What I did with my summer vacation, Part 3: Sailing Penobscot Bay

The third part of the trip was the part we had been looking forward to for a long time: we would be staying on a sailboat for a few nights.

O'Happy Day

This was the best part of the trip, by far, and everybody had such a blast. I had been waiting for this part of the trip for so long, and it absolutely lived up to the hype and was everything I hoped it would be.

However, I did have a moment of panic when we were on the whale tour. When the sea was at its worst and I thought I was going to have to vomit over the side, I thought, “I cannot handle this for three days. We’ll just have to give up the money we paid and find a hotel room, because I am not putting myself through this, to say nothing of poor Oliver!” Luckily, the sailboat was NOT like that at all. I don’t believe we ever felt seasick at all. In fact, I expected to be rocked to sleep at night, but when we were moored in the harbor you couldn’t really feel any movement at all.

So, part of the reason we found ourselves on a sailboat, in fact, the real reason we found ourselves in Maine at all, was because of a strange little book called Time of Wonder, by Robert McCloskey.

I don’t know how to describe this book. It’s very strange, especially for a children’s book. It’s sort of a “slice of life in Maine” kind of book, very slow paced, somewhat lyrically written. And if that weren’t enough, the entire book is written in second person.

The first time we read it, I didn’t know what to think, but Evie was fairly fascinated. She kept checking it out from the library, over and over again. She just seemed to love it, though we didn’t know why. We tried recommending it to other people, but none of their kids seemed to like it like Evie did. Eventually this led to One Morning in Maine and Blueberries for Sal, but Time of Wonder was really the beloved one (eventually we got our own copy).

We read this book so many times, that we started memorizing a lot of the places mentioned: Bucks Harbor, Islesboro, Hog Island, Pond Island, Spectacle Island, Pumpkin Island, Two Bush Ledge, and Eggemoggin Reach. It really never occurred to us that these were real places, until one day we looked on a map, and low and behold, there they all were! Just like in the book. And at that point we thought, “We could go there.”

This was sort of the genesis of the Maine trip, but we still never thought of chartering a sailboat. But when Sara ran across the listing on airbnb, we knew we had to do it. We contacted them and explained to them about the book, and they were totally on board (no pun intended)! They didn’t think it was silly, and they planned a trip around Penobscot Bay that took us by almost all of the places mentioned in the book.

And the most amazing part? One day we happened to see a beautiful, three-masted schooner. Imagine our surprise when we saw it was Victory Chimes, one of the boats mentioned in the book! It turns out the islands weren’t the only things mentioned in the book that were real. Keep in mind, Time of Wonder was written in 1957; not only was the boat still sailing, but in the entire bay, we happened to see it.

Driving boat

You guys, seriously, this boat was so awesome. The kids loved to drive the boat. When you’re under sail (as opposed to the “iron sail”, a.k.a. the engine), it is so quiet and peaceful. The wind is blowing and you’re gently rocking –it’s very difficult not to fall asleep (at least, Ollie never managed to avoid it). On the other hand, there’s always something to see: beautiful boats, seals, porpoises (even a few bald eagles!) , and everywhere, everywhere, lobster buoys.

Of course when you think of Maine, you think of lobsters. But man, I had no idea of the scope of that. Each fisherman uses their own unique colors on the buoys that mark the locations of their traps. Everywhere you look, it’s buoys of every color of the rainbow, from one horizon to the other.

In addition to the sailing, you have all the little stops on various islands and harbors. Some of the islands only really emerge at low tide, and we did do some more tidepooling. The harbors were fun to explore too; I loved how they were all situated towards the docks, rather than toward land. You would just tie up to the docks, walk up the ramp, use the public restrooms, and then go exploring (i.e. looking for ice cream). There were lots of little shops and restaurants, but also just a lot of small town life. And every once in awhile, some old timer rocking on a porch would give you a little bit of that Maine accent, and it was like walking through a storybook.


Of course, the whole thing could have easily gone the other way. It was really Cap’n Scotty and First Mate Kadee that made the trip. They were both absolutely lovely, especially with the kids. The thing is, when you’re on a boat for a few days with someone, you kind of have to get along with them. The space is pretty intimate; you spend most of your time in a little area about 6′ x 5′. So you get to know people a lot quicker than you would in another setting. So even though we only spent 3 days with them, I really did feel like we became friends.

