Perfection with L'Hermione

When I woke up aboard the Timberwind on Tuesday, July 14th, the skies were lightly cloudy and the breeze was strong. I was sure it would be a day of absolute perfection for our 6-hour L’Hermione sail. In the last four days, 28 people had booked their passage with us to see the French frigate make her way up Penobscot Bay, and I eagerly busied myself with raising flags on deck and brewing coffee in the galley. The rest of the crew arrived in short order and we all threw ourselves into getting our lady Timberwind ready for the event.

An hour later, my hopes for perfection were put on hold. As I whirled from up the galley to head down below, I saw it: a wall of fog. It was slowly but surely making its way into Belfast harbor and sent a tiny drop of despair through my overall excitement. Not only is fog sailing not easy for people hoping to take photos of their trip, but it can also be a little hairy for navigation.

But it was still early, and for those that know Maine weather, it loves to change. So, I steadied my resolve once more—“It will be a great day for sailing,”—and went back to work. 

At 11:30AM, people began arriving with cameras and coolers, sweaters and sunscreen. Some faces I knew as they’d come sailing with us already this season, but there were plenty of new people to get to know over the next 6 hours. Best of all, as everyone began to climb aboard, I could see the fog lifting back out of the channel, back out into the Bay, disappearing from my immediate view. A sigh of relief quietly escaped my lips. Run away, fog. Run away.

By noon, we were off the dock, the cabin tops buzzing with activity from our crew and passengers who were already clicking away with cameras and cell phones. As Ben towed us through the harbor, people waved from the town dock, yelling their well-wishes for our sail. The fog had retreated far into the bay, giving us plenty of visibility. No problem there after all.

With so many people aboard, we raised the sails in record time, and after a few tacks to get out of the harbor, the steady south-east breeze kept us on a course straight to Castine, our ultimate destination. Soon everyone had found their favorite perch, breaking out picnic lunches of sandwiches, fruit, and cheese. Still cool and overcast, people welcomed the hot coffee or tea that we brought up from below, and I sang a couple of sea shanties to keep the quiet at bay. In only an hour and a half, Dice Head Lighthouse emerged on our bow, marking the entry into Castine Harbor, but no other boats were in sight! We saw fog all around us, but we seemed to have found the only clear (and even a little sunny) sky. Where was everyone else?

Back at the helm, the answer to our question was clear. Radio chatter from boats around L’Hermione were all abuzz with fog talk, and just like we were seeing from our decks, the thick soup filled the parade route all the way up the east side of Penobscot Bay—except for where we were, that is. 

“Schooner Bonnie Lynn, Schooner Bonnie Lynn. This is Schooner Timberwind-- WDH9109. Channel 1-1.”

“Schooner Timberwind. This is Bonnie Lynn. Channel 1-1.” 


“Hey there, Bonnie Lynn. We’re up here at the north end of Islesboro just outside of Castine, and we’ve got some pretty good visibility—even a little blue sky up here.”

Happy smiles crept across all of our faces, knowing the weather report that we were able to deliver would bring some relief to the other boats too. Bonnie Lynn was ever-grateful, and soon, news of our patch of sunshine was playing over the radio waves.

Still, though, after 20 minutes of waiting, there was no sign of her. Not one to waste the wind, we tacked back and forth in view of Castine, enjoying the clean breeze. We saw the Victory Chimes as she headed into Castine Harbor and a few personal craft making their way in, but still, no frigate. Then Tom Foster, a local photographer, had a brilliant idea: whoever saw the Hermione first and called it out would win a Timberwind hat! Cap nodded and said, “Make it so.”

Not five minutes later, the hat was bestowed to its new owner and everyone scrambled to the starboard side to get a better look at the shadow of dark square sails beginning to emerge about a mile away. But L’Hermione was not alone. On either side of her, white sails from schooners, sloops, and ketches materialized from the murky gray fog. Motor vessels puttered and zoomed all around, filling in the empty spaces each sailing vessel gave the other.  The escort parade was a veritable party, and everyone was invited.

Cap maneuvered us beautifully, sailing against the parade for a short while, giving everyone the perfect oncoming view to video and photo L’Hermione and all the other boats around her. Many of the Rockland and Camden multi-day boats had become a part of the event as well. After Victory Chimes, we saw the schooners Bonnie Lynn, American Eagle, Lynx, Bowdoin, Mary Day, Grace Bailey, Heritage, along with several yachts (motor and sail) from the area.

We passed by L’Hermione, looping back around to get another look as she came up around 300 feet from our port side. She is One. Big. Ship. As she got closer to the mouth of Castine Harbor, we kept in time with her, slowing down only as we neared the buoy. See, Castine on a typical day is already a tight channel, and getting into the harbor that day would have been most uncomfortable. So going in was never part of the plan. Besides, we had to get ourselves back home to Belfast by 6PM. Still, no one was really ready to leave.

Suddenly, cannon fire! L’Hermione was saluting her hosts with the resounding booms of her artillery, bringing everyone to the foredeck where smiles were spread wide and more videos and photos were taken. Not to be outdone, every other boat tooted their horns and shot their own cannons in response. As we whooped and cheered, I knew that experiences like this don’t come along every day, and I was grateful to have been a part of it.

Feeling warm satisfaction from our L’Hermione experienceknowing that it couldn’t get any better—we peeled off from the crowd and headed for home. Cap got us on a steady course, and we kept it the whole way back. As we neared the Monument marking entry into the harbor, I found myself singing Mingulay, and I knew that my original prediction had been correct. It had been an absolutely perfect day. The wind and weather had been on our side, and here we were, sailing homeward into Belfast harbor, wondering where the wind would take us tomorrow.

Special thanks to all our guests who made this trip truly memorable. And thanks for all the photos too!