By Rachel Bauer
Coming to Maine from a landlocked state and choosing to study traditional boatbuilding and seamanship has proven to be a struggle. Previously, the closest I had ever lived to the ocean was about a 12-hour drive to the west. Much like the other apprentices who have come here from all walks of life, I was excited to experience the expedition. 11 people, 7 days, 2 boats; I had no idea what to expect. The feeling of sailing away from the harbor and into the cloudy, distant unknown didn’t hit me until we passed the breakwater. We were in two sailboats, known as The Twins, which were hand-built by previous apprentices at the Apprenticeshop. Until that moment, I had felt like a fraud, merely pretending to build boats and sail in Maine.
I’ll never fully know what Terry, our instructor, was saying in the beginning. I was so caught up in my own brain, I quit paying attention to him long before I walked up to the bow and got out my journal (sorry Terry). I needed to have a moment. I like being alone and alone is not a thing on boats. The sound of the water beating against the bottom of the sailboat was methodic, and coupled with the wind whistling past my face, almost loud enough to drown out the sound of voices behind me. I closed my eyes and felt the sway. I Imagined I was floating. The cold air and rain was somehow oddly inviting. The ocean has a calm to it’s chaos that I loved right away. The feel was similar to the mountains that I’m used to in Montana. It was the first time I felt at
home in Rockland.
By the time we reached McGlathery Island my mind was in pain from all of the information I was trying to hold on to. I was taught how ships are rigged, how to tie a bowline, how to tie a clove hitch, how to set up a land anchor, the purpose of a daggerboard, what a mizzen sail is, the process of putting up and taking down the fore and main sails, how to coil the halliard, how to place the snotter properly on the sprit, how to take a piss off of the bow successfully while underway, and how to navigate with a map and compass. I learned the ghost story about fiddlers monument and that seals sleep in the water with just their heads poked out, noses pointed to the sky. I learned a lot of things about birds I’ll probably never be able to repeat. I learned about more categories of things I didn’t know existed. I learned that I knew less than nothing about this world of sailing. The whole first day of the expedition was a blur of relaxing frustration.
The sun was setting behind our ships and all of us were scattered around the boat, stretching out our legs. A few stayed back to cook dinner. I found a rock to sit on and just watched everything around me until it was nearly dark and the food was ready. The Island itself was so beautiful and serene that I forgot why my brain hurt until the next morning when I wished I would have
remembered what I had allowed myself to forget.
I wasn’t particularly fond of that first night. I had only just begun to learn how to be on the boat. I had yet to do a depth sounding and set the anchor. We hadn’t set up our tarps to keep the rain out while we slept. I was so furious at how pitch black it was that it was comical. At least to me. I didn’t even know what a plummet was, or that a fathom was 6 feet. When I hear the word "cleat", I think of soccer or football. I had no idea what the difference was between a dock line and any other rope. Everyone might as well have been yelling German at me in the darkness trying to point things out. When it came time to run lines under the boat, I was convinced for a short moment that somebody actually had to get in the water to do it. By the time I actually got to lay down for the night, I was pretty impressed that no one had killed me, and that I had killed no one.
The rest of the trip was an absolutely frustrating and testing and astounding experience. But it was done with some really amazing people who knew what they were doing and had a lot of patience. It was filled with sunshine and rain, mountain hikes and forest walks, reading out loud, or singing songs to pass the time. We were ravaged by mosquitos. We shit in a bucket and off the side of the boat. There was Kaiser, the Island dog, that only wanted to play tug of war, and the lone rooster on Greens that did not like intruders. We ate wonderful food and took turns cooking it. We shared coffee and chocolate and swapped stories and told jokes. We met Lance Lee and saw porpoises, seals and jellyfish. Every day there was more to learn about everything. We did and experienced so many things that’s it’s hard to explain exactly how everything was, or felt. I’m not even sure I’ve processed the whole thing just yet. But to me, that means I did something good for my soul.
It was definitely an experience I’ll hold dear to my heart for the rest of my life. One thing I do know, is that I’m incredibly grateful to have been given this opportunity and I’m looking forward to the next adventures with this crazy, amazing crew and their laid back, figure-it-out attitudes.