Alaska UnCruise

We are drifting, awe-stuck, in Misty Fjords National Monument, on Day One, of a seven-day Wilderness Discovery jaunt with UnCruise. In the distance, fallen trees, and through vivid rainforest filled with salmonberry, highbush cranberry, yellow cedar, mountain hemlock, and thorny devil’s club along a stream bed. A rufous hummingbird whirs past and we hear the call of spruce grouse, warbler, and hermit thrush through fern forest. We pass volcanic sea stacks covered in evergreen, and soon find hidden coves, where we glide past seals sunning themselves on rocks and sea otters floating, belly- up, in kelp. Eagles fly, one right after the other, overhead, as we head to an empty beach.

This is wilderness no large cruise ship can sail so we have the pristine Thomas Bay to ourselves, with a tour through whale-active Stephens Passage on the agenda for tomorrow.


The Coast and Islands of New Hampshire and Maine

Star Island 2015

Star Island, New Hampshire

As summer winds down, there are no better places to book-end the last beach days than heading to islands, New England-style. Start off along the New Hampshire coast, throw in some classic inns, end at an “artist-colony” – that’s the way to keep summer alive. At least through fall.

Taking the Thomas Laighton from Portsmouth to Star Island, I’m in good company of day-trippers and folks going “birding.” Star Island sits seven miles off shore from Rye, and it is the largest, at 38 acres, of all the Isles of Shoals. Sailors imagined it as the “points of shining stars” with its jagged outcroppings into the Atlantic and John Smith first mapped this island in 1614.

Once on-island, I jump off the dock into the frigid Atlantic to welcome a summer jaunt up the coast. Dinner that night is shared, community style, and afterward, we all head to rocking chairs on the wrap-around porches for sunset views.  Rooms  in the Oceanic Hotel are spare, but ocean breezes are plentiful, and in the morning, I head to the prom- ontory overlooking Gosport Harbor for a layered sunrise of fogged rose.

After breakfast, I take a kayak over to Smutty- nose Island to see the nesting Great Black-backed gull chicks. Careful not to encroach, I see fuzzy chicks throttling after squawking mother gulls, and as I travel gingerly, I’m amazed by the abundance of nests. That afternoon, it’s the Thomas Laighton nature cruise back to Portsmouth, and the start of a car ride up the Maine coast.


The ferry over to Monhegan Island is a small one from Port Clyde. Some passengers strap their bags below deck, but I bring my small bag up to the deck. The horn blows as we take off, and immediately, the Muscongus Bay is alive with wave. The boat dips one way, then another, as we veer toward Marshall Point lighthouse, slant past lobster boats, swerve around schooners, and finally, turn into the protected Monhegan Harbor.

“Good ride?” a man at the dock asks. “Better than a roller coaster,” I say.

Walking up dirt paths from the dock, past open artist studios, makeshift groceries selling fine wine, and rugged shops in white clapboard, it’s as if I’ve stepped back through time.

Located 12 nautical miles from the mainland, this is land cherished by writers, artists and nature lovers. Preserved by an Island Land Trust which protects over three hundred acres of coves, cliffs, moss forests, and coast- line, I’m in seaside paradise. I drop my bag at the Trailing Yew, and head to the trails. Waves smash against the rocks at Lobster Cove, Burnthead Bluff is ablaze with screeching gull, and Cathedral Trail is lined with driftwood fairy houses.

Soon, I find myself on the Cliff Trail and this leads me up to the lighthouse and Monhegan Museum of Art and History. This museum is a brilliant gem, lit up by the artistic genius of such luminaries as Alfred Bricher, Andrew Wyeth, Rockwell Kent, George Bellows, Edward Hopper, James Fitzgerald, and Alice Swett. Celebrating its golden 50th jubilee this summer through fall, this museum has a permanent collection to witness.

Monhegan Museum

That night, sharing wine with other art-lovers on the oil-lamp lit porch of the Trailing Yew, we watch the moon rise over Manana Island.

“Magical,” a woman says.

