On a very grey morning, as the rain poured down, I found myself running onto the J&E Riggin not entirely sure what to expect. Everyone was lined up for breakfast and even though I was late, I immediately felt welcomed. Captain Jon helped me to my cabin, then I grabbed breakfast, which included pancakes and baked peaches, while I got to know the rest of the passengers and crew. Even though I was traveling alone, it didn’t feel that way.
The rain eventually tapered off and turned into a mist. The skies were still grey, but the warmth on the Riggin made up for it; I knew I was in for a special trip. Stepping on the J&E Riggin is more than just stepping on a piece of history. It’s more than a food cruise. It’s more than a vacation. Stepping onto the J&E Riggin means stepping inside the home of Captain Jon Finger and Annie Mahle and into their family: the Riggin family.
That family consists of the crew and the people who travel on the schooner. While I can only speak from my experience, I’d like to think a special kind of person travels this way. In fact, the Riggin has so many repeat travelers, they’ve dubbed their repeats the Riggin Relics and after three trips, those passengers get a special patch. There’s even a flag the crew hangs whenever a Riggin Relic is on board.
It’s understandable why guests are called back season after season. Annie and Jon have the most beautiful life and are not only living their dream, but for the past nineteen years they’ve invited people to come and live it with them; it’s what makes the Riggin different.
For three full days, I spent my time completely disconnected from the world, although occasionally searching for a cell signal to upload a picture to Instagram. I can’t help who I am. Even so, I kept my phone on airplane mode to conserve the battery and get away for awhile. As a blogger, I never have time to disconnect, I always feel guilty, as though I need to share every moment with my audience. But on the Riggin I was forced to be in the present moment. With limited time on board, I really wanted to experience everything and get to know those I was traveling with.
It was the kind of forced disconnection I haven’t had since India. While it’s hard to really compare my experience in Maine to India, there was spotty cell and Internet coverage. Because of that, I had no choice but to put aside my cell phone and just be. It turned out to be exactly what I needed. Instead of constantly checking social media, I woke up for sunrise each morning and did yoga on the deck. Then, I’d head back to bed for an hour before breakfast. I’d bring up my mug and fill it with hot water for tea, while waiting for the call for breakfast. During that time, I’d soak up the beauty of Penobscot Bay, while trying to figure out what Annie had made for breakfast based on the delicious aromas leaving the galley.
Everything we ate was thought out and well-prepared; Annie cooks with love. But beyond that, the food is all made from the highest quality ingredients, some of it even coming from Annie’s garden. The eggs are from her chickens, the cheese from local farms, and vegetables and fruit from the local farmer’s markets and delivered by the CSA. Starting with the freshest ingredients helps, but what Annie transformed those ingredients into was really special. What’s even more impressive is that she does it all on the schooner’s Atlantic Fisherman wood stove.
We’d start our day with berry turnovers, oatmeal, homemade English muffins, fresh fruit, or sticky buns, just to name some of what was served on board. After breakfast, the activities would depend on where we were docked. One day, Captain took us to the Wooden Boat school, where we watched boat builders and spent some time on the water. Another morning, a few of us went for a dip in the chilly Maine waters, jumping from the boat, which was quite a shock to the system. But, as you can imagine, worth it for the experience alone.
Other days, we’d lounge on the deck taking in the views, talking about life with the other guests, reading, or writing. It was during this time that my writing seemed to flow easily onto the page again, as it hadn’t in months. Between that ocean air and no cell service, my inspiration was back.
When we weren’t reading, writing, or talking, our mornings and afternoons would also consist of cooking lessons or tips from Annie. Sometimes we’d even find ourselves helping out in the galley to get ready for lunch or dinner. We learned knife skills, how to shuck oysters, helped make pasta, and learned how to make sourdough bread.
There’d also be some work to do. We’d have to raise the anchor if we were docked and hoist up the sails. If we were stopping somewhere, we needed to lower the sails and the anchor. This took teamwork and was actually a lot of fun. The fact that we all had to join in on something made our family bond even stronger.
Lunch would come around before we knew it and there were always plenty of options. On the first afternoon, we had corn chowder with zucchini cupcakes for dessert. I wasn’t sure that could be topped, but I quickly learned that each meal Annie made for us was as good as the last. The second day was an Indian meal, and quite honestly, was as good as the food I enjoyed in India. Then, we had a Southeast Asian meal complete with spring rolls and lettuce wraps. I loved seeing how Annie transformed local ingredients into foreign feasts.
Meals were always presented so beautifully with fresh flowers. Usually, we’d go back for seconds of our favorites, wash our dishes, and continue to relax and take the day at ease. At some point during the late afternoon, we’d lower the anchor and find our spot for the evening. That meant all joining together again and folding up the sails. Often some time before this, I would have had a small afternoon nap down in my cabin. It was hard to leave the views for sleep, but the ocean air and saltwater just had that affect on me.
Once we were settled for the evening, everyone would break out their wine or beer, if they hadn’t already. Then, we’d enjoy a few appetizers before dinner. There’d be fresh oysters, baked brie, or a cheese plate that rivaled all other cheese plates.
Dinner would soon follow in the form of homemade pasta with fish sauce or a zucchini alfredo, roasted vegetables, salad, baked potatoes, and homemade bread. There was always meat or fish, and while I heard it was wonderful, I opted for the vegetables.
One evening, we docked at Hell’s Half Acre, an island in the bay for a lobster bake. As a vegetarian, I didn’t participate, but Annie did make me a delicious vegetarian paella. Before dinner, we had time to wander around the small island a bit and enjoy our beer and wine. Then, we sat on the ground while taking in the beauty of Maine during dinner.
After dinner, we’d clean up and enjoy the sunset from the Riggin. The more time I spent on board, the more relaxed I felt. I enjoyed being disconnected and not worrying about social media, emails, even texts from friends and family. I was so at peace in the environment I was in and I knew leaving it was going to be difficult, so I tried my best to stay present and enjoy every moment, no matter how small.
Each evening, after spending time with each other over a few beverages, slowly everyone would start to make their way to bed. A few of us, however, wanted to stay up and soak in just how beautiful our surroundings were. We’d grab some soft deck chairs and blankets and sit up watching for shooting stars and picking out constellations. Those nights were my favorite, as I felt like life had slowed down. If I close my eyes, I can still recall exactly how I felt.
On the last evening, we sat on the lantern lit deck, chatting as usual, but that night Captain broke out his guitar, while Annie and their daughters, Chloe and Ella sang for us. It was then that I knew how lucky I was to join this little family. It’s as if they found the secret to life, but they don’t just keep it to themselves. They want to spread it to as many people as they can.
As you can imagine, leaving the Riggin was impossible, and as I said my good-byes tears poured down my face. I couldn’t help it. I wasn’t ready for the trip to end, and I began to truly understand why so many return. It’s not just about the Riggin or sailing on Maine’s stunning coast, it’s the feeling you get while you’re on board. It’s the way Captain and Annie make you feel as if you are one of the family. That’s why the Riggin is so special.
Every day since returning home, I think about my time in Maine. I remember the way I felt on the schooner and try to keep that feeling with me. I dream about being back on the water, disconnected from the world. We don’t need much to live a happy life, it’s more simple than we think. Over the past few weeks, I had somehow gotten away from the simplicity and my trip on the Riggin reminded me of this. For that, I am forever grateful.
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I was a guest of the J&E Riggin, but that in no way affected my experience. As always, all opinions are my own.