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Days Eight & Nine: Whales, Beers, and Lobstah, Oh My!

23 Jun

I’m going to start off by explaining why I wrote the word “Lobster” phonetically in the title. Here’s why. I LOVE this regional accent. LOVE. IT. Seriously. It may be my favorite accent in the world. I have delighted in just eavesdropping on the locals around here. At the hardware store I overheard a man saying, “Third times a charm,” and I couldn’t help giggling with happiness. Another one called me “dear.” Someone was giving Amy directions yesterday and said the parking lot was on what sounded like “naught” street; turns out it’s on “North” street. I’ve always liked the Boston accent – Jon Hamm saying the phrase “box of quarters” in the movie The Town is one of my favorites – but up here it’s even better. Richer. Tweaked slightly. And I look for reasons/excuses to get people to say words containing the letter “r”. (And, yes, I realize that I could have also written the word “Beers” phonetically as “beeyahs”, but I wanted to be sure you all knew there was a brief discussion of local breweries to follow.)

And I’m going to admit that I’ve really enjoyed the last two days. They’ve been full and pleasant and frankly, I haven’t exactly been taking notes. It feels certain that I’m going to miss something, maybe even big things, in the retelling of it. But I kind of like that. I’ve been so deep in the experience of it all that I don’t have perfect recall for the details. Sounds okay to me.

Wednesday, June 22: Whale-watching, aka, I’m on a boat.

The beauty of it being low tide when we wake is that the boy (also an exceedingly early riser) and I can take Remy out to run on the immense mud flat that is Turbat’s Creek at low tide, easily crossed over to the Vaughan’s Island Preserve. Remy can run free, investigating all manner of scents, and exciting detritus that has come in on the Atlantic tide. Sometimes that means we have to take disgusting thing away from him, but overall, it’s a pretty sweet morning jaunt for all of us. Today Beau and I walked the length of Vaughan’s beach visible from our house to discover what was around the bend. And what did we see? A lovely view of the Goat Island lighthouse in the distance. Every new discovery just thrills me. To feel surprised by new beauty in a place where you feel so comfortable, is a delight.

But the big event scheduled for today was our Whale Watching Cruise! And man was I jazzed to head out into the ocean and see some whales! Unfortunately, Avery had kind of psyched herself out telling me she gets seasick (news to me. Seriously. Never heard this before.), and I had forgotten that Beau used to have a problem with motion sickness (I say used to, because it’s been a long time and several roller coasters since he’s had any troubles.) I gave Avery half a Dramamine before we left the house. She said her tummy still felt upset on the boat, but really what it did was make her sleepy and lethargic. Beau on the other hand turned green as we fought large swells while heading 22 miles out to sea. I gave him a Dramamine while we were underway, and it seemed to help – at least it knocked him out for a bit. I don’t usually have any trouble with motion sickness, and, thankfully, today was no exception. Amy said she felt queasy when we would stop and sit in one place bobbing around for too long. The fumes from the exhaust did get to me a bit. And I have to say that my queasy children were in good company, as there were at least a dozen or more people actively vomiting, and many more in the nauseous stage, on the boat. Thankfully it was a fairly large boat and I could distance myself from those who were not doing well. I tried to get Beau to sit on the lower deck near the stern, outside in the fresh air. But eventually we all went back 0nto the upper deck, and Beau & Avery collapsed onto one another for a hard, Dramamine-induced nap, in a little corner protected from the wind by the wheelhouse. Once they slept it off, they awoke feeling much better, and Avery had some of the spring back in her step. Now, for the whales. It took awhile, but we did finally encounter some whales in the wild. I don’t know about you, but I was expecting the whales to be large. Like really big. Um, not so much. Not to diminish the absolute coolness of a whale circling your boat out in the vast ocean, but as it turns out, a few Minke whales are  what we spotted, and Minke whales average around 30 feet in length. Not really that big. The usually come up head first (I only saw one of their heads break the surface), then roll like a dolphin. In fact, with their tiny little dorsal fin, they did kind of look like really large dolphin. They hardly ever breach (jump completely clear of the water), and they don’t present their flukes as they dive, so no tail sticking out of the water in what we have come to think of as classic whale pose. Plus their surface exhalations are very discrete, almost unnoticeable, so there was, disappointingly, no cause to shout, “Thar she blows!” But, all of that said, it really is humbling to be out in the ocean in the presence of creatures like that, even the small Minke whale. And while not everyone felt the same, I enjoyed the boat ride. Even as we passed through storm bands on the way back in. Clever us for staking a claim on the benches that were covered and protected behind the wheelhouse!