So much so, in fact, that I felt bad to have them waiting on us hand and foot. It really just felt like we were out for a sail with our friends, so when they would start making food for us and stuff, I felt like I should be pitching in, even though we had essentially paid for it. And the food was actually great. I would say better than I expected, but I’m not sure what I expected exactly. However, it was amazing how much food was stored in that tiny little kitchen! They just kept pulling stuff out of all over the place, and before you knew it, we had a great meal. Evie managed to eat her weight in Annie’s cheddar bunnies every day. We even kept the Sunday pancake tradition alive!

I think it was a little confusing to them that we didn’t really have much interest in learning how to sail. I think most of the people who charter the boat do it because they want to learn how to sail. We were more interested in being on a boat. I mean, maybe we would have had more interest if we weren’t trying to keep two kids happy and not falling in the water, but as it was, we were content to let them do the sailing.

Scotty and Kadee really loved the kids. Some people tolerate kids, and some people pretend to like kids, and some people aren’t pretending. As a parent you can recognize the difference. Also, sometimes adults don’t exactly know how to extract themselves from kids, and the kids therefore demand more and more from them. So I try to be careful to make sure the kids aren’t “trapping” someone who didn’t intend to be sort of consumed by the kids. But in this case, Scotty and Kadee never seemed to run out of patience for the kids, or get tired of them. Kadee made up stories with Evie for at least 2 hours (Evie *never* gets tired of that), and Scotty and Ollie bonded over bedtimes (up to and including Scotty falling asleep with Oliver one night).

bedtime story

There were a couple of particularly noteworthy occurrences.

As I mentioned, Ollie took a nice long nap every afternoon. When you’re sailing, the boat “keels over” (basically leans far to one side), so when he was sleeping below deck on the *very first day* he suddenly went rolling end over end and conked his head hard, right on the floor. He was basically fine, and went right back to sleep. His poor head is basically a battering ram, blasting into things at a fairly regular basis, nevertheless I did feel like a distinctly poor parent.

I know for sure one of Scotty and Kadee’s favorite parts was the sing along lead by Evie. This is a somewhat regular occurrence for us, but strangers are probably not quite as used to it (I guess Evie takes a lot of people by surprise). She knows a LOT of songs, and she lead us in song for a minimum of 30 minutes. Kadee in particular knew a lot of show tunes (including Music Man and Annie, so you know Evie was good to go), and we all sang into the wind at the top of our lungs.

Another fun part was the dingy. When the boat is moored out at a mooring ball, you need a smaller craft to ferry you into the dock. The dingy was essentially an inflatable raft with an outboard motor attached. Compared to the boat it feels crazily unsafe (I kept waiting for one of the kids to fall over the side), but it’s small, fast, and maneuverable. The kids loved it.

Cap’n Scotty kept trying to convince us to take it on our own without him, but I was skeptical. What if I couldn’t get the motor started? More importantly, what if I tied it up at the dock and all the other sailors gathered around to make fun of my knot? Those guys are into knots like you read about, and my Boy Scout days are long behind me. Come to think of it, I couldn’t tie knots even back then.

So I hemmed and hawed until I was absolutely sure I had it all down pat, and even then I waited until we were at some deserted island. The kids were even more unsure than I was. I thought Evie was going to decide not to go with me. But we made it over without incident, and my cleat hitch was so beautiful I took a picture. When we got ready to come back, I got the motor started without incident. Of course, I shouldn’t have worried so much about remembering everything, since I had Evie with me. I gave it a little gas and she said, “Daddy, you’ve got to put the motor in gear first.” I guess I wasn’t the only one paying attention to how it all worked.

For me, the thing I’ll always remember was just sitting on deck with a cozy blanket, watching the ocean. They had about 5 of the coziest blankets you could ever imagine. It was so nice and peaceful, and I think for the first time since I had kids I actually recharged my patience a little bit. When we left I was firmly resolved to maintain my zen state and be a better parent, and I even held on to that for at least a day, maybe even two.

boat by night

Although it was very relaxing, I have to admit that parenting on a boat is a very difficult task. It’s both relaxing and stressful at the same time. I think in general, we’re pretty restrictive parents, which has its pluses and minuses. I know I need to lighten up on the kids, but its easier said than done, especially when they’re walking around on a tiny boat in the middle of the UNFATHOMABLE DEPTHS OF THE OCEAN. I hope we weren’t too restrictive.

