putt and pick up the latest Stihl calender for my husband. They feature buxom, scantily clad blonds posing with chain saws and weed whackers and other stuff like that. Putt thinks it’s hilarious that I come all the way up from Camden to see him. “I don’t know about this year’s calender,” he said, as I flipped though, a tad shocked at images a lot closer to run of the mill pornography than usual. “I’ll tell the dealer I had a complaint,” he said with a chuckle as I hurried out with my head down.

We decide to drive through Somesville past a house I once rented, and stop at Long Pond to check out the ice. It looked great. Some people were playing hockey and there seemed to be ice fishermen everywhere. Scraped out by a glacier during the ice age, Great Long Pond is 4 miles long but nowhere near as wide. When I lived on MDI we used to skate there often, down and back. I have a photo at home of me with my old terrier Calhoun on a particularly windy day. Once my brother and I skated the whole way around during an exhausting weekend effort to spend time on every lake on the island.

belovedOn this day we got halfway down and stopped to talk to two bundled up ice fishermen sitting in chairs. They told me two ATV’s went through the ice nearby earlier and to be careful. They and all the other fishermen on the lake this weekend were competing in the Tremont Ice Fishing Derby. As we chatted, one of them looked at me sharply. “Is that you Polly?” It’s a guy I used to know when I lived there. He did a bunch of housepainting and carpentry for me.

I head back up the lake, spreading my arms wide at the glory of the mountains all around reflected in the smooth ice. Some of you may know, I am a skating fanatic. Some people do drugs, I do ice.

By this time, John, nursing a sore ankle, had turned back for home. I promised not to go too far, but it was hard to force myself back. By the time I did return to John near takeout, I was high on skating and memories.

IMG_1051Next stop was tea and gossip with several island friends. Later at the birthday party, we saw still more familier faces. By then, after forgetting that first time, my memory had come back and I knew the names. Dinner was a buffet and we sat at a table of strangers. But even they felt like old friends by dessert. John and I love boats, islands and fish stories and the people at our table wanted to talk about all three.

As we drove home late in the evening, fighting back drowsiness, I was happy to my core.

IMG_1043Home is a state of mind. You can’t explain it like a dictionary definition. But you know it when you feel it. Home is skating on a favorite lake from the past with my best friend and love of my life; home is reconnecting with familiar faces. Home also is kissing my sleeping children and letting the dogs out when I get back to my own house after a day down memory lane.

Home is Maine and it warms my heart.















The owl and pussycat

Every year John and I forget our anniversary and this year was no exception. That’s ok because we celebrate our marriage all year long. This year, though, we made up for missing the exact day, by planning a short, belated celebratory overnight cruise. As we sailed out of Rockland Harbor, I felt like the owl and the pussycat in Edward Lear’s wonderful children’s book. Only instead of sailing for a year and a day to the land where the bong tree grows, we went to North Haven, picked up one of JO Brown’s moorings and rowed ashore just as the setting sun was working its magic.

3nhtrip I love cruising to a harbor where I feel so welcome!


2nhtripWe rowed around the North Haven Casino which is celebrating its 101st birthday by getting new underpinnings. It has been moved off it’s flimsy pilings onto a sort of steel teepee while Prock Marine rebuilds the piling.


5nhtripA lovely end of the season party at a friend’s house, followed by dinner at Nebo Lodge where we saw more friends, reminded us why we love this small island. We rowed back out to Wild Rumpus in the moonlight across the glassy smooth water — rowing to the light of the moon, not dancing, but it felt just as joyous.

4ntripAfter coffee on board the next morning, a shoreside inspection of work being done under the house my brothers and I own, and chats with more friends, including a cousin who was taking delivery of one of Peter Ralston’s gorgeous photos (he took the photo of the two of us above), we hauled up the sails and headed back across the bay, waters sparkling and just enough wind the keep the engine silent.

A last summer sail, bittersweet but so lovely. It will give us memories to share over the winter and fodder for dreaming about more cruises next year.


The skipper says see you on the water next year!

Sailing home

So glad John helped me sail Frolic back to Camden from North Haven. The wind was blowing hard and the seas were rough. As we emerged from the Thoroughfare and were preparing to tack to avoid some rocks, I heard a clunk on the deck.”Did you hear that?” I asked John. Just as he said no, we heard it again- a slightly metalic thud. We both looked forward and then back at each other in shock. The leeward side stay was swinging free and looping around in the wind. If we had tacked, the mast would have fallen over. I was ready to panic, but John, calm and collected crawled around the mast where, miraculously, he found not only the shackle that connects the stay to the deck, but the crucial pin that keeps it in. Both were lying loose on the deck. My hero carefully balanced on the slippery deck and dodged waves as he reattached the stay. Then he found a piece of wire down below to make it more secure. “I do not know what I would have done, if you hadn’t been with me.” “You would have been fine. You would have fixed it.” “I would have cried and tried to take the sails down and then called you for help.” “You would have been fine.” I love my husband. He is so nice to me. The rest of the trip was fast and fun. We surfed to Camden in record time. Frolic is home and summer is over, but, luckily, my adventures with John are not.