Once we returned to shore, we made a quick stop at a nearby bookstore, The Book Burrow, as Avery had been begging to go ever since she spotted the sign. It is a cute little shop, but small, and therefore not a ton of inventory. (Though, to be fair, their selection is fairly diverse, and there were many titles on the shelves that I had either already enjoyed, or I found interesting.) We are still mourning the closing of Kennebooks, one of our favorite places. In fact, I am wearing a Kennebooks t-shirt as I type this. But I picked up the new Elizabeth Strout book, and promised the owner I’d come back next Wednesday for the book discussion. Guess I should really start reading that, huh?

Once we returned to the house I followed through on a promise to Beau that we would get the kayaks wet. The tide was running out, and far too low already for us to make the trip he wants to take via kayak to Cape Porpoise, but it was a good chance to reacquaint ourselves with the kayaks. Not so fun to have to carry them up and down to the water, but it really was fun to tool around a bit, get a view of Vaughan’s Island from the water, and mess around in the creek. But then, as if the rapidly ebbing tide wasn’t enough, the wind kicked up something fierce. And having no interest in being blown or pulled out into the open ocean, we decided to call it a day. Besides, it was time for us to clean up and head into town for dinner.

One of our favorite places to eat is the deck at Federal Jack’s. Beautiful view of the Kennebunk River, a good burger, and excellent local beer, brewed right there by the Kennebunkport Brewing Company. We were all excited to take Amy to experience one of our traditions. Unfortunately, while a decent meal (at least the beer was cold and delicious!), it didn’t quite live up to expectations. Usually Federal Jack’s knocks a cheeseburger out of the park, but this one was marginal. Ordered medium rare and delivered medium well. Just not the juicy burger I’ve had before. And our waitress, who eventually warmed up, wore her mirrored aviator glasses the entire time she served us. It was like eating dinner being watched over by a state trooper. Or perhaps a prison guard. A very odd sensation. But, the KBC beer did not fail me, and I very much enjoyed my Goat Island Light. And no visit to Federal Jack’s is complete without a visit to their retail store/gift shop. They have some fun and irreverent items. Lots of Maine paraphernalia, and beer related gifts. Beau selected a coffee mug with the shape of Maine on one side, and “I Love ME” on the other. It is too funny to watch him sip milk from his coffee mug, affecting a smirk and a slightly raised eyebrow. Reminiscent of the boss from Office Space. Elbow out, “I love ME” facing the viewer. An excellent choice of souvenir.

Overall, a good day, and I can check whale-watching in Maine off my list. I would, however, take another whale-watching cruise in a different month, or different location, in the hopes of seeing Humpbacks, or other larger whales. Plus, just watching the sonar/depth finder was amazing. I stood in the door of the wheelhouse and watched it. At times the biomass of bait fish directly below the boat was as dense as the muddy bottom. And there is something wild about knowing when you are floating above 350+ feet of water.

 

Thursday, June 23: Lobster Cruise, aka, I’m on a boat. Again.

This morning’s nautical adventure was to be a scenic lobster cruise aboard the Rugosa, a lobster boat that sails out of the Nonantum Resort. We had checked on the possible trips Monday, but they had all been cancelled because of wind/choppy conditions. We signed up for the morning trip Tuesday, but I got a text the next morning saying the trip had once again been cancelled due to weather. (Side note: Amy was the one who wrote down our names on the sign-up sheet, listing both her phone number and mine, so we would have two points of contact. She did not receive that text, or a call.) Once Tuesdays sailings were cancelled, Amy went back and put our names on the list for the Thursday 10:30am sailing. This is a very small boat, so limited availability, and we felt lucky to get on that sailing since the other two had been cancelled. So, the girls (Beau decided he’d had more than enough water-based excursions for a few days) presented ourselves at the Nonantum Resort by 10:15am, ready to go. Only to see the sign-up sheet on the front desk with lines drawn through and scratching out the morning sailing. When we asked, the woman at the front desk said that the sailing had been cancelled because of mechanical difficulties, and the captain was currently working on his boat. When we expressed displeasure that no one had bothered to contact us, she said, with a rather snotty attitude and haughty tone, “The captain is *very* good at calling people to let them know.” I managed to keep my mouth shut, and Amy very calmly said, while pointing to the sheet, “Well, there’s my phone number, and there’s hers, and I assure you that neither one of us received any call or other contact from the captain, or anyone else.” The employee seemed vaguely flustered by that, and muttered an apology, but as there was nothing really to be done, we just walked away. I can fully understand canceling a trip due to weather conditions not being ideal, and I can fully understand a trip being cancelled due to mechanical difficulties. But I find it an unacceptable breach of customer service to not inform your customers the minute you have made this decision. We could have changed our plans if we had known earlier. As it was, we jumped back in the car and raced back up to the First Chance office to see if they had a morning lobster cruise that was going today, and if so, was there any space left available. Thankfully, their cruise wasn’t until 11:00am, so we were just in time, and managed to secure 4 spaces. Not wanting to pay $3/hr for parking in their lot, we found the free public parking lot about half a mile away (On naught/North street!), and hoofed it back just as everyone was gathering to board – putting us at the back of the line. But we noticed that the the crowd was queuing up at the wrong dock. Having been there yesterday, we knew exactly which boat we were headed out on, and there was no access to it from that ramp. So, Amy went back up to the office and verified that we were correct. So, one of the crew told us to stand near him and we would walk around to another dock access point momentarily. He also told us which seats to chose so we had front row access when they pulled a lobster trap. This was definitely a case of winning by having independent thought, instead of mindlessly following the crowd.

