Karl Brunner is the perfect guy to go sailing with. He started sailing when he was eight, has good stories (he hiked the Appalachian Trail in five months and eight days), and knows the best local bars.
Fortunately for us, he’s also an entrepreneur, so we all can go sailing with him.
In 2005 he started Downeast Friendship Sloop Charters with the handsomely refurbished Alice E., a sloop with a history. In fact, she was originally built in 1899. During the 1930s she was owned by a doctor who rechristened her the Depression. Knowing no one wants to be in a Depression during a vacation to Acadia National Park, Karl reverted to her original name as he launched his business giving sailing tours out of Southwest Harbor.
On this particular August afternoon everyone was upbeat as we boarded for our three-hour sunset cruise. Joining Karl were three couples from Arizona, New York, and North Carolina, who had paid $75 per person for this vacation experience. We had checked in at Sail Acadia next to the post office in Southwest Harbor, then driven in our own cars to park at the marina from which we embarked at 4:30pm.
With good winds at our back, we set sail and explored the mouth of Somes Sound, the deep, 6-mile fiord-like body of water that divides Mount Desert Island. As we sailed east, Northeast Harbor’s elegant homes and clubs came into view.
Karl pointed out the Bear Island Lighthouse, which was built in 1839. Although the lighthouse is part of Acadia National Park, today it is leased to a private resident and not open to the public. The best views of it are from exactly where we were, on the water.Bear Island is one of the five islands that make up the Town of Cranberry Isles. With such good wind, sometimes reaching 25 knots, we sailed toward Great Cranberry Island and then to Islesford Harbor on Little Cranberry Island. Lobster boats dotted the harbor. We spotted the geometric, pastel-door boat houses we had seen so many times in the paintings of Judy Taylor, who takes students for workshops to Islesford.
By this point, Karl had left his post in the stern to go below (where there was a loo) to retrieve a blanket for his passenger from Phoenix who was chilly. In addition to layered outer wear, if you decide to go on this sailing trip, you should remember your camera, binoculars, and any alcoholic drinks you might enjoy. Karl served soft drinks and an “appetizer,” as advertised, of olive bread, brie, pears, and apples. The couple from North Carolina had brought along a bottle of Sangiovese wine flavored with blueberries, a surprisingly delightful blend I recognized from the local Bartlett Winery. I had packed a thermos of gin and tonic, christening the deck of Alice E. a couple of times as gusts came up.
What surprised me was how quickly and easily the Alice E. righted herself after these gusts, the result of her design, Karl explained. It reminded me that the Downeast Friendship Sloops were the original lobster boats – well designed to sail steady as the captain was hauling traps.
We were nearing the end of our cruise. The getting-to-know-you chatter ceased. Western Mountain and Acadia Mountain were black silhouettes against the golden sky. The moon rose. As we sailed into Southwest Harbor, a lone harbor seal swam in our wake.