Cruising Aboard M.V. GRANDE CARIBE
On A Blount Small Ship Adventure
Shawn J. Dake
All Photographs By Shawn J. Dake, © 2013.
There are still undiscovered gems to be found in the world of cruising. While big ships dominate the aquatic headlines, there are some smaller vessels out there that provide a singularly unique experience, unlike anything else found at sea. The m.v. GRANDE CARIBE is one of them. Operated by Blount Small Ship Adventures, this company may be off the radar of many seasoned travelers, although they have been carrying passengers to interesting, unusual and sometimes exotic destinations since 1966. Founder Luther H. Blount started building boats in 1949 at Warren, Rhode Island. The shipbuilding operation expanded to carrying friends and family on their private vessels, growing into a full-fledged cruise operation. They first operated under the name American Canadian Line, finding success operating cruises on the Saguenay River and to Expo ’67 which was held that year in Montreal. As their geographic operations expanded, Caribbean was added to the title and itinerary portfolio. While American Canadian Caribbean Line aptly described where they went, today the company is more succinctly known for what they do. Blount Small Ship Adventures is one of the few lines that is still family run, with an American crew and flying the American flag aboard their two current vessels, the 184-foot long GRANDE MARINER and GRANDE CARIBE.
Is it a boat or a ship? The GRANDE CARIBE frequently docks in small boat harbors like a very large private yacht.
There seems to always be a spirited discussion regarding what constitutes a ship versus a boat. In this story, I plan to freely interchange those words as the GRANDE CARIBE really is both. It carries up to 88 passengers and 20 crew members like a diminutive cruise ship, but tends to dock in small boat harbors away from the crowds. There is a lounge and a dining room, with outstanding food served mostly family style. Cabins are comfortable private spaces with bathrooms similar to what might be found on a large boat. The company’s promotional material describes the experience “Like sailing on a friend’s yacht,” and I don’t think I could come up with a better description. Boat, ship or yacht it is a wonderful way to see smaller, out-of-the-way places, approached by water as they have been for hundreds of years.
The GRANDE CARIBE tied up at her homeport of Warren, Rhode Island on August 14, 2013 before departure.
Our voyage was a new 11-night itinerary, journeying through New England and touching into Canada, titled “Classical Maine And The Northeast; Rhode Island To New Brunswick.” There was much beauty and history to be enjoyed along the way, combined with the surprisingly wonderful atmosphere aboard the GRANDE CARIBE engendered by the way the ship is run. As I retrace the voyage in words, I hope I am up to the task of conveying the intangible elements that made this such a memorable trip and keep passengers returning to Blount vacations year after year.
Aerial view of the Blount Boats Shipyard with the GRANDE CARIBE on the left.
The trip began at the Blount Boats yard in Warren, Rhode Island, not far from either Providence or Boston for passengers arriving by air. The weather was warm and clear, foretelling the excellent conditions that would prevail throughout the trip. Embarkation is the first thing that tells you, you’re not going on a big ship cruise. A few steps up the metal gangplank and you are in the forward lounge being greeted by the cruise director, followed by a few more steps and you are in your cabin. Other than dropping off your passport and possibly signing up for that afternoon’s shore excursion, that’s it. You’re aboard. At 12:05pm, the ropes are let go, the engines start and the voyage has begun.
The Breakers; the Vanderbilt family home at Newport, Rhode Island.
By 2:00pm we have reached our first port-of-call, the old-money resort Mecca of Newport, Rhode Island. Magnificent mansions like The Breakers built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II in 1895, rival the finest castles found in other parts of the world. The ship is docked next to historic Fort Adams and surrounded by thousands of private yachts bobbing at anchor. Departure time at 8:15pm was during the regular eight o’clock dinner hour. Much more about the wonderful food later.
My cabin is on the portside of the Sun Deck, number 55A. It has two twin beds side by side separated by a nightstand, a dresser containing three large drawers and two narrow slots in the bulkhead that serve as the closet. The décor is suitably nautical in tones of deep blue and red accented by pillows and drapes with signal flags. This room opens to the interior corridor while nine others on this deck have doors opening onto the exterior “promenade” deck. In another pleasant change from many ships, the large picture window slides open to let in fresh air. I found I used this open window much more frequently than the individually controlled air conditioning, especially on the warm, balmy nights encountered this voyage. The bathroom arrangement while compact is quite sensible. The toilet, sink and storage areas are in a separate compartment from the square shower unit. I found out the hard way that each cabin has their own individual water heater which provides five minutes of hot water before taking another 15 minutes to heat up again. Like on a boat, you adjust to the limited water supply and the shower head does have an on/off control, which helps.