Shall we Dance?

Many of the passengers on this ship seem to be here for the dancing. They start in the morning with line-dancing classes, then in the afternoon take ballroom-dancing lessons.
The ship features a live ballroom-dance band, Trevor Newby and the Queens Room Band, including a male singer named Jean something or other. Each evening the floor is cleared for 15 minutes or so to let “International Dance couple Eugene and Daria” glide and leap around, demonstrating the samba, the tango, the rhumba etc. Daria is impossibly thin with long skinny legs and she wears filmy outfits with skimpy tops that must be held on by tape. Both of them have permanent smiles that give no hint of whether they really are having fun or not.

On previous nights I have looked down on the dancers from the balcony above, watching them glide and twirl and seeing the action as great wonderful swirling pattern. Tonight we watched from the floor-level sidelines, seeing more of individual dancers and less of the whole.

Behind us, a Korean couple who now live in Seattle, also watched the action. They had come on the boat to dance and had taken a private lesson from Eugene and Daria earlier in the afternoon. “One hour with the two of them for only $50. A very good deal,” the woman said. But she had hurt her knee in the class and was forced to sit out the dancing tonight. Too bad, because this was the night of the Cunard Ballroom Dancing Competition, complete with three celebrity judges — entertainers from the previous nights: the violin player, the Irish tenor and the comedian.

Ten couples signed up and performed three dances, a foxtrot, a waltz and a jive.
Between each dance the judges made comments, such as I liked his shoes, or she completed me on my playing so I like her dancing. But in the end the audience chose the winners, picking a young couple were from Dublin. He wore shiny black and white oxford shoes and a black tuxedo. She wore a puffy short black skirt. The second-place couple were Japanese and said they lived in San Francisco. When asked how much they like dancing, the wife proudly told us that they dance 9 hours a week at home.

Dancing brings out the characters. Every night we have watched an older woman with long blond hair who always wears a Hawaiian-looking pink headband. She makes me think of Miss Havisham– an old woman dressed in fancy cloths more suited for a young one. Tonight she wore a silk tartan jacket and skirt. Getting hot with dancing, she removed her jacket to reveal a strapless top. Her wrinkled skin oozed over a bit in the back. Not a good look. There are quite a few single women like her one this boat. But Cunard has that covered with so-called “Gentleman Dancing Escorts.” Six men, mostly older, wearing white jackets and name tags prowl the dance floor and the tables around it, looking for women who want to dance. Some women, like the older tartan-wearing one, end up dancing every number this way. Many of the contestants in the dance competition included ‘dancing men’ as the spectators call them.

During the competition, an older Scottish lady in front of me asked me to photograph her and the older ‘dancing man’ who was her partner. “Be sure to get him when he goes wild during the Jive,” she said. It felt good to have a job!

One of the dancing men, Andrew Doukas, is from Portland, Maine. He says he has been doing this for 8 or 9 years. Cunard pays for his trip and travel costs but does not give him a salary.

“It’s a great way to get a free vacation,” he says, although he concedes that sometimes it’s not easy. Many of the single women waiting expectantly for dance partners are not young and beautiful — to put it politely.

He’s been on this boat since Los Angeles and does one or two of these trips a year. Tonight he stands out in the dance competition for his practiced swings and twirls, but it turns out his partner is a British woman who is now his girlfriend. He met her on a cruise a year ago.

When not tripping the light fantastic on cruise ships, Andrew works for himself as an attorney in Portland. He’s been ballroom dancing for 25 years and found about the “Dancing escort” gig from a scout at a dance class.

“They were looking for single men who were willing to go on cruises,” he said.

Mom and I cringed when one by one the dancing men came by and asked us to dance because the people out there twirling around know what they are doing and we do not. But on the way up to our stateroom, we both decided we’d like to learn.
The dancers
Andrew Doukas- a Dancing Escort from Portland
Many of the men and their partners wear kilts
Mom and me enjoying the sunny weather on deck





What’s for dinner?

Today we toured the main galley for the kitchen off the
Britannia Dining room. All the top chefs on board lined up like
celebrities to be introduced. Wearing their calf-length white
cotton aprons and tall, white pleated paper chefs hats.

