So much has taken place since I boarded the Schooner Stephen Taber in early June, but her memory is fresh in my mind. Commissioned on Long Island in 1871, she is the oldest sailing vessel in continuous service in the United States. We boarded early on an overcast Thursday morning in Rockland, ME. After getting acquainted with the ship and crew, chef Aimee LePage prepared the first of what would be many delicious meals. For breakfast on day one, we enjoyed blueberry pancakes with bacon and canteloupe. The ship’s yawl gave us a push into the Penobscot Bay, we raised our sails and set out for adventure.
There were short periods of rain and light winds as we soaked in the scenery of Maine’s majestic coastline and her many islands. The winds finally dropped to almost nothing, so we let the yawl give us another push (the Stephen Taber has no engine). We enjoyed a lunch of Israeli CousCous soup, salad with kumquats and Cuban bread. I was already falling in love with Aimee. We finally dropped anchor in the Little Thoroughfare between North Haven and Vinal Haven. Captain Noah Barnes and wife Jane own and operate the Stephen Taber, and Jane’s 13 years in the wine industry prepared her well for wine tastings at sea.
The checkered tablecloth was laid out and so were the wines Jane had carefully selected for us. Honestly, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from a wine tasting aboard a schooner, but Jane amazed us all. With a lobster bake on the evening’s menu, she selected wines she thought would pare well with dinner, including one called Big Claw, a Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Colombard and Chenin Blanc blend from California’s North Coast. We tasted wines from New England, Greece (a lovely white called Boutari Santorini, from the Assyritiko grape) as well as selections from France and Australia. She saved the 10 year old Portuguese Madeira for after dinner.
We enjoyed a delicious dinner prepared by Chef Aimee: her take on surf ‘n turf. Steamed lobster (kept fresh in a crate in the water off the schooner’s side), Polish sausage and flank steak. Captain Noah took those who wanted to go out for a row on the Plain Jane as we took in the magnificent Maine scenery. Back on board we enjoyed strawberry/rhubarb crisp with the Madeira Port. I climbed down the stairs into my cabin and spent the first of two nights at sea.
Dawn broke clear the next morning. With clear skies and sunshine all around us, we enjoyed coffee and a breakfast of fresh baked sausage bread and granola with dried fruit. We were anchored just off Calderwood Island and Captain Noah rowed several of us ashore to explore this pristine preserve.
The sea was dead calm, so with the help of our yawl, we set course for North Haven. The water was populated with colorful lobster trap buoys, splashing seals and seagulls. While we weren’t soaking in the scenery and fresh air, we visited, read and relaxed… and ate some more. For lunch we enjoyed Cubanos and salad. The wind picked up, so we hoisted the sails again and by mid afternoon arrived at North Haven. Two of the locals aboard, Chloe and Shannon, had jumped into the icy cold waters and in a moment of weakness, I agreed that I would do the same when we returned from our shore excursion.
Our visit ashore didn’t go without incident. New friends Tim, Shannon, Sara and I went in search of beer. A resident told us the store in town wasn’t open yet for the summer, but he said if we called the grocery store they would send someone to pick us up. Sure enough a few minutes later an SUV arrived to drive us the couple of miles to the store. We finished our shopping, headed back to the dock and wound up in a rear end collision. You really can’t make this up. No one was hurt, information was exchanged and we sat on the dock and waited for Noah to fetch us.
Ah yes, back to my earlier promise. After returning to the safe haven of the Stephen Taber, I donned my swim suit and plunged into the frigid 50° water. I can’t remember the last time I felt so alive, or so cold. We set sail again and a few hours later enjoyed our second shipboard wine tasting with Italy the focus this time. Jane started us off with a Rive della Chiesa Prosecco, a delightful sparkler. We tasted eight wines in all, including Pinot Grigio, Dolcetto, Nero d’Avola, Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino. Jane clearly has a keen palate and her years in the wine industry have paid off handsomely. For appetizers we nibbled on cured salmon, lobster salad and artichokes and then mussels with pasta. The food was as good as any I have had anywhere. What Aimee is able to accomplish in tight quarters is nothing short of remarkable.
Our last night on board was filled with story-telling and singing in the safe shelter of Long Cove. Dawn broke overcast with little to no wind. The sea was like glass. We dined for the last time aboard the Stephen Taber and allowed the yawl to push us back to Rockland. The three days literally flew by, and I will will never forget them. It was the perfect conclusion to nine days in Maine. My deepest gratitude goes out to Noah and Jane Barnes for the friendship and hospitality. No visit to Rockland would be complete without sailing on the Stephen Taber or one of the other fleet members of the Maine Windjammer Association.
Postscript – Okay… so what, pray tell, do potatoes have to do with this story? On our way back to Portland, we had one last stop. We visited Maine Distillers, the home of Cold River Vodka. Cold River has won numerous awards including number one Vodka in the world by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. This is a potato Vodka, and they make it from potatoes they grow in Maine. It’s a painstaking process, but the hard work has paid off. Their unflavored Vodka is crisp and clean and their Wild Blueberry Vodka not only smells heavenly, it’s absolutely delicious. When we visited, they were preparing to release their first Gin, also potato based and made in the traditional English style. As we settled into our shuttle, we heard the sounds of a fidlle and turned to see our host serenading us farewell.
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- Maine Windjammer Newsletter – Power of the Press (thevalleyvoice.org)