A tight squeeze at Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Day Two found the GRANDE CARIBE arriving at Portsmouth, New Hampshire on the short stretch of coastline where the state touches the Atlantic. Entering the harbor we passed the Portsmouth Navy Yard which was established in 1800 and is the oldest in the United States. Our Captain Jim Abbruzzi must be commended at this point for the incredible job of docking at The Marina At Harbour Place, adjacent to town. With pleasure boats already docked both fore and aft he somehow maneuvered our comparatively huge vessel alongside, missing contact with the fiberglass yachts by mere inches. Our bow overhung one vessel which must have caused the owner enormous consternation. Portsmouth was first settled in 1623 and is an amazingly historic city.
George Washington slept here? The Governor John Langdon house built in 1784.
President James Monroe was a guest at the lovely St. John’s church and there is more than one building that had close ties to George Washington. Nearly every home and building dates back to the 1700’s and beautiful gardens at Prescott Park make this a clean, well-kept city. Although it was only 5:00pm when I got back from my walk, every passenger was already back onboard. They probably wanted to be prepared for the welcome aboard cocktail party, held before the 7:30pm departure with the backdrop of a spectacular sunset off the stern.
The setting sun provides the backdrop for our departure from Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Speaking of cocktails, this is one of the most pleasant aspects of life aboard this ship, or any boat for that matter. Tonight, this was a hosted party with hors d’oeuvres and drinks provided. The pre-dinner repast was a feast in itself with a beautiful selection of cold shrimp, egg rolls, asparagus, melted gruyere cheese with raspberry in phyllo dough, all highlighted by freshly sliced salmon, capers, onions and cream cheese. There was hardly room left for the amazing dinner which included a delicious Beef Wellington with homemade strawberry shortcake for dessert. Other than on the welcome and farewell evenings, the bar arrangements are basically a self-serve proposition. The major cruise lines may ban guests from bringing their own bottles of liquor aboard for personal use but on Blount it is encouraged. As on a private yacht, you bring your own bottle aboard and Blount supplies all the mixers, juices, barware, fruits and snacks to prepare your own cocktails.
The Lounge and bar area aboard the GRANDE CARIBE.
The Lounge looking forward.
The bar is conveniently located in the starboard, aft corner of the lounge with shelves for dry bottle storage and refrigeration below for beer, wine and cold beverages. A sticker with your cabin number identifies your bottle and it is available for you whenever your heart desires. I quite like this arrangement. Rather than being gouged for overpriced drinks, you will leave this ship with no bar tab at all. In fact, other than optional shore excursions and gratuities to the crew, there is virtually nothing on the cruise that you could spend money on. It is a wonderful contrast to the nickel and dime attitudes that other cruise lines have foisted upon ocean travelers. Plus, the nightly cocktail hour is a wonderful time for socializing either in the enclosed lounge or on the open air of the top deck, just up an adjacent stairway.
The Dining Room looking aft.
The Dining Room facing forward, looking toward the starboard side.
The third day found the ship at sea all morning. There is a visit to a different destination every single day but sometimes there is perhaps a half day of sea time reaching the next stop. By this point I was settling into the routine of small ship cruising, including all of its charms and quirks. The day begins at 7:30am when either the port lecturer or the captain finds something interesting to point out and announces it over the speakers around the vessel. A switch in the cabin can mute those speakers. Not coincidently, this just happens to be half an hour before breakfast. Usually, another announcement comes at about 10 minutes to the hour. Then at 8:00am sharp, one of the waitresses walks around the ship ringing the meal bell, and like a pack of Pavlov’s dogs, the entire passenger complement congregates in the dining room located on Main Deck. The bell ringing is repeated for lunch and dinner. I found it to be a charming touch connected to a bit of old world tradition. On the port side of the dining room a buffet offers cereals, muffins, juices and always a bowl filled with fresh blueberries mixed with strawberries. On the individual tables breakfast is served family style, this morning with large platters of blueberry pancakes and bacon. Following breakfast there is a lecture about the day’s destination.
Bar Harbor, Maine, as seen from the top of Cadillac Mountain.