In order to keep the peace, we tried to lighten up and give the kids a little head to run with, and Evie in particular took that bit in her mouth and ran with it (wait, change all those horse metaphors to boat ones). When she realized we weren’t going to check her power, she took full advantage, taking charge of all decisions on the boat. Scotty and Kadee were looking for “pirate names” for the kids, and I suggested “Admiral Evie” as an appropriate one – it just seemed to fit somehow.

We managed to keep it to only one drop-down, drag-out screaming fit. Oliver just had a complete meltdown as we entered Camden Harbor, screaming and raging at the top of his lungs the way only a 3 year old can manage. Scotty was doing a bit of tricky navigating through all the boats, and I had to basically physically restrain Ollie below the decks for fifteen minutes or so. It got pretty ugly, and I was both extremely embarrassed about his behavior, and sad that he was so angry and that he was missing all the neat boats. Still, only one in that span of time while being confined to such close quarters was probably not so bad.

Before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye.

Like I said, it felt like we got to know them pretty well in such a short time, and after spending literally every waking minute with them, it did feel sort of odd to be walking away from them. Evie was particularly broken hearted, and had a pretty good cry as we walked up the dock.

saying goodbye

Ultimately, the kids did earn some pirate nicknames – Cheddar Annie for Evie (due to her dual loves of Annie show-tunes and Annie’s brand cheddar bunnies) and Zig Zag for Oliver (due to his…unorthodox boat-driving style).

And thus concludes the best part of our trip. Although it was time to leave Maine, we weren’t quite done with our trip yet…

What I did with my summer vacation, Part 2: Acadia

I was pretty excited to go to Maine. I’m not exactly sure why that is, since pretty much all I know about Maine is what I’ve read in Stephen King books. Wait, I think we just nailed why I wanted to go to Maine. In any case, I’d never been and it seemed as good of a place as any.

Ollie wanted to try lobster SO BAD. It was all he could talk to leading up to the trip. I don’t know why it captured his imagination so much, but for him Maine = Lobster. Therefore, as soon as we got a chance, we stopped for a lobster roll.

eating lobster

If you’re going to do it, do it right, and we had heard that Red’s Eats was the place to go. However, after eating there I have to say, don’t waste your time. The line was long (as expected), but it seemed unnecessarily so. I’m a guy who stands in long lines to get good food relatively frequently; I’ve stood in much, MUCH longer lines, but they moved 10 times as fast. Despite them bringing us watermelon slices and umbrellas in the rain (which were pretty nice touches), they didn’t seem to be making any attempt to move the line along. Consequently, our average-sized line took about 2 hours and 20 minutes!!! I guess it is in their best interest to keep a line going. The food wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t life changing either, and after waiting with two small hungry kids for 2 1/2 hours, it would have needed to be.

The worst part was that Oliver discovered he didn’t like lobster after all! He wanted to so badly, so he kept trying, but he clearly was not enjoying it. In fact, at one point Sara and I were worried he was having an allergic reaction or something! But no, he just kept shoving it in his mouth even though he didn’t like it.

It turns out that Maine is nearly impossible to navigate. There are very few “real” roads, but the state is covered with little private drives with street signs. So the real roads are camouflaged and easy to miss. Furthermore, the highways are VERY poorly marked, informing you your turn is coming up, but not actually posted at the turn. Some highways we went on never listed the highway number for the few miles that we were on them. The street signs usually only show you the intersecting street, but are missing the crossbeam that tells you what street you are on.

All of this came to a head when we were arriving at our first campsite in the kind of dark you can’t get in Chicago and the kind of fog you can only get in Maine. And all the while, while straining your eyes to see, sign after sign warning you of the dangers of moose, who apparently streak across the road at a moment’s notice, like some kind of deadly game of Frogger. (Side note, despite all of their moose crossing warnings and moose memorabilia for sale, I never once saw an actual moose! I was pretty disappointed.)

You know, one thing that we didn’t really think about when we booked this trip was that there were a lot of one-night stays at a lot of cabins. We’d get in late, sleep, then pack up and take off the next morning. The problem is that at each stop you basically have to unpack the entire car, get out all the clothes and shower stuff and sheets and pillows, make the beds, unmake them the next morning, drive with wet towels on top of things, etc. This was all a *lot* of work! But we had miles to cover, so we didn’t have much of a choice.

We did make one quick stop a the LL Bean “flagship” store. Totally lame, don’t waste your time. Sure it’s big, but so is the Internet, and there wasn’t anything I couldn’t see on their website. Not a single thing we looked at was discounted or on sale. There was a giant boot to take your picture with, as long as you didn’t mind a sign or three shouting at you not to climb on it.

