The Miracle of Mackerel

Back in the ’70s, I felt I wanted an adventure. So I signed up for a week-long windjammer cruise out of Camden, Me.

I climbed aboard the Stephen B. Tabor, and the adventure began. Our captain told us that our ‘itinerary’ would be wherever the wind took us. It sounded fun and exciting! We enjoyed the sights and sounds all around the Penobscot Bay area; the wind in our faces, the smell of salt, and the camaraderie of the strangers who would quickly become friends.

I met a man on board who loved scrimshaw, and had brought his kit with him. I was interested, so he showed me how to carve into the ovals of ivory he had. With his help, I painstakingly carved and inked a miniature of the ship, a few wavy lines for the ocean, and two seagulls off in the distance (easy; just two arches for wings). He gave it to me as a remembrance, and I still treasure it to this day.

The cook was a 19-year old girl who could make the best meals in the smallest cooking space I’d ever seen; the galley below decks. The first night we ate fresh haddock with roasted vegetables and chewy, crusty loaves of bread with sweet butter. Dessert was homemade apple pie with ice cream.

We all helped out as directed by the captain and crew. It was fun; one day we would help the cook clean up, another day we would help fold down the sails, and so on. It was enough to occupy us for an hour or two, and then we were on our own. We stopped on a few islands and walked into a couple of towns. On the boat, we swam, sunbathed, read and dozed. We slept in bunks on the other side of the galley or up on deck under the stars.

One day the captain announced that we were going to have a lobster roast on the rocks of one of the islands. As the sun set, leaving a burning gold path on the water, we cracked open our lobsters by the fire and ate like wolves.

In midweek, some of us went out in one of the little dingies to fish or to just enjoy being out on the water. I was sitting in one with two other girls, and suddenly the water was filled with flashes of blue and silver.

It was a huge school of mackerel, all boiling up to the surface. They were in a feeding frenzy, all trying to eat as many tiny fish as they could. We sat there silently, taking in all that teaming life, with its ravenous hunger and breath-taking beauty.

Finally, as one mass, they disappeared into the deep water, taking all their color and life with them. They left us breathless, and somehow richer for that brief blue and silver miracle.

When I came home a week later, my hair full of salt, my skin roughened and rosy from the wind, my mind was still full of all the sights, sounds, smells of that adventure. I missed being on the water, and I missed the new friends I had made. It really was an adventure, and one I will always remember.

Sometimes at night these days when sleep is hard to find, I go back in time to that wonderful week on the windjammer.

Soon I am rocking in the narrow cradle of the bunk under the deck, hearing the smack and slap of the waves. I can still smell the salt breeze, and as I drift off, the blue and silver mackerel wait for me to come to the water and admire their dance.

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One thought on “The Miracle of Mackerel

  1. Lissa says:

    I can’t believe I never knew you did this great adventure. Did I ever tell you that Jimmy and I did one of these windjammer cruises for our honeymoon in September 1975? You described it perfectly! We did not fish for mackerel but everything else was the same. We washed our hair by someone pouring a bucket of sea water over our heads as we hung off the rail of the boat. And then blew it dry by standing at the bow and letting the wind run through it.(my hair never looked better!) We had bunk beds. There were no showers. And the food was spectacular. Our cook was a young girl named Bridget. You swore after breakfast you would not eat lunch. But you did. Everything tastes better cooked on a wood stove and eaten out side on the deck. In the evenings we would gather around and sing songs and tell stories. We met some fabulous people who figured out after a couple of days that we were on our honeymoon. We are still friends with a couple from Nebraska that we met on that trip. We have kept track of “our boat”, the Adventure, and it is a museum now in Gloucester, MA. It has it’s own history. Great memories!

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