Today we were fast approaching Bar Harbor, Maine and Acadia National Park. Approaching Mount Desert Island, the ship passed through pot fields – lobster pots that is. This is one of two big ports that this cruise will stop at, and the only one where we would see other full-size cruise ships. Two of Holland America Line’s sister ships were anchored offshore; the MAASDAM closer to town and the heavily rebuilt VEENDAM much farther out beyond an island. I admit to a slight feeling of superiority sailing past them to dock against a wooden pier, less than a block from downtown Bar Harbor.
The sailing vessel MARGARET TODD and the MAASDAM at Bar Harbor, August 16, 2013.
The rugged coastline of Maine in Acadia National Park.
After lunch onboard, I headed out for a tour of the rocky coastline in Acadia National Park and a drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain. Rarely would I single out a driver/tour guide by name, but the gentleman that showed us his corner of the world was so outstanding that he bears mentioning. If you ever find yourself in Bar Harbor, search out Roger Keene. He was extremely knowledgeable, sharing good stories, agreeable philosophies and a positive outlook on life. In three and a half hours he created indelible memories of this beautiful place. There was still plenty of time for a sightseeing walk around Bar Harbor after the tour. At the guide’s suggestion I walked up to one of the many ice cream shops, to try a very special flavor; lobster ice cream. While interesting, it won’t replace vanilla or chocolate anytime soon. Another stop was made at St. Saviour’s Episcopal Parish, notable for it’s 43 memorial stained glass windows, 10 of which were created by a fellow name Louis Comfort Tiffany. The Tiffany glass windows are all added between 1888 and 1907. With our ship being in port most of the night, I decided to dine ashore to indulge in a fresh whole lobster dinner, and a nocturnal stroll around Bar Harbor.
Cruising along the border between the U.S.A. and Canada.
It would prove to be a somewhat sleepless night. The GRANDE CARIBE departed port at 3:00am. Departures and arrivals are very much tied to the tides and how rapidly the current is flowing. Schedules frequently have to be adjusted to accommodate nature. But it was man-made problems that woke me repeatedly as I could feel the engines stopping and reversing, again and again. In the dark and light fog, the propellers became entangled in the lines leading from buoys to lobster traps which were everywhere. Finally asleep, I awakened to the clanging of the breakfast bell outside my window an hour earlier than expected. Being ashore last night I missed the announcement that heading into Canada the clocks had been moved forward an hour. By some miracle, I still made it to breakfast, which was lucky as it was one of my favorites, Eggs Benedict. Another morning at sea allowed time for some reading and visiting with other passengers. In short order it was time for another meal and lunch today was a good one starting with lobster bisque, artichoke hearts and crab roll sandwiches. While there are other choices, I love seafood and this particular cruise was heavy with it. I added a couple bottles of beer to my rapidly expanding waistline. I believe I forgot to mention that beer and wine are included at mealtime. After some picturesque cruising along the U.S. and Canadian border the ship arrived at St. Andrews By The Sea. Customs clearance was an easy formality held on board.
The Algonquin Hotel in St. Andrews.
The afternoon was free and I chose to explore the charming town on the way to my destination, the Algonquin Hotel, originally built for the Canadian Pacific Railway. While closed for a major renovation, its architectural style was evident on the exterior. Back aboard in time for cocktails and an enjoyable dinner with some very congenial table companions. Dining is always open seating to encourage guests to get to know one another. The quiet evening in port was topped off with a spectacular sunset off the stern with an ever enlarging moon rising in the east beyond the boats riding at anchor. Early to bed, as it would be an early to rise morning.
The Roosevelt Family home at Roosevelt-Campobello International Park.
Day five began at 6:30am and the dawning of another beautiful day in St. Andrews. After breakfast it was off on a much anticipated tour to Campobello Island, once the summer home of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and their family. We boarded the 55-foot long catamaran QUODDY LINK for a fast 45-minute run over to the island. The Roosevelt “cottage” has 34 rooms, but they were understated and not terribly large. It was at Campobello where Mr. Roosevelt contracted polio. The area is now an international park shared by the U.S. while on Canadian soil. The trip back was equally memorable with sightings of bald eagles in the trees along with numerous Minke and Finback Whales and seals in the water. The East Quoddy Head Light was another photogenic lighthouse we passed on the return trip.
The GRANDE CARIBE docked at St. Andrews By-The-Sea, New Brunswick, Canada.
The ship and the dock rise and fall on the extreme tides in the bay.