Monhegan Associates Island Trust

Sailing Cruise with J.R. Riggin off Maine Coast

We pile into the dingy at Owl’s Head Harbor in Maine, suitcases and all, and putter over to the two-masted schooner called “The Riggin.” Jon Finger, our captain, tells us we’re in for a treat that evening. His wife, Annie, the cook, was making one of his favorites on the woodstove oven: Braised lamb and sauteed kale with almonds and cranberries. “Wait until you see the dessert,” he says as we motor over to a beauty of a boat with a welcoming crew of fresh-faced interns grabbing our bags, a first mate pulling us up the ladder, and passengers already toasting the sunset.

Christina and I have a shared bunk room outfitted with homemade quilts and thick wool blankets. We throw our bags on top of the beds, grab a sweater and long pants, and head to the deck for platters of mild Penobscot cheddar, creamy  gouda, crumbled  blue and a nutty brie flecked with herb. Christina pours us some white Rioja as we lean into cushions on the deck and the islands seems to glow pink as the bay settles itself in the protected cove.

The Riggin, built  for oyster  dredging  in 1927, is now a revamped, elegant, schooner, polished rigging  and carrying 4,000 feet of canvas. A National Historical Landmark, she now adorns the Penobscot Bay in full-throttle beauty. Sleek, she can glide in and out of the smaller coves and points such as Owl’s Head, Tennants Harbor, Saddle- back Ledge and Goose Rocks. Lighthouses are a specialty feature, and Cap- tain Jon promises a tour of a couple of obscure ones for each sail.

“Owl’s Head is my favorite,” he says.

Strolling along the deck, I find a perch on the bow- sprit, and the sound of voices disappears with the breeze coming past Dodge Point Ledge. Monroe Island sits still and green in pine, empty except for a school of porpoise swimming in line to the open ocean.

I walk past the galley to Annie’s kitchen, and the tiny space is a beehive of boiling pots, woodstove flame, a crew busy slicing and dicing, and Annie singing a song in the heat of the moment. I stay out of their way as platter and plate, vases full of wildflowers, cloth napkins and trays of the most delectable food come past me to the wide open deck that becomes a communal table.

There is handmade pasta with basil and sun- dried tomato, braised lamb adorned with pepper, the bright green of kale, and loaves of crusty sourdough and fresh cream butter. We cheer and load our plates, taking seats on the deck in twos and threes, all with a view of the sunset. The chocolate orange tart – with sea salt, lemon zest and caramel bark in the shape of sail – is a work of art.

“I’ve come for 15 years,” a spritely woman tells me. She shows me a patch sewn onto her jacket declaring her a Riggin Relic. “I have to visit the sea every year.”

Captain Jon soon brings out the guitar. He leans on the fore bitts, or the large wooden posts on the deck, and strums while Annie chimes in with refrains from classic Maine sea shanties. “No more gales or heavy weather,” she sings, and we reply, “Only one more day together.” The sea gulls hover around our heads as our collective audience, and they screech along with us.

Eventually, when the wind picks up, we gather in the galley, and sing group ditties about hauling the line, and rounding the bend, off shore isles and whiskey Johnnies. Kerosene lanterns adorn our tables as the wood stove warms our cheeks. We link arms as we scream/sing, “a spanking full-rigger just ready for sea” and “a bonie good ship and a bonnie good crew.” The stars are heavy in the night sky as we climb down the ladders to our bunks. Christina and I open a port hole for fresh breeze all night, and hunker down in our bunks hoping for oceanswept dreams.

The next morning comes early. Annie places trays of “just out of the wood stove” warm honeybuns on the foredeck, and  fresh  coffee is poured and shared. We wrap ourselves in wool blankets and hear of the ad- ventures for that day from Captain Jon.

The Camden Hills loom in the distance, and the islands of the Penobscot Bay are waiting. The wind is brisk just past Spaulding Island, so that means after a full-throttle breakfast of lobster frittata, it’s time to raise the sails.

I volunteer to raise the headsails. Working hand over hand – and sometimes hand smashed into hand– with Christina and four other, more coordinated crew members, we eventually get the heavy sails ready for the open ocean. Next, the anchor is hauled up, by hand and crank, and we are off.

Passing Owl’s Head lighthouse, the wind hits the sails and we are flying, it seems, straight toward Vinalhaven Island. I pull a wool hat over my ears, and the sea is a canvas of white cap and frothy wave. The Riggin slices through the blue, and no wonder the sailors sang and the poets wrote, because it is magic and magnificent out here in the “heart of the great ocean.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow knew about the secrets of the sea, “the sails of silk, the ropes of sandal,” and I chant his verse as we head due east, land no longer in view.


