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Notes from Behind the Wheel - Prepping the Mary Day

Prepping the Mary Day

By Capt. Barry King
Crew members carry the mainsail out onto the schooner's float. All photos courtesy of the Mary Day
Springtime along the Maine coast is a wondrous time of year. After six snowy months under cover the windjammer fleet has begun to awaken from its winter slumber; one by one the boats emerge from their cocoons.
Crew aloft rigging the topmast.
The windjammer crews put in long days to get the vessels in shape for the summer season, cleaning, sanding, painting, varnishing. People stop us along the street to compliment us on how beautiful the boats look with their fresh coats of paint and varnish. The shipyards and chandleries are bustling with activity. After all the topmasts are rigged and the blocks and halyards are run aloft the sails finally come aboard. Ours are coming straight from the sailmaker’s loft where they have spent the winter having every inch of seam and every cringle inspected and repaired if necessary.
The 1,738-square-foot mainsail takes 8-10 crew to carry -- like an enormous white caterpillar. Things are a little precarious as the floats sink under the weight of all that canvas until the sail is wrestled aboard. After the mainsail gets bent on (attached) to the wooden hoops that connect it to the mast, the staysails and jibs are bent on to traditional galvanized steel hanks with marline -- this lends a particular pine tar perfume to the air and to the callused hands of the crew. Like an insect pheromone the pine tar scent lets our bodies know it is time to go sailing soon…very soon. About now the vessels are getting ready for the rigorous annual Coast Guard inspection. All our hours of training and hard work will be put to the test. We work straight through the weekends sprucing up the cabins, making beds, polishing the brass, double-checking the life jackets and the charts. We run through emergency drills time and time again. When the Coast Guard arrives we are ready, and welcome the opportunity to “show our stuff.”
Spring fitting out isn't all hard work and no play.
Guests will be arriving soon and the cycle will be complete. Summer officially starts when we cast off the mooring lines and leave the harbor behind for the first time, with destination more or less unknown. Now you know a little more about what goes on behind the scenes as the windjammer fleets prepares for the season. Here along the Maine coast traditional sailing vessels and the crews who keep them alive are as much a part of spring as are the sounds of the spring peepers and the calls of the robins.

Several captains from the Maine windjammer fleet have agreed to write about what it's like for them "behind the scenes" while running a passenger schooner. We will post their missives as we receive them. We also recommend that you come back later to read through them all for a sense of what an entire season is like as it unfolds. Click here to follow the schooners on their coastal adventures. . Click here for information about the Maine Windjammer Association.

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