Arriving back in port it was easy to see the huge changes in tides. Passamaquoddy Bay and the neighboring Bay Of Fundy are subject to 30 to 40 foot tidal changes and the GRANDE CARIBE would sometimes be high above the dock and at other hours far below. Not wanting to miss a meal there was time for a quick lunch of tomato soup and lobster rolls before heading out on the second tour of the day. The houses and churches of St. Andrews are among some of the most picturesque to be found anywhere. It was hard to resist photographing each and every one of them. The final destination of this excellent walking tour was the Kingsbrae Gardens on a hill above the town.
The Kingsbrae Gardens are much more than just flowers. The gardens are arranged in many sections and are among the finest in the world.
No ordinary garden, this 27-acre masterpiece showcases over 50,000 varieties of flowers, shrubs and trees, in a number of different whimsical gardens. There is also a resident herd of Alpacas among the unexpected surprises. High tea was served in the traditional style with finger sandwiches, brownies and scones with clotted cream and jam. St. Andrews is the perfect small town; easy to fall in love with and hard to say goodbye to.
One great sunset after another viewed from the GRANDE CARIBE.
Musical performance on the top deck behind the pilot house.
After another delicious dinner, as the GRANDE CARIBE rose on the incoming tide, the townsfolk and visitors alike were treated to one of the most spectacular sunsets I have had the pleasure to witness. That makes two nights in a row, so maybe it is always like this. Just a short distance away, across the river mouth was the U.S.A. A musical duo led by Kathleen Goering-McSorley came aboard and entertained the ship’s complement with Irish music and original songs. Both performers are just 18 years of age, and have a bright future in music ahead of them. So ended two wonderful days in Canada.
The GRANDE CARIBE at Eastport, Maine during high tide, August 19, 2013.
The boat harbor at Eastport approaching low tide.
Adjusting the schedule again to accommodate the tides, the ship departed at 3:00am to sail the short distance over to Eastport Maine, arriving there after a brief hour and a quarter. After breakfast there was the formality once again of clearing customs, this time for the U.S. Eastport, as the name implies, is the easternmost city in the United States. The town itself is quaint and quiet. The local sightseeing tour managed to last two and a half hours visiting attractions such as Raye’s Mustard Mill, the last working stone ground mustard mill in the country. There was much to learn about lobster husbandry in a warehouse where large water tanks held live lobsters at a temperature of only 37 degrees, while the creatures await their inevitable fate.
One lobster is a boy and one is a girl. Can you tell the difference?
The lobster industry is so important to the state of Maine it is even honored with a special license plate.
Guests learned how to tell a male lobster from a female lobster, and yes it is probably what you’re thinking, although differences in the tail are another sign. In the future, this area may gain notoriety as there are experiments underway designed to harness the massive tidal flows to generate electricity using turbines set on the sea bottom. The people here could not be nicer. Eastport is the perfect vision of what a friendly, small town in America should be like. Even for a small ship the size of the GRANDE CARIBE, they went all out to welcome us. The mayor came aboard for dinner and afterwards the town put on a really nice fireworks show in our honor. Several local art galleries remained open in the evening serving wine and desserts especially for guests from the ship. It was the kind of evening that you don’t want to end. At midnight, we sailed on to our next destination.
Captain Jim Abbruzzi in the pilothouse with John Medeiros on the left.
A bit more on the daily shipboard routine each morning. After breakfast, the wait staff first cleans up the dining room and the galley. They then move on to making up the passenger cabins. Usually, this coincides pretty well with the time of the morning lecture so that you are out of your cabin allowing them to work. For this cruise Sam Ladley has been the onboard lecturer providing commentary and local color about each of the ports. His talks were interspersed with excellent photography workshops held by Carol Palmer who enlightened both novice and veteran photographers with information on just how much digital cameras can do, along with tricks of light and composition. Today’s talk by Sam was on the lobster industry which he has been a part of, along with his hometown of Rockland, Maine which just happens to be our port of call. The approach to this port is quite scenic. Once again the captain and chief mate John Medeiros did an incredible job of docking in an extremely tight space, sandwiched between multi-million dollar cruising yachts, without so much as a scrape. Mr. Medeiros, himself a captain, has worked for Luther H. Blount and the Blount shipyard since 1959.
The Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse on the way into the harbor.
The Farnsworth Art Museum, Wyeth Center is housed in a former church.
