Summer in Penobscot Bay in Maine is ideal for sailing, but come winter, most of the schooners who ply the coastline off Camden go into hibernation until the weather improves - but not the topsail schooner Appledore. As Village Soup correspondent Shlomit Auciello tells, she sets sail south for warmer climes - sometimes with '13ft seas and blowing 40':
Appledore headed for Key West, Nov. 6 at 5:30 p.m. under the guidance of Capt. Justin Bernhart, navigation officer Steve Pixley and a crew of 10. Pixley, who is the Camden harbormaster, said sailing an old-style boat such as Appledore is a challenge, compared to a modern rig.
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He said Key West Sebago, the company that operates Appledore in Florida, offered him a bonus if he could have the schooner in port in time for a wedding charter the night of Nov. 18. That gave them 12 days to deliver the schooner.
The first night and day found the boat pounding into the wind, burning a lot of fuel to make 4 knots. Pixley said he noticed the chock that stabilizes the bowsprit was loosening up under the pounding. He watched as the gap between the bowsprit and breastplate increase from 1/4-inch to 9 inches.
'That was the only time I have ever called for all hands on deck,' he said. The call went out at 5:30 a.m. to bring the crew out of their berths and within minutes everyone was doing something.
'I took the wheel and tried to go beam to the seas, but didn’t want to go off course,' he said. Pixley said he tried maintaining course, but needed to fall off the rhumb line to keep enough wind in the sails to maintain control.
Bernhart and Pixley took six-hour watches while working toward the Cape Cod Canal.
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'It was definitely spooky,' said Pixley. 'The boat was pitching and rolling and yawing. There were 13-foot seas and it was blowing 40. Water was all over the place. It felt like some giant was smacking the boat. Wham!' He said it was like a scene in a movie where buckets of water are thrown across the deck to make it look real. 'But it is.'
As they approached the canal and prepared to make the required call to the canal officer, they discovered their VHF radio was not working. Pixley inspected the rig from top to bottom, finding bad connections at both ends. After two hours at a dock, Appledore caught the tide through the canal, bound for Chesapeake Bay. Once through, they learned that northwest winds of 40 to 45 knots with 13-foot swells were expected around Cape Hatteras.
'The skipper and I had a private meeting and he said he wanted to put in for two days,' said Pixley. 'I said she was built for that and it would be on our quarter, the best place for swells and wind.'
Pixley said he was mindful of the challenge given by the boat's operators, but that his decision was based on the wind direction.
'We took a double reef in the main and staysail,' he said. Appledore's foresail only has one set of reef points, so that sail was left furled.
'We had a full moon night and made speeds up to 12.5 knots under big, beautiful sparkling moonlight. It's the kind of stuff you read about,' he said.
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Pixley said the boat heeled over so far that it twice knocked crew member John Bullock, known as Pirate John, out of his berth.
'Luckily, he caught himself, so he was ejected and landed on a galley table,' said Pixley. 'He didn't get hurt.
Six days out, on Nov. 13, Appledore made landfall at Savannah, Ga. The schooner motored up the Savannah River and the crew made a supper of crawfish and beer. At the same time they purchased more fuel. By 10 a.m. the following morning they were out of the river and back on course to Key West, making a speed of about 6 knots.
'Each watch had to strike sails because the wind was so close to our nose,' said Pixley. He said the crew knew about his anticipated bonus and that he felt 'like a classic skipper, trying to make market so he can sell his fish.'
The final two days of the journey were pleasant, he said. Appledore moved at 7.5 knots on a beam reach during the final 24 hours of the trip, arriving in Key West by 2:30 p.m. on the day of the wedding.
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'That whole morning we worked to make her ship shape,' he said. 'Painting where we could and cleaning so it wouldn't look like a wreck for the wedding party.'
When the schooner reached its destination, Pixley heard a volley of welcoming cannon thunder from the fleet in the island's harbor that included at least four traditional sailing vessels.
Appledore will return to Camden next spring, in time for a June start to the Midcoast windjammer season.
For more information about Appledore and its schedules in Key West and Camden, visit the website?nid=91981
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