My clearest memories of sailing are of being out in serious breeze, and the memories aren't necessarily good. Sure, there's the thrill of fighting such a force, but there are also battles with mainsheets that end in blistered, bloodied hands. There are long beats upwind with relentless howling that scars the eardrum. There is near paralysis when the frigid water of a rogue wave sneaks into a tiny dry-suit gap.
I have only one exception in my heavy-air sailing memories: the 96-foot Jongert Azzura.
A 36-knot northeasterly blew steady one afternoon during our weeklong charter off the coast of Maine. We soared on a broad reach, but all that was required of me was to keep Azzura's helm pointed. The crew trimmed while I steered, taking in a sunny New England setting as stoic as it was gentle. Azzura cut through water so cold and deep that it looked black and thick against a backdrop of quiet pines. The steady whoosh beneath the hull was comforting, and a cool breeze crept through my fleece to remind me gently that I was venturing farther north than I had ever traveled.
For three hours at Azzura's helm, I accepted all that this corner of the Atlantic offered. It was an experience unlike any previous 30-knot-plus sailing adventure. It was pure and simple.
That's a good way to describe charter aboard this sailing yacht. Azzura was designed to be usable for crew members and, in turn, comfortable for guests. The result is a charter experience that is minimalist, but not bare bones; comfortable, but not frilly. Azzura complements her setting, but she doesn't overpower it.
Capt. Jeff Alexander is largely responsible, both for the boat's charter-friendly characteristics and for making the experience work. The 44-year-old Florida native, who pursued commercial fishing until getting his captain's license at 23, went to work for Azzura's owner eight years ago. Alexander spent four years running charters aboard the owner's previous boat, the Little Harbor 75 Phoenix. When the owner decided to build Azzura, Alexander spent a season overseeing her design. He also offered input on the layout while she was under construction at the Jongert yard in Holland.
"I wanted to make a boat for everybody, Alexander said.
As it turns out, he did. Azzura is charming, with an interior he describes as "stark, but elegant and simple. There is no ornate woodwork, no cluttered spaces. The interior's lines are clean, just like those on her exterior, and she has plenty of functional elements. There doesn't seem to be a table without a cup holder, and there are enough handholds to prevent grasping at walls or furniture to keep balance.
Alexander's familiarity with boats does not upstage his familiarity with the destinations he cruises. Although he has spent the majority of his time on charter in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, our Down East charter proved he knew where to take guests looking for a unique experience. In this land-where the locals look like they stepped from the pages of Town & Country and there's a Hinckley in every harbor-visitors come to expect a refined air of sophistication at every stop. Alexander offered us such scenery, but he also led us to someplace different: Long Island, Maine.
A 70-year-old man greeted us as we stepped off Azzura's tender. His hat read: "Don't ask me. I've been everywhere, seen everything, done everything. I just don't remember anything.
If this had been Long Island, New York, I would have heeded such a warning. But this was Maine. My cynical side doubted he had actually been everywhere, and I figured he wouldn't really mind if I ignored the "don't ask me caveat.
I asked what people did in their spare time on the island.
"Fish, he replied. "Lobster.
His brevity was not a function of his social calendar, as he didn't appear to be in much of a hurry. The attitude is most likely the result of being one of only 54 year-round Long Island residents who have answered the question enough times to get right to the point.
While visitors might be interested in fish and lobster, I would add exploring to the list of leisure activities. The Rockefeller family owns a significant portion of Long Island and is largely responsible for its preservation, which speaks to the fact that there are only a few dozen year-round residents. Some summer residents enjoy this enclave, but generally few tourists find their way here.
Those who do can take a mooring at the island's only harbor, Lunt Harbor, which sits at the foot of Frenchboro and is named after one of the area's most historic families. Fueling requires a visit to Lunt's Dock. Lunt's Dockside Deli offers lobster rolls and homemade ice cream. Like just about everything in Maine, the deli has a bit of