Some vacations hold the promise of pampered luxury, overflowing with tempting spa treatments to make you drift away, fuggedaboutit and go numb. It's a good pill if you can get it. But nothing about that kind of journey infuses you with a challenge. I mean, really, what's the toughest decision in that scenario? Rocks or crushed ice in your margarita? On the counterbalance, there are the quests that jolt you alive, taking you outside your comfort zone and dropping you smack-dab in the middle of an unforeseen adventure. Come to find out, the farther you go outside your comfort zone, the greater the reward.
Leaving my 80205 comfort zone is how I came to earn 3,765 flight miles round-trip Denver to Maine where I boarded The Heritage, one of 12 ships (seven of which are sea-faring national historic landmarks) in the SailMaineCoast.com fleet, for a 4-day excursion. The Heritage is the newest of the windjammers (built in 1983) by its captains and owners, Doug and Linda Lee, with pure hospitality in mind. The private rooms (14 doubles, 6 with double bunks, 2 with private heads, and 2 singles) have head-room enough to stand tall, each is equipped with a washbasin, hot and cold running water is standard. Also standard is electric overhead and reading lights plus outlets to charge your cell phone or laptop, and on deck are 3 heads, one converts to a shower room. The 95 foot-long vessel is 24 feet wide and to a landlubber like me, it provided the most important feature: rock-solid stability on water, albeit I admit to proactive packing. The $120 in nausea bracelets, pills and patches remain unopened and unused. Note to self: isn't that what Craig's List is for?
"Who wants the first verse?"
"I'll take the first verse," a crewmember echoes back.
And thus it begins, the call to set sail. A round of a cappella-turned-improv bursts forth on deck as the co-captains and crew tee up passengers to help hoist the sails. The Heritage isn't a replica. No. It's a next-generation water ride that slides smoothly out of port, past the bouys marking the turf where the lobster wars have gained recent infamy.
Didja know that prisoners in New England rebelled after being fed lobster four nights a week. Early settlers considered the bottom-feeders to be junk and it wasn't until the prisoners went on a food strike (or some other form of civil disobedience) that the delicacy gained traction with the culture. Greenish-brown in color before boiled to a bright red finish, American lobsters blend right into the deep end of the ocean.
Every sail on The Heritage features a Lobster Night. The Lee's fill a five-foot-long stainless steel tub crafted especially for this activity with fresh soft shell lobsters. Why the soft shell? Because hungry guests can break them open with their bare hands. And there is no formal dining silver used on Lobster Night; just paper plates, a paper cup of melted butter for bite-size dipping, and paper towels for napkins. The secret sauce? Fresh seaweed snagged from the ocean floor is piled on the tub over the lobsters. As the load of live lobsters nears a boil, the seaweed adds a tangy sea salt, just the kind Julia Child would recommend in her kitchen.
Some vacations you have to make up as you go along. Search for things to do with your days. Reserve in advance for afternoon tours to hip attractions. Not here. From the deck between pages of your book, you can see a moose swimming one island to the other. Or sea otters at play, easy and uncomplicated. This unscripted natural entertainment eclipses manmade attractions any day.
Island shopping. First errand. Layers. I now understand why L.L. Bean features winter-weather gear year-round. This first week of June is a three-blanket night, plus thermal p.j.'s and a jacket. Great themes of literature and life: man against man, man against god, man against nature, man against himself and late of this journey, man against the cold is its own category. It's time to row-row-row-our-boat ashore where we can poke our heads into the storefronts and invest in a few back-up layers. Four ores to each side, we're not crew on the Charles River. We move more by spastic lurching. The second day we're better at it.
By noon each day, the sunscreen is on, the topmost layers off. At night when we've dropped anchor, the water's surface dances with light as if a disco ball has somehow gotten hitched up on the tip of the quarter moon. Some of the 30 guests tuck under caps; one wears gloves... the open-fingertip kind, while one of the crew decides to go for a dip and a guest heads out for a solo row, just because.
The Captains Lee are fond of saying, "There is no set schedule. We go where the wind and tide take us." And yet somehow they manage to make it back to Rockland's port at precisely the right time to disembark, proving there's much, much more skill involved than they're willing to let on.
Who goes there? More than 60 percent of The Heritage's passengers are repeat clients. Some have become near family to the Lees, sailing 25+ times over the years and season. They're the ones who've outsmarted the hobby sailboat owners. You know the type: those who regularly spout off that their best days owning a boat were the day they bought it and the day they sold it. Why not just book it and enjoy it once a week?
While the majority of the passengers on this particular run are boomers, there are also Gen X and multi-generational families who find themselves galvanized, not just bonded, because of experience. Whatever it is that inspires you, let it move you outside your home zone and into another where the Sunday morning brunch could be confused for the fare served at one of those five-star resorts complete with Deviled Eggs and homemade caramel rolls sprinkled with pecans. Remarkably, all this fashion fare is cooked in a wood-burning stove in the belly of the ship. Do not set sail with the intention of losing weight, because you won't. Somehow everything tastes better outside, out of the boundaries, out of the box.