Travel Tips

America the Beautiful: Postcard from the Edge

Locations in this article:  Chicago, IL

the Mary DayA world away from cell towers, wireless Internet and big-box superstores, Virtuous Traveler Leslie Garrett finds peace of mind at the end of America where the ocean and homespun wisdom meet.

An eco-vacation aboard a schooner off the coast of Maine?


Food cooked over a wood stove?

Six days on a boat off the Maine coast, with nothing but the sound of wind in the sails, or perhaps the cry of a bald eagle … no ringtones or relentless editors. I jump at the chance.

I am sorely in need of the chance to recharge my own batteries, and this sounds like the perfect way to do it.

But then the doubts surface. What if Maine’s notoriously fickle weather serves up nothing but fog and freezing temperatures? What if there is an emergency back home — after all, I have three small children and an elderly father — and I’m unreachable by cell? What if, after years of living life at a furious pace, I can’t slow down? What if, with nothing commanding my attention but a stack of novels, some harbor seals and the open ocean, I get bored?

I pack my doubts, along with some foul-weather gear, bathing suit (I’m an optimist, after all), sunscreen and no-slip shoes, and hit I-90 en route to Camden, Maine, to take my chances.

I arrive during a rare heat wave in mid-June to a picture-perfect town hugging a bustling harbor, full of schooners. I search out the Mary Day — not hard to find with its sky-high twin masts and signature flag flapping in the breeze.

Stepping aboard, I am shown my cabin (they weren’t kidding about small!) where I stow my luggage, then head back on deck to meet my 20 other castaways.

Ship at anchorIf I have any lingering doubts, they give way to the salty air and gentle sounds of the harbor. I sleep soundly. The next morning we’re set to sail.

Though the Mary Day was the first schooner in the fleet built to carry passengers rather than cargo, it’s no luxury liner. Cabins are small — smaller, I’m embarrassed to admit, than my walk-in closet at home — but comfortable, complete with single or double bunks and a small sink with cold running water. Heads (sailing-speak for toilets) and two showers with hot water are available on deck.

The Mary Day is part of The Maine Windjammer Association and one of a dozen schooners that offer cruises off Camden. The 12 tall ships range from 46 to 132 feet in length, with the Mary Day at 90 feet. Many are designated National Historical Landmarks.

Cruises run from three-day to six-day excursions and many offer “themes” with on-board experts.

We share the schooner with an Audubon bird expert, who routinely points out bald eagles, razorbills, cormorants, and puffins along with information about nesting habits, predators, and so on. And a local lighthouse expert offers up the history and current status of the many beacons dotting the islands in and around the coastal waters.

The boat is powered by wind and tide. Mouthwatering meals, for 30 people, no less, are cooked using a woodstove. Captain Barry King, who, along with his wife, Jen Martin, operates the Mary Day, puts it this way: “I take 30 people out of their cars and onto a schooner. Collectively we burn roughly 10 gallons of diesel and burn the energy of a single 100-watt porch bulb left on for the week. Not bad …”

Not bad indeed.

Captain Barry King is the quintessential sailor — a stocky red-haired guy with a bushy beard, an ability to read the sky (as well as charts), an abiding love of the ocean and the ports that dot the Maine coast, and an endless supply of stories about the people who make the area their home. He even pulls out his guitar one sunny, calm afternoon to join another passenger with her accordion for an impromptu sing-along.

King considers himself blessed to share his life and love with those who holiday aboard his Mary Day.

maine lighthouse“We move to the rhythms of the wind and tide. There’s no day planner, nowhere to be, nothing to do but relax. And that,” he pronounces, “is a real gift in this day and age.”

The water is cold. Very cold. And yet, it tempts me…

As I surface, I hear Captain Barry’s booming voice. “Great, isn’t it?” he says.

Soon after, a few others join in this early morning swim in the Atlantic, gingerly lowering themselves down the side of the Mary Day.

There is laughter, a general consensus that the water is, indeed, frigid, despite Captain Barry’s assurances that it is the warmest bay in the area. Gratefully, and certainly refreshed, we climb back aboard the Mary Day, me leading the pack. And so begins another day …

Our course is charted — and frequently adjusted — to suit the direction of the wind. We sail during the day, stopping occasionally in small fishing villages. No Wal-Marts or McDonald’s. Perhaps a general store, but more likely not. Perhaps a one-room schoolhouse, but frequently not. Lots of lobster traps and fishing boats. Plenty of lighthouses. Birds. Seals. Porpoises.

We anchor in quiet harbors at night. Mid-week, Captain Barry takes us to his favorite spot on earth: a quiet, deserted island with a beach straight out of a South Pacific travel brochure. With the help of his kitchen wizard, Mary Barney, they cook us a lobster feast over a fire, together with new potatoes, pearl onions, and corn cooked right in the husks. I pronounce it the best meal I’ve ever had.

Captain Barry admits a schooner vacation is not for everyone. “If we have to talk people into coming,” he says, “it’s not where they should be.” He laughs. “Now, we try to dissuade people.”

Then his eyes drift to the ocean. “But there’s nothing like this,” he says. “You can still get lost out here.”

Or, perhaps, found.

For more information …

The Maine Windjammer Association
P.O. Box 1144
Blue Hill, Maine 04614

By Leslie Garrett for Photo credits: David Lindquist & David Aldrich, Maine Windjammer Association. Leslie Garrett is author of The Virtuous Consumer: Your Essential Shopping Guide for a Better, Kinder, Healthier World. Visit her at

Previously By Leslie Garrett:

Capital Green: Washington, DC’s Eco-Tourism Cred

Carbon Offsets: Travel With a Clean Conscience?

Eco-Oakland: The City You Only Thought You Knew

Chicago: More Green Than Meets the Eye


The Good, The Green and the Downright Crazy Tours

Green Travel Gadgets

Green Honeymoons

Bye Polar: Arctic Travel

Don’t forget to check out our Responsible Travel section for more great green travel ideas.