The Executive Sous Chef Steven Peter Schaap, who is Australian, told me
that in the old days the number of pleats on a hat corresponded to
the number of egg dishes a chef had mastered. I think he might be
full of it! He also said that the chefs’ aprons were double
breasted to protect them from burning if they had to carry hot
platters close to their chests.

The kitchens on this vessel process
an extraordinary amount of food. On a 7-day voyage, they will serve
about 45,000 meals and clean over 500,000 pieces of china and
glass. This includes about 800 pizzas, 5,500 scones, 45,000 cups of
tea, 2,000 pints of beer, about 2,600 bottles of wine and 250
bottles of champagne. In terms of raw ingredients, a typical 7-day
trip will require 35 tons of fruit and vegetables, 15 tons of meat,
including poultry, 10 tons of fish and seafood, 15 tons of cheese
and dairy products, 1.5 tons of sugar, 33,000 pints of milk, 2,300
dozen eggs, 4 tons of flour and 1.5 tons of rice.

The ship has a
crew of 10 people who handle all the food provisioning when in
port. The storerooms include 17 huge refrigerators, freezers and
dry areas. Fresh products are loaded every 7 days, while dry and
frozen goods come on board every 12 to 14 days, depending on the
ships schedule. All this food is prepared in 12 galleys spread
around the ship, which operate 24 hours a day in shifts, Schaap
said. He and Executive Chef Klaus Kremer supervise a staff of seven
chefs de cuisine, including an executive pastry chef and a chief
butcher, 140 under chefs and 68 cleaners.

We entered the kitchen
through a large stainless steel revolving door. Staff enter through
one of these doors, drop off dirty plates and linen etc. then clean
their hands before proceeding into the inner sanctum. They exit
with new dishes through another door.

It’s all quite industrial
looking. Lots of stainless steel, white-tiled floor and labels at
each station, although the labels might have been added today just
for us. We passed through a beverage area, with machines for tea,
lemonade etc., and on into what looked like a long alley between
cooking stations. Each side was stacked with white plastic
individual dish covers. Each menu item for a main course has its
own prep and cooking area. Chefs on one side cook items, hand them
off to chefs on another who plate them and put them on a rack for
waiters, who have to line up for their orders. The waiters put on
the plastic dish covers.

On the pastry side, chefs were running two
Hobart mixers the size my dishwasher, and unloading silpat muffin
flats containing what looked like 24 chilled chocolate soufflés per
dish. Cold items are prepared in an area of the galley called the
cold larder. The chef in charge will put together a sample plate of
the daily dishes which are then reproduced by his sous chefs. This
same method is used for other dishes, as well.

Kremer, a native of
Germany, who has been cooking on Cunard Line vessels for 25 years,
said Cunard does not have shore-side test kitchens. New dishes are
prepared on board and then tested. Menu items are prepared based in
the demographics of the passengers on any given voyage, according
to Chef de Cuisine Prasad Haldankarr who supervises one of the
largest restaurants on board, the Britannia, which serves as many
as 878 people in a seating. People from different countries tend to
prefer different foods and Cunard keeps track on its computers.
Each order at any given sit-down meal is entered in to a computer
as soon as the waiter gets out to the kitchen, so the company can
track trends. I took a photo of the Sous Chef at his computer,
which is where he spends a fair amount of time. He shares a
glassed-in office with the executive chef in the center of the main
galley where they can easily see the various stations around them.

I was surprised at how few people showed up for the galley tour,
only about 75 of so. Many were worried that our passage through the
clean cooking area might contaminate the food. Not to worry, said
Kremer, the 68 cleaners have it under control. “They do all the
work that we don’t want to do,” he said. Not only does the kitchen
have the capacity to wash and disinfect dishes in about 2 minutes,
it also has really strict sanitation controls.

So where does all
the waste go? Leftover food is pulped and thrown overboard when the
ship is far enough offshore. Plastic and papers are incinerated.
Glass and metals are crushed and taken ashore for recycling. The
most consumed item on this ship, no matter what the demographic is
water. And there is no way, the vessel could have enough room to
store water for a full voyage. The Queen Elizabeth has 2 large salt
water evaporators which process about 45,200 gallons of water a
day, which is about the daily usage onboard. That water then is
treated with chemicals and filtered to make even tap water in the
cabins potable.

It’s almost time for dinner. I think dessert might
be chocolate soufflés.

I did not get a tour of the bridge or the
engine room because Mom and I were too cheap to pay for that
privilege. Oh well. We can do it on our next trip.

Photos: the
Executive Chef The Executive Sous Chef scenes in the kitchen all
the top chefs introduce themselves