We boarded Kylie’s Chance, and headed out through the Kennebunk River. It was clear right away that we had a very capable, but laid back captain. And our first mate, was one of the crew that was on the whale watching cruise yesterday. We just headed out of the channel into the ocean, simply skimming the shoreline. There were amazing views of the ocean-front homes, including being up close and personal with former president George H.W. Bush’s home, Walker’s Point. The flags (United States, Maine, and Texas) were flying, so he was definitely in residence. I waved politely, just in case Mr. & Mrs. Bush (seems disrespectful to call them George & Barbara) were looking out their picture windows while having an early lunch. The captain was full of interesting information about the area and about lobstering (“bugging” as he called it.) We cruised over to Bumpkin Island to look for the harbor seals that sun and hunt around there. We managed to see a few sleek, dark heads bobbing in the water, but not too much of a seal show. They also hauled one of their traps. It contained two lobster. The mate banded their claws (only three in total because the larger one was missing a claw), and proceeded to tell us about them. There was one male and one female. The larger one fit within the regulations for keeping, a carapace measurement that was more than 3.25″, but less than 5″, and I was surprised they would do so even though he only had one claw. The smaller one was not yet big enough, and would be returned to the ocean. They let us handle them, and investigate them. There was a sickeningly cracking noise when a grown woman accidentally dropped the larger one to the deck, but there didn’t seem to to be a readily visible crack in his shell. They really did a nice job making sure everyone could get their questions answered, and get as up close and personal with the lobster as they wanted. I was happy we got the front row seat, and could watch the whole process. And, going for that whole on vacation, drink local maxim of mine, I enjoyed a Shipyard Summer Ale, brewed in Portland, ME, while on the boat. Ahhhhh! What is it about being on a boat in the sun that makes cold beer taste that much better? As we were headed back in from Bumpkin Island, the captain asked Harper if she would like to drive the boat. He pulled up a stool and she took the wheel, despite not really being able to see over the bow of the boat. He would direct her, and she was truly steering the boat. Which made her light up. After she had a turn, he let some other kids, and one older lady, take their turns driving, including Captain Smoochie. It was a perfect study in the differences between the sisters’ personalities. Harper was giddy with power, and very relaxed at the wheel. Avery was also very excited, and proud, but definitely taking it very seriously, and feeling the weight of responsibility. This little cruise has been one of the highlights of our Maine activities, and frankly, I may do it again one more time next week, encouraging Beau to join us. There was very little motion, and I don’t think it would get to him the way the ocean swells did. I could not be more pleased that the other trip was cancelled. I think this was a much better experience!

After finishing the cruise, we grabbed a quick slice of pizza at Atlantic Pizza, right there in the same shopping complex as Federal Jack’s. The pizza at Atlantic is very tasty. With the added bonus that they sell Coca-Cola in glass bottles. Which of course would be even better if they could be stuck in the freezer for 15 minutes first, but was still the perfect accompaniment to my cheese slice. Then we meandered a bit in town, Amy doing some last minute souvenir shopping. I found a few paintings that I’ll put in my Maine lottery home (you know, the oceanfront home I’m going to have if I win the lottery). Then it was time to head home. Sadly for us, Amy had to leave us today to continue her adventures elsewhere. We all said our sad goodbyes, and then spent some time relaxing around the house. Beau and I sat with our books on the balcony off the girls’ bedroom. A perfect view of Vaughan’s Island laid out before us, birdsong all around, cool breeze, face in the shade, legs in the sun, yes, a perfect recipe for a catnap! Ahhhh…..

