Editors' Note: In September 2005, the VIP birds spent five days aboard the Wanderbird, a charming schooner that features exceptional vegetarian cruises along Maine's beautiful seacoast as well as scenic Nova Scotia. Their memorable experience is recounted in the following story.
Their plans firmly laid, facial expressions resolute, all nine passengers of the old Dutch sailing vessel scaled the ladders and stormed the captain's wheelhouse. One passenger shouted, "This is a mutiny!" Another announced, "We're takin' over the ship and puttin' out to sea." Both Captains Rick and Karen Miles quickly responded with smiles and chuckles as the passengers cried out one after another, "Let's set 'em adrift in the skiff! No! Let's make 'em walk the plank! Why don't we put 'em in the scuttle and feed 'em bread and water! Yeah, we're sick and tired of this homemade, gourmet vegetarian food and the red carpet treatment! We've had enough!"
This scene was no joke. It really happened on September 9, 2005, the last morning of our five-day voyage aboard the Wanderbird, a beautifully restored 90-foot schooner that travels the waters off the coast of Maine. The staged mutiny was a loving gesture we cooked up with the other passengers to express our appreciation to Rick and Karen for an extraordinary cruise experience and the opportunity to share their passion of the sea with its indigenous birds, dolphins, and whales.
Captain Karen, who volunteers at a wildlife rehabilitation center, really knows her birds and pointed out the petrels and shearwaters that live their entire lives at sea except for short nesting periods. At times the birds were literally sitting on the surface of the water.
The two cheerful captains, along with an attentive crew of four, operate passenger cruises from May through October that offer a special glimpse of what life aboard a small fishing ship of the 1800s might have been. While the vessel once held a sizeable fish-catch in its hold, it now offers twelve passengers comfortable sleeping cabins complete with private bathrooms.
Far different from the artificial environments created aboard giant luxury liners, style on the Wanderbird turns to homespun coziness with handmade patchwork quilts, hand-fashioned rugs, homemade soaps in the cabins, and local art on the walls throughout the ship. There's absolutely no dress code--just shorts, jeans, T-shirts, and sweatshirts, plus a heavy jacket when the windy sea air turns cool. That's all! We loved the informality and the total get-away from our sometimes-challenging schedules.
This captain cooks too
When the breakfast, lunch, and dinner bell rang, it didn't take much encouragement to bring us to the coach house, an enclosed viewing cabin on deck that invited conviviality and merriment among the passengers and crew. Our first day's lunch found us dipping into bowls of savory carrot ginger soup, a well-textured chowder brimming with onions, celery, carrots, herbs, and plenty of ginger that serves the dual purpose of preventing seasickness that none of us ever experienced during our cruise. The lunch was accompanied with freshly baked onion rosemary wheat rolls and a salad of baby lettuces dotted with a colorful array of veggies and olives, and topped with maple balsamic vinegar dressing.
Other epicurean treats that emerged from the novel galley included well-seasoned tempeh piccata with capers, ramekins of golden puffed spinach filo pie, a Tex-Mex feast with molé beans, and a penne pasta sprinkled with black olives and herbs de Provence, and dressed with a lemon and red bell pepper sauce. At dinner, we delighted in toasting our hosts with a glass of red or white wine from some of Maine's local wineries.
Desserts, always the anticipated pièce de résistance, featured treats like chocolate chip cookies to die for, a chocolate frosted cake richly endowed with more chocolate, individual lemon blueberry cheesecakes with gingersnap crust, and a succulent, lattice-topped raspberry-blueberry pie.
Finding a talented chef whose baking skills match her cooking expertise is a rare treat. Karen's exquisite bread creations like pungent tapenade olive rolls, English muffins, focaccia with black pepper and coarse sea salt, and gourmet bruschetta on homemade wheat bread were mealtime highlights.
Passengers enjoy kayak experience
Fulfilling the dream of owning their own schooner, both Karen and Rick wear joyful expressions as they talk about their seafaring backgrounds and their love of the sea and its unique bird and whale populations. Rick beams as he describes their efforts to record whale songs for research as they travel the migratory paths to log and count whales and sea birds.
As part of their research program, they placed acoustic hydrophones onto the seafloor for a full year to record whale sounds along the continental shelf 300 miles offshore between Maine and Halifax, Nova Scotia. The mysterious shrinking population of right whales has many marine biologists concerned because only 300 to 350 of this species are left. With hydrophones, biologists are better able to track the whales and possibly discover why so few remain.
We must admit we were a bit hesitant to sign on for the cruise fearing we would be spending five days moaning in misery with seasickness. To our amazement, the ship offered smooth sailing, even when we left the calm waters of the bay and entered the open sea for our whale adventure. And what an adventure it turned out to be! We learned the ship was built with an exceptionally heavy hull that helps to keep "her" stabilized.
Joining the whales for lunch
If nothing else about the trip stood out, the whale feeding frenzy would have been enough; but the good stuff never stopped. Our last dinner featured a shipboard barbecue with the biggest baked potatoes we've ever seen, succulent roasted portobellos, an array of roasted veggies, fresh corn on the cob with lime, and grilled asparagus. After dinner one of the passengers, an English professor, taught us the sea shanty "What Shall We Do with a Drunken Sailor." We sang with vigor and most likely sounded like off-key tipsy sailors ourselves.
Topping off the evening, Captain Rick treated us to a dramatic reading by Ruth Moore, a prolific writer who grew up on Great Gott Island, once a small fishing village and one of the islands we sailed past on our cruise. The reading graphically portrays the colorful, rough and tumble language of the seamen who were part of the author's life. Before turning in, we went on deck to look at the star-studded sky hoping we could identify a few of the constellations. Captain Karen and Johnna, a crewmate studying marine biology, found yet another wonder to excite us. We had never before seen phosphorescence, tiny microorganisms that float on the water and give off a flash of bright light when the water is stirred or disturbed.
Wanderbird shows captain's woodworking touches
During the 2006 winter season Captain Karen focused on redesigning and refurbishing the wheelhouse area with mahogany paneling to match that of the charming coach house. On the first voyage of the season the Wanderbird will navigate beautiful Penobscott Bay with its many picturesque lighthouses and tiny islands. Some cruises will leave from Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Labrador, and New Brunswick to encounter whales, icebergs, and even Viking ruins. Bird watchers will be enthralled by the sight of colorful puffins, shearwaters, gannets and other feathered friends. Their fall foliage cruise takes place in October, the ideal time to marvel at the trees blazing with brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows.
The morning we departed we dined on waffles with almonds and poppy seeds topped with raspberry coulis and tofu vanilla cream. An elegant send-off, it was a feast to remember.
Our memories are many and bring us smiles every time we recall the beautiful scenery, the coziness of the cabins, the comfortable coach house, the fabulous food, and the great whale lunch. But most of all, the warmth and giving natures of our hosts, Rick and Karen, will inhabit a permanent niche in our hearts, nudging us to return. Very likely we will.