An optional sightseeing tour took those guests interested in a sightseeing tour around town on the ubiquitous trolley’s that seem to be common to all these New England ports. But by far the main attraction of Rockland is the Farnsworth Art Museum. It houses an astounding collection of American art highlighted by the works of three generations of artists, N.C. Wyeth, and his son and grandson, Andrew Wyeth and Jaime Wyeth both of whom lived locally. If you are not familiar with their works do yourself a favor and check each of them out. Across the street from the museum, an old church has been converted to the Wyeth Center showcasing the original paintings of N.C. Wyeth that have illustrated countless adventure books and magazines including editions of Treasure Island among others. The GRAND CARIBE is docked at the Coast Guard Station. For the first time today, we shared port with Blount Small Ship Adventures closest competitor, two vessels of American Cruise Line; the AMERICAN GLORY and INDEPENDENCE.
The top deck provides plenty of sun or shade by day and is a great place to socialize over cocktails in the evening.
In what has become a nightly routine, cocktails were mixed in the lounge beginning at 5:30pm lasting until the dinner bell rings at 6:30pm. Although there is no formality about this ship, it seems nice to change clothes and put on slacks and a shirt with a collar. The warm evenings beckon guests from the lounge up to the top deck to socialize. Another theme of this cruise seems to be a heavy emphasis on lobster; not that I’m complaining. Tonight’s dinner was a delicious salad followed by Lobster Pot Pie and raspberry bread pudding for dessert. The complimentary wine selections with meals are of very good to excellent quality as well. Two individuals are largely responsible for making all of this incredible food. Head Chef Andy Viele handles most of the entrees and Sous Chef Meghan Brennan takes care of the pastries, desserts and the most delicious cookies you’ve ever eaten. While the selection of menu items is mostly limited to two choices each meal, it is always freshly prepared and in this writer’s humble opinion, tastes far better than on any contemporary cruise ship. I have not had food this good since the days when Canadian Pacific still ran their small and lovely Princess ships. The evenings aboard the ship are very quiet. Tonight, the movie “Guilt Trip” with Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogan was shown in the lounge. By 10:00pm, usually no one is left up onboard. The ship remained overnight in the port.
Portland Head Light is among the most beautiful and most photographed lighthouses in the country.
The 6:00am departure coincided nicely with the sunrise. Sailing on glassy seas the ship passed Allen Island that Andrew and Betsy Wyeth called home. Farther on, the artist colony of Monhegan Island appeared off the portside. Everywhere, the buoys for lobster traps dotted the sea. By afternoon, several beautiful lighthouses and forts began to make their appearances. It is a much different experience to approach these places by sea rather than in a car on land. Today, we were switching gears from small towns to the big city of Portland, Maine. The weather was hot, topping out above 90 degrees. Our tiny ship was the only vessel at the dedicated cruise ship terminal. The city tour took us past architecturally significant mansions, across the bridge to South Portland and out to Cape Elizabeth, setting for the most photographed lighthouse in the United States, Portland Head Light, originally built in 1791. For the most part, the optional tours offered by Blount have been quite good. They’re reasonably priced ranging from $14.00 to $95.00. The average price is around $50.00 and includes admission to the attractions that are most notable in each destination. A nice feature, as opposed to major cruise ships, is the casual approach to booking or canceling the tours. A mere mention to the cruise director takes care of the job and with rare exceptions they can be added or dropped on pretty short notice without penalty.
Much anticipated Lobster dinner… The first course!
This was one night I wanted to make sure I was back to the ship in time for dinner. Widely looked forward to the whole cruise, and as they say with their New England accents, it was Lobstah night! The top deck became cookout central as a wooden box was billed with coals covered with wet seaweed, and filled with lobsters, clams and mussels. Barbecues smoked with Portuguese sausages and hot dogs along with corn on the cob and red potatoes. Once steamed and cooked to perfection, tubs of these delicacies were brought down to the dining room and distributed by the crew buffet style. Along with a couple of beers it was easy to overindulge to the near bursting point, but it was a meal never to be forgotten. Adding to an already perfect evening, musical entertainment was provided by the Don Campbell Trio in the lounge. With guitars, flute and bass they played familiar folk/rock tunes that were well received by an appreciative audience. The group is from Maine and showed how high the level of artistic talent is in this state. Something about Maine attracts not only famous painters but musicians like these and writers ranging from Portland natives Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to Stephen King.
Entertainment in the Lounge with the outstanding Don Campbell Trio.
Sunrises and sunsets are marvelous times to be out on the deck.