Finally we made it to Acadia National Park, where we could unpack a little bit, since we were actually staying for 3 nights. Luxury.

We pulled into the KOA just after sunset and were told that we had no reservation. After some momentary panic, we discovered that there are 2 KOAs within a mile of each other, and we were apparently at the wrong one. ::Whew!::

Finally, we made it into the park. A little driving, a little exploring, and story time with the park ranger. I get the impression that her audiences are usually…not so enthusiastic about stories. The other 4 or 5 kids there were just as interested as Evie and Ollie and probably would have went on listening all day. She seemed somewhat happy to oblige them.

Eventually we did make it over to the most excellent Jordan Pond House for lunch. This place was really cool. They have outdoor seating on these wooden tables. I don’t know how to describe it exactly, other than to say it seemed very fancy and made me feel like I was having tea on a Sunday afternoon at La Grand Jatte. Mostly they serve these amazing popovers, like warm hollow biscuits the size of my two fists. They were great with butter or jam, and we devoured them like wolves (wolves who eat popovers instead of red-cloaked children). I had a very rich lobster stew and the kids had fancy hot chocolates.

Afterwards, we decided to do the nature walk and, as pretty much always happens, accidentally found ourselves hiking around the lake. It was actually a really nice hike and Evie made the entire ~3 1/2 miles on her own (Oliver had to be carried for a significant portion), but we were a little stressed out because we had already purchased tickets for a whale watching tour that evening. Luckily we made it around with basically no time to spare, and found parking in Bar Harbor (no small matter) in time to make the boat.

We did in fact get to see two big humpback whales pretty close up. Not to perpetuate stereotypical humpback gender roles here, but their names happened to be Sword and Victim (guess which one was a man and which was a woman).

Whale Tail

Humpback Whale

The experience was pretty awesome, and only marred by one thing: the terrible, awful, no good, very bad, seasickness.

Oh my goodness. I’ve been on boats before, even on the ocean, but I don’t think I’ve experienced anything quite like this. The sea was particularly choppy (4 – 6 foot swells), and the boat was particularly fast (~30 knots). Furthermore, we were making a beeline for deep ocean where the whales were and not really making any attempt to lessen the impact of the waves. The feeling was exactly the same as a roller coaster, with my stomach dropping out on me and then suddenly slamming back into place as we went up the next wave.

Ollie was the only one of us who had never been on the ocean, but we figured we were more or less okay, so he would be too. Not so. He got green around the gills right away, curled up in a ball and said, “My tummy hurts”. We asked him if he was hungry, thinking maybe it might calm his stomach, but as soon as he got some food in his mouth he started gagging. Sara grabbed him to run outside, but it was nearly impossible to walk, the chop was so bad. They did make it in time, and the fresh air revived him just a tad, enough that he didn’t throw up. However a few seconds later, Evie and I had to run for the door ourselves. Evie was saying, “Go on the other side, I don’t want to see Ollie throw up!” worried that might be the thing to put her over. I understood exactly how she felt. Sara, on the other hand, has a stomach of iron and never felt the least bit of discomfort.

So none of us actually lost it, but based on the smell alone, I would say a non-trivial percentage of the boat was not so lucky. Every few minutes I would get a fresh whiff. Luckily our stomachs had a chance to calm down a little bit when we we stopped to see the whales, and the ride home was much smoother. Still, we didn’t dare go back inside. I was pretty miserable, and based on how Ollie looked, he was feeling worse than me.

On a somewhat crazy impulse, we decided to keep the kids up even later and keep the party rolling. Sara had seen mention of a “Stars Over Sand Beach” program that evening. I have always been into astronomy, but this was honestly a highlight of the trip. Just to lay there in the sand with the waves crashing behind us and see the stars like they can never been seen in Chicago. We had a little picnic, and Ollie fell asleep listening to stories of constellations and stars. I saw satellites, several shooting stars, and the double grand finale of seeing both the International Space Station, and an iridium flare. It was pretty cool, and well worth keeping the kids up so late.

The following day, we did a little “tide-pooling”, which I have to say was better than I expected it to be. At low tide, a giant sandbar appears, connecting Bar Harbor to Bar Island (creative namers, those Mainers) and trapping any sea creatures unlucky enough to be in the area at the time in little pools. We had a blast running from pool to pool, overturning rocks and picking up seaweed, discovering the little beasties. One of the better things we did in Acadia, and totally free!