Rockywald-Deephaven Camps, Squam Lake, New Hampshire

Rockywold Deephaven Camp NH

Rockywold Deephaven Camp NH

Squam Lake is known for families of nesting loons, and Rockywold-Deephaven Camps hosts resident loons every year. They especially come out during the fall, when the lakes calm from boat traffic.

If you want to see a bird’s-eye view of Squam, head to the top of Rattlesnake Mountain, a 15-minute hike to a rocky outcropping with a vista straight out of the movie “On Golden Pond.” I see Rockywold-Deephaven Camps below and decide it’s time for a late season swim before a lakeside salmon dinner.

That night, in my rough-hewn cottage nestled in a corner of Bennett Cove, I hear first one loon, then another, calling to each other in the still of the night.

More information at  http://rdcsquam.com/


Migis Lodge, Sebago Lake, Maine

Migis Lodge Sebago Lake Maine

Migis Lodge Sebago Lake Maine

If Grandmother loves loons, Migis Lodge holds the jackpot. Nestled in a secluded corner of Sebago Lake, Migis is a place where loons bugle their love songs from the shadows of inlets and coves.

Hammocks swing between pine trees. Adirondack chairs are paired in gardens filled with yarrow, aster, phlox and hollyhock. Kayaks await slow paddles to distant islands. Quiet. Peace. It’s also a place where you can hide from the ones you love, if needed.

Opened in 1916 as a “cure-all to city-life,” Migis is a luxurious Girl Scout camp without the Scouts. Covering 125 acres of forest along 3,500 feet of shoreline, Migis cottages are spaced privately between groves of oak and pine. The main lodge, sitting like a fieldstone-encrusted Queen Mother, is lit with evening candlelight and glowing fireplace. The sun sets in tones of ruby and amethyst across the lake. If you have a “very fun” family, Migis also offers a kaleidoscope of activity and excitement.

Grandmother can hook herself to their 1936 Chris Craft and careen around the lake. The Terrible Two-year-olds can go to the Zoo Kid Fun program and spend their day picnicking, going on treasure hunts, eating peanut butter
and sand sandwiches and squawking at Deets, the parrot. Aunts can meet for golf, while uncles get facials and massages. A full panel of activity awaits, if you’re so inclined.

More information at  http://www.migis.com/

Agunquit, Maine

The view from the deck at the Beachmere Inn is breathtaking. Ogunquit Beach is wide open and empty at low tide, and I think, how lucky is this. Sunrise is the secret time for solo swims on usually crowded summer beaches. With sky the shade of a fresh peach, I find a cove below, set my towel on the rocks, and jump into the Atlantic to swim across the inlet.

Ogunquit means “beautiful place by the sea,” and with the Gulf of Maine sending calm waves my way, it truly fits its name. Floating on my back, the sun is a red beach ball rising, and the seagulls seem to be screaming at the morning light. I make my way slowly over the in- let and my feet sink into the sand as I wade clumsily out of the sea to the 3-mile beach. Rachel Carson Preserve flows on the left and I remember, as a child, drifting on a plastic raft down the river at high tide. I walk for a while without seeing another person.

The Beachmere Inn is located directly on Marginal Way – a popular, often congested, hiking trail that winds from Perkins Cove to Ogunquit Town. Returning from my beach stroll and swim, I tramp over the path in flip-flops. A jogger zips past wearing headphones and he’s missing out on the fog horn and the clanging buoys. The lighthouse blinks decoratively as I walk past twisted pines, sea rose and bayberry to find a bench over- looking Oarweed Cove. Marginal Way was built in 1925 and was fully restored in the mid-1990s. With more than 40 memorial benches along its 1.25 miles of trail, there’s a view from each perch.

But caffeine is calling, and I know where to find a perfect cup of coffee in Perkins Cove. With the rising sun, and with the rising walkers and families joining me, I head for a double expresso. Later, I’ll get that raft and float on that river out to sea.

http://www.beachmere inn.com.

62 Beachmere Place, Ogunquit, Maine