Mercifully, I was able to sleep through the 4:00am departure. The morning at sea was a good time to catch up on a few things, and have time for a chat with Nancy and Julie Blount about the company their father Luther Blount founded and which they run today. Nancy is president of Blount Small Ship Adventures while shore side, Julie and another sister Marcia Blount run the Blount Boats shipyard. “Everything we’ve operated, we built,” Nancy proudly told me. Operating cruise ships evolved out of sword fishing and family vacations on their own private boats on which the family invited friends along. The trips proved so popular that they expanded to carrying paying passengers. From 1965 until 1969 they used their vessel the CANYON FLYER with the company starting out as Nantucket Cruise Lines before growing into American Canadian Line. The year 1969 saw the building of the MOUNT HOPE followed in 1971 by the NEW SHOREHAM which became the prototypes for the type of small ships the company would continue to build for their own use. Unique vessels that quite literally could go where the big ships can not, they featured inventions that Luther Blount either came up with or perfected including three patents on Controllable Pitch Propellers, retractable pilot houses for passing under low bridges (such as the Eire Canal) and incorporating bow landing ramps so passengers could walk right off the ships in otherwise inaccessible ports. More vessels were to follow, the NEW SHOREHAM II in 1979, the CARIBBEAN PRINCE in 1983 and the MAYAN PRINCE in 1992. In 1994, the company built the NIAGRA PRINCE which was very well liked by both passengers and crew, and although laid up, is still owned by Blount. The current fleet consists of the two sisterships GRANDE CARIBE and GRANDE MARINER constructed in 1997 and 1998 and refurbished in 2009 and 2010 respectively.
GRANDE CARIBE life ring on deck.
Although she is president now, Nancy Blount worked her way up through the company. She started in 1979 as a stewardess, then as a deck hand and assistant chef. When she tired of working on the boats she became a welder at the shipyard. I asked Nancy what sets Blount Small Ship Adventures apart from other companies. She summed it up nicely saying “The vessels themselves and what they can do. The physical ship is one thing. The other is the casual atmosphere on board. It’s like cruising with family and friends.” She added, “We’re not trying to be luxury. We have a following that loves to cruise the way we cruise. My father had a vision and was nearly laughed out of the travel industry. People in the 1960’s didn’t understand the concept of small ship cruises. Reality was, he was way ahead of his time. The ship is not the destination. The destination is the destination. At the conclusion of our conversation I wanted to know if there was anything else she wanted to add for our readers. After thinking a moment, she said, “The longer Dad is gone, the more I appreciate him and the smarter he gets.” Luther H. Blount remained involved with the companies he started until he passed away on September 24, 2006, just past his 90th birthday.
The retired NIAGRA PRINCE at it’s birthplace of Warren, Rhode Island.
Julie Blount added some interesting comments about her Dad and his shipbuilding legacy. In his early years he developed a new way to process clams and dispose of their shells. The unofficial Yard Number 1 of Blount Shipyard was an ungainly looking vessel called RHODOYSTER JR. He founded the shipbuilding side of the business in 1949. A contract with Campbell Soup Company helped contribute to his success and the company grew through the 1950’s. Julie remembers being aboard the family boats all of her life. “Dad used extra steel from other projects to build himself a new boat. Every four or five years we had a new family boat. The EXPLORER and EXPLORER II were really nice and carried around 12-passengers. They were our personal yachts and one even had a fireplace onboard.” She reiterated that cruising with family and friends is how the cruise line came to be, and that this is a policy and atmosphere that they foster to this day. There are two additional siblings in the family among the five children of Luther and Mary Ellen Blount. Bill is a commercial fisherman and Joanne is a school teacher. Blount Boats have built ships and boats of all varieties and recently launched Hull Number 338 the FIRE ISLANDER and they currently have 25 additional vessels on order.
Bow view of the GRAND CARIBE docked at Rockland, Maine on August 20, 2013.
The GRANDE CARIBE is about as small as a ship gets. Whether ship or boat, it is 184 feet in length, with a beam of 40 feet and a shallow draft of just 6.6 feet. The ship cruises at 10.8 knots driven by two caterpillar engines. Although I didn’t count laps, supposedly 15 times around the Sun (Main) Deck equals one mile. The maximum number of passengers had been 96 but that has now been reduced to 88 guests allowing room for more lecturers and additional crew. The normal crew complement is 20.
Salem, Massachusetts; Witch Museum.