But before it got too late, we roused and headed out on a few errands. I usually wear flip-flops on the beach at home. And that works great, because it is loose sand. Here, as I walk across the low tide, the mud is sucking at my shoes, and wearing those same beach flip-flops has torn my feet to ribbons. I am sporting some rather impressive blisters on both feet, so I decided it was time to return to the all-purpose water shoes of my Florida youth. I swear, I lived in Tevas through my entire teenage years. I looked for the closest Teva retailers, and decided that my best bet was the Kittery Trading Post. Kind of a Maine version of Bass Pro Shops. Lots of great gear and equipment, but with charm. (And you know how I love it when they say the word “charm” around here.) I found some Tevas that will work for me – close enough to the original style I loved so much, though they didn’t have the solid black I truly wanted. Harper found the training arrows in the archery department, and decided to purchase a couple with her own money. We also picked up a nice pair of binoculars that were sporting a very nice sale price. After gearing up at the Trading Post, there were a few items I needed that would best be acquired at a Target. When I searched for the nearest Target, knowing there is one in Biddeford, not too far from the house, I discovered that the closest Target to Kittery was in New Hampshire, a mere 6 miles away. Well, how could I resist that? The cache of crossing back into NH, taking advantage of no sales tax. We made the quick hop, picked up our few items, and then headed back over the Piscataqua River Bridge. I had promised a trip to Ben & Jerry’s today, but I thought it would be fun to seek a location other than our typical one in KPT. So, Waze directed us to Ogunquit, Maine. We utilized their free village parking lot, and walked up the hill to the main street. I would have liked to stop in The Sassy Olive, an olive oil and balsamic tasting room, but the kids had ice cream on the mind, and I felt more unwarranted, and unappreciated by them, delay was unadvisable. We walked with our ice cream, and spotted a toy store that definitely needed further investigating. (Wait. Quick shout out to Ben & Jerry’s, all locations, for taking allergy issues so seriously, and having a distinct protocol in place to keep their allergic customers safe, and ensuring they can have a full experience. My kiddos can only eat the sorbet, as all B&J’s ice cream contains eggs, but Beau ordered a smoothie with sorbet, and the scooper completely sanitized the blender before making it. Anyway, good on you, Ben & Jerry’s, we’ll keep coming back.) Now, back to the toy store, called Animal Instincts, where they were advertising the Disney Lego mini figures. Well, duh, I had to fondle a few of those, and see what I could find. These were rather difficult, especially since I can’t see the backs of the minifigs in the online images, and I admit that I was fooled by one or two this go around. Or, maybe not fooled, but engaging in extreme wishful thinking, and sloppy assessment work. I really, really, really want the Ursula minifig. And I’m not sure what I thought I had in my hand at the time (or perhaps I put the wrong one back in the box, and accidentally bought the one I meant to put back), but I ended up with a Daisy Duck, which I didn’t care about. However, I was very excited to get Maleficent, Buzz Lightyear, an alien, and Captain Hook. Harper came running up to me with a game I have never seen before, and had to splurge on – Harry Potter Trivial Pursuit. It’s travel size, just a colored die and a deck of trivia cards, enclosed in a wedge shaped plastic box. Considering Harper has read the series through approximately 4 times, it seemed a shame to put that one back on the shelf. Too bad we can’t have a Battle of the Books based solely on Harry Potter…

The sun was setting just as we were arriving back home, and the light was gorgeous. A warm pinky rose. It was a picture perfect evening. We took Remy down on the beach to chase his tennis ball, into the cold Atlantic, time and time again. It was down in the 60s and heading lower. That dog is tireless. He always wants you to throw it just one more time, and just one more time. Boy is he going to be mad at me when he discovers this is a vacation, not a relocation. It really is dog paradise.

We came back up to the house as the light was dying, and when I was hosing Remy off I discovered that 60 degrees is in fact not too cold for mosquitos. Guess they grow ‘em hearty, and cold-weather acclimated up here. I was getting eaten up, and glad to come inside to escape them. Some cheese & crackers & a cocktail – what else are you supposed to have for second dinner when you had ice cream for dinner? – and I was ready for a round of Harry Potter trivia. Some of the questions were fairly easy. Those are not the questions that I was getting. And, as predicted, Harper cleaned the floor with Avery & I. But it was fun, and I actually learned something, so that’s cool. A little late to bed, but a nice way to end a really wonderful day. I can’t believe that we get to stay another week. Usually at this point in the vacation, it’s time for me to start cleaning up, thinking about packing. It’s inconceivable we get to settle in and stay longer. Such sweet relaxation. I think Remy and I will be crying together when it’s time to go. Now excuse me, I really need to go buy that lottery ticket…

 

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