We also got a chance to explore Bar Harbor a little bit. There are a lot of restaurants and things, but mostly just tourist type shops and absolutely NO parking! I wasn’t opposed to buying some souvenir junk, but we just didn’t quite find the *right* souvenir junk (though we did buy Ollie a “Maine” sweatshirt that’s pretty cute).

We also managed to solidify what would become the major theme of the trip: ice cream.

eating ice cream

eating ice cream

We started our little ice cream odyssey in Buffalo, but in this case it was Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream, which was fabulous. (Actually, we went there once the first day in Bar Harbor, so this was the second time.) They had “The Dude” White Russian flavored ice cream! Awesome. Ollie got the butterbeer, and I think that was the best one I tried (unfortunately, nobody tried the “celery and raisin”).

Of course, it couldn’t be all fun and games: our next stop was at the emergency room.

When we were in Buffalo, 4 kids were playing on one of those free-standing hammocks, which is sort of a recipe for disaster, but I was holding it so it wouldn’t tip. However, it became necessary to pull Evie aside and give her a little talk about being nice, which meant my back was to the thing when it flipped. Jackson and Elliot both took headers into the dirt, but Oliver was the lucky one who landed on the crossbar. Even the sound of his head hitting it was enough to make me wince, but he was basically okay. When he stopped crying we put some ice on it, and it didn’t even bleed.  His ear turned a lovely purple, but wasn’t too much the worse for the wear. He basically forgot about it.

Fast forward 3 days and suddenly he started complaining his ear was hurting. That’s when we took a good look at it and realized it was about 3 or 4 times the size of the other ear. This wouldn’t have been bothersome at all if it happened the day of, but it had never swollen at the time, and it seemed strange it suddenly would out of nowhere. To compound things, our Internet connection was extremely spotty, and we got stuck on a Google image search for cauliflower ear (do yourself a favor and don’t click on that link). So every time we glanced at the computer, we had to contemplate horrible things that can happen to damaged ears.

We decided to take some pictures of Ollie’s ear and email them to our pediatrician. We found a coffee shop in town and sent them. She called us back almost immediately and told us to go to the emergency room. Basically the theory was that it could be an infection, and if it was, the ear is a difficult thing to treat so the sooner we started treating it, the better.

Luckily for us, it ended up being nothing. Apparently it was just some kind of weird residual swelling. The emergency room was absolutely lovely, fast and efficient with friendly people. We didn’t even have time to get a game of Old Maid in. And when Evie and Ollie blew the complimentary bubbles all over the floor and made a slippery disaster zone in the lobby, they just called for maintenance and didn’t say an unkind word.

The whole thing took maybe an hour, and basically didn’t disrupt our schedule. We were off to Thurston’s Lobster Pound for our first in-the-shell lobster of the trip.

Cracking Lobster Claw

Now, I have to say, I had really been looking forward to cracking open some lobster. However, it’s pretty expensive, and honestly after my first two lobster meals, I was already kind of lobstered out. On the other hand, I came to eat a lobster, and that’s what I was going to do. And I must say, this lobster was by far the best one that I had. It was fun too, picking it out from the big bins and seeing it waving around. Oliver still talks about how it splashed him with his tail.

And after all that, we still made it to Bass Harbor Lighthouse by sunset.

Maine Lighthouse

And thus ends the Acadia portion of the trip.

I do have one more story to relate on the way out. As we were driving out of Bar Harbor, Sara saw a yarn shop, so of course we had to stop. Evie decided to buy her very own knitting needles there, with her OWN MONEY. I mention this because she cried later to think that people wouldn’t know that she spent her own money on them, so I told her I would do what I could. So now you know. They have little cat heads on the ends.

That’s not the end, though, since the best part of the trip was yet to come in part 3…

Quote Monday is afraid

Evie: “I’m afraid.”
Me: “Afraid? Of what?”
Evie: “Astronauts.”

Ollie: “Mama, there’s lots of monsters out there in the fog. For real.”
Sara: “Did you have a discussion about this?”
Me: “No.”
Sara: “I don’t know why he’d say that.”
Me: “Because it’s freaking SCARY out there!”

I’m with Ollie on this one, that Maine fog is no joke man.

Evie: “If I had to make a painting for this museum, I would paint a woman standing next to a table, and on the table is a skeleton, and the lady is screaming. It would be called, There’s a skeleton on my table!

Ollie: “I love you Pizza.” – Surprisingly, he’s not actually referring to food here. Ollie’s not too good with names, even for the people he loves, but he’s not afraid to just make up his own.