The House Of The Seven Gables is another place for tourists to leave their money.
At the conclusion of this Northeastern cruise was a trio of historic ports in the state of Massachusetts. On the ninth day of the trip we arrived at Salem, which today lives largely on the ill-gotten fame of tragic events that took place over a seven month period in 1692; The Salem Witch Trials. In my years of world travels I have visited many tourist traps; oops I mean attractions, and Salem was definitely one of them. Practically every corner of the downtown area had something to do with witchcraft either historical or contemporary. Not surprisingly, Halloween is their busiest season. Another location of note is The House Of The Seven Gables made famous in the book by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Built in 1668, the structure has been altered to match descriptions in the book so while it lacks historical integrity it has a degree of literary significance.
One man’s junk is another man’s folk art. Angels on a grist mill stone in Mr. Mackey’s yard.
On the walk back to the ship near the entrance to the Salem Ferry dock, I came across a structure and yard filled with folk art made from found objects. Even more intriguing was the octogenarian gentleman who created this, Mr. Herb Mackey. A nicer man there has never been, he considers himself a junk collector and welcomes visitors to have a look around or even purchase objects that strike their fancy. With his faith in humanity, he trusts people to simply leave money in a slot. I had the pleasure of visiting with him while he showed me around his metallic sculptures including some very lovely angels he had made using railroad spikes and horseshoes, and later he had me sit for a picture in his beautifully restored 1931 Ford. Often, the best part of travel comes from unexpected encounters like this one.
Celebration Cake prepared by Sous Chef Meghan Brennan.
Back aboard the GRANDE CARIBE the dining room was decorated for tonight’s Celebration Dinner. A quaint tradition has taken root aboard the Blount boats, where passengers write down what they are celebrating, either in a universal or more esoteric sense. It is a bit like Thanksgiving Day but with filet of sole, instead of turkey. Chef Meghan created a special cake for the occasion, decorated with a ubiquitous lobster which has been so much a part of this cruise. It was a simple and sweet way of reminding each of us what we are thankful for.
The daily program of events is posted on the bulkhead outside the lounge each morning.
With the short distances to travel between ports, the GRANDE CARIBE remained at Salem overnight. The lines were cast off during breakfast as the ship set a course out across Massachusetts Bay. Off in the distance the skyline of Boston could be seen. It was another hot, sunny day, on a trip that has been enhanced by near perfect weather throughout. Traveling with the current, the vessel hit a speed of 11.6 knots, making our arrival in Plymouth, Massachusetts a little earlier than scheduled. We docked in a small boat harbor in the heart of town with the MAYFLOWER II off our starboard side and Plymouth Rock just beyond our bow. The city graciously provided a free shuttle that ran on a circuit and would also take passengers just about anywhere they wanted to go, along with a very nice gift bag. To get an overall feel for the place I rode the full loop before hopping off at Nelson Park for a quick, cold swim at the beach followed by a pleasant walk back. Along the way I spent a very worthwhile hour touring the MAYFLOWER II.
The MAYFLOWER II at Plymouth, Massachusetts.
This replica of the original ship was built in Brixham, Devon, England with construction lasting from 1955 until 1957 when the ship sailed across the Atlantic, recreating the Pilgrim’s voyage to Plymouth. Re-enactors representing crew and passengers, don period costumes and always remain in character while talking with visitors. The ship had just returned to Plymouth on August 7, 2013 from an extended nine months in dry dock to repair extensive damage that was found. Like all ship preservation projects this one needs money too. It is living history and perhaps the best introduction a visitor can have to what life was like in the Plymouth colony. Just steps away, one of the most revered sites in the United States, Plymouth Rock, sits in the sand, encaged in its own monument with the inscription 1620 facing upward toward throngs of modern day pilgrims. While the provenance of the rock itself may be questionable the spirit of patriotism it invokes at the original landing site of the pilgrims is unquestionable.
Monument to Plymouth Rock; Landing place of the Pilgrims in 1620.
My shadow stands on Plymouth Rock.
The true story of the first Thanksgiving and the interaction of the Indians and the recently arrived settlers is among the most fascinating in American history. Just up Coles Hill is the final resting place of many of the original pilgrims that perished that first year and further up Leyden Street (the second oldest in America) is the burying grounds with graves dating to the mid-1600‘s. Plymouth is a charming city and another example of a place the big ships can’t go that can only be visited by sea on a small ship cruise.
