When it comes to family vacations, I have a bit of a problem. I love to try new things. But, I also love to return to my favorite places. There's nothing wrong with either of these predilections ... or at least there wouldn't be anything wrong if I had (a) unlimited vacation time and (b) unlimited funds with which to plan said unlimited time.
Alas, I have neither.
Still, every year finds us spending New Year's in New York, skiing January weekends up at Sugarbush, and enjoying a summer swan song, sailing off the coast of Maine on the Isaac H. Evans.
This particular family tradition predates our actually being a family. My then-boyfriend, now-husband, first suggested a Maine windjammer cruise back in 1990. He had read in Yankee magazine about a fleet of antique schooners that took passengers for two-, three- and four-day excursions through Penboscot Bay.
Despite my being an urban-dwelling, matinee-going, indoor kind of gal (who, btw, had a long and colorful history of motion sickness), I said ... "Yes."
Let the record state that we were still in that early infatuation stage when his interests are yours and vice versa. (Believe you me, it works both ways. He once told me he "loved going dancing" — go figure.)
At any rate, I agreed and off we went. As my husband loves to retell it, not only did I immediately fall in love with the experience, but I became the driving force behind a plan to make it an annual excursion. And for the past twenty-three years, we have missed very few opportunities to sail. I skipped the summer of '97 because I was great with child, but my husband took a buddy along instead. And, we missed one year when a hurricane forced the captain to cancel.
While my daughter was a baby, a toddler and a very little girl, we enlisted doting relatives to stay with her while we escaped to the open seas. (One year, our trip coincided with her birthday. I decided to timeshift and celebrate when we returned without clueing her in to the fact that there was a delay. Since she was just turning four, I figured that what she didn't know wouldn't hurt her. Her loving grandmother, and temporary caregiver, tsk-tsked but went along with the plan.)
As soon as my daughter was old enough, she insisted on coming too. Now it's very definitely a family affair.
Here's what we love about it:
• No email, no voicemail, no texts. Pull away from Rockland Harbor and we are out of reach. Sorry. Nobody's home. Leave a message at the beep, baby.
• The scenery is breathtaking. Rocky beaches, towering trees, lighthouses, sprawling "summer cottages" along remote shores. And at night? Constellations, shooting stars, the Milky Way.
I repeat, "Heaven!"
• The best combination of wild creatures and creature comforts. What could be better than watching a family of adorable harbor seals cavorting? Watching them cavort, seated in a comfortable rocking chair with a glass of pinot grigio in your hand.
Have I used the word "Heaven" yet?
Most of all, I think I appreciate the time. Back home, between work and driving and the gym and high school and riding lessons and maintaining our antique house, we are always starving for time. On the schooner, time stands still. Breakfast is over (it was delicious, btw, homestyle, all-you-can-eat) and you have hours ahead of you to sail and talk and read and R-E-L-A-X. My "To Do" list typically includes watching for dolphins and catching up on back issues of The New Yorker.
"Sorry to interrupt, but the lobster bake is starting."
Our annual schooner trips are stress relief beyond compare, and always have been. At least for the grownups. For younger passengers, they're a chance to hoist sails, steer a boat, hang from a hammock over the stern, avoid a shower for multiple days in a row, and talk like a pirate. Add to this the fact that our captain is a wonderful example of a strong and independent woman (she was the first female captain in the fleet) and it's pretty much all you could ask for as a feminist mother looking to throw role models in your teenager's path.
This year, I was just a bit concerned though. As she's moved from her tweens to her teens, my daughter's reliance on electronica has grown exponentially. She's a little too old to climb the mast like a monkey. But was she old enough to see the value in unplugging? Could she live without Twitter and Tumblr, Facebook and Vine?
Turns out, she could! She worked on her summer reading, she slept in, she swam in the icy waters, she hiked on a deserted island. We talked and talked. And, something wonderful happened. She was willing to snuggle and hug. There was a sweet physicality to our mother-daughter relationship that has been sadly missing lately.
At times I thought, "Who are you? And what have you done with my daughter?" But, most of the time, I thought, "Thank you."
In one of Natalie Merchant's deep cuts "Verdi Cries," she sings, "Holidays must end as you know" and too soon (despite the luxurious stretch of time aboard the schooner), we were back in port, loading up and heading back to civilization, clients and looming sophomore year.
We'll sail again, I know. Until then, I'll hold onto these memories and this feeling. What a gift.
In case you were wondering, my daughter was on her iPhone the entire ride home.