The m.v. GRANDE CARIBE at Plymouth, Massachusetts on August 23, 2013.
There was a fair amount of revelry among the boats in the harbor on a Friday night. Watched the excellent Ben Affleck movie “Argo” in the lounge before retiring to bed. For the first time in a week, I had to close the sliding window in the cabin to muffle the sounds from late night parties around the harbor. The ship remained overnight in Plymouth until 6:00am when it sailed past Plymouth Light just as the sun was rising. Once well out to sea, the GRAND CARIBE got into a cross-swell and began to roll violently. Most of the time, this is an excellent sea-boat but with the sea on the beam it became a rapid rocker. Lots of wind on the water as we crossed Cape Cod Bay and headed into the Cape Cod Canal, our shortcut across the Cape. The sea level canal was built in the 1920’s. After passing under several bridges we emerged at the far end with the Massachusetts Maritime Academy off the starboard side.
The Massachusetts Maritime Academy training ship, KENNEDY. The former cargo ship now carries 710 officers and cadets onboard.
Their training ships RANGER and KENNEDY (ex VELMA LYKES, CAPE BON, ENTERPRISE) were both docked at the facility. The latter is an especially impressive former Lykes Lines steamship built in 1967. A final stretch of open water took us across Buzzards Bay to the final destination of this cruise, the one-time whaling city of New Bedford.
A small section of the mass of fishing boats that call New Bedford home.
The Seaman’s Bethel, on the left, and the Mariner’s Home still evoke memories of New Bedford’s days as a whaling port.
New Bedford still claims to be among the largest fishing centers in the U.S. With the vast number of boats in the harbor it would be hard to dispute that. A guide from the National Park Service met our small group at the dock and conducted us on a walking tour of the old waterfront part of the city. Fortunately, most of the interesting sites are just across a busy highway from the current port. Whale oil made New Bedford wealthy and many of the old bank buildings that handled all that money can still be seen. The Whaling Museum presented all aspects of the whaling trade in a fascinating fashion, adroitly handling the delicate subject. There are still traces of what once took place here. The still active Mariner’s Home built in 1787 adjoins the Seaman’s Bethel church that Herman Melville referenced in his epic novel Moby Dick. A final walk around the old town found nearly every business closed, late on a Saturday afternoon.
Nearly All-Aboard. Tags indicate whether passengers are on board or ashore.
It was time to be back on the ship anyway. The end of any cruise is bittersweet to begin with but especially so on a small ship where you have gotten to know virtually all of the faces among the 60 passengers and 19 crew members. A final cocktail party was again hosted by the ship, with more wonderful hors d’oeuvres including tasty bacon-wrapped scallops and more fresh salmon. A group of passengers including Blount family and friends, sang a couple of old time songs in the lounge, and Carol Palmer showed a presentation of the excellent photographs she had been shooting throughout the voyage, which could be purchased as a memory of the cruise. Soon the dinner bell was ringing and it was time for that final trip down the staircase to the dining room. The last night dinner did not disappoint with wonderful servings of salad, prime rib and lobster Fra Diablo, topped off by an amazing crème brulee for dessert. After dinner there was one more talk about the fishing industry but it was rather anti-climactic. More important was saying goodbyes to new found friends before hurrying back to the cabin to try to pack. With this few passengers onboard it was not necessary to set luggage outside the room before retiring. Crew members would pick it up in the morning and take it ashore.
Back to Warren, Rhode Island after 11 amazing days of cruising.
The GRANDE CARIBE departed New Bedford at midnight for the short cruise back to Warren, Rhode Island. Waking up at 7:00am we were already tied securely to the dock. It would be three days before the next cruise departure and the crew was looking forward to a little time at home. In many ways, I hated to see this unique voyage come to an end but it was time for me to go home too. Breakfast was served and all passengers were disembarked by 9:00am. Those from the Northeast picked up their cars and drove home while others traveled to the train station or airport for the last leg of their journeys. Our hosts had been most gracious.
Cruise Director Jenn McDaniel and Photographer Carol Palmer.
Specific mention must be made of the two Jenn’s, Cruise Director extraordinaire Jenn McDaniel, and Hotel Manager/Jack Of All Trades, Jennifer Jesus who kept everything running in an orderly fashion and contributed greatly to the happy, casual atmosphere in which we had been living for the duration of the voyage. Nancy Blount and Julie Blount sailed with us on this trip and brought with them great family memories of times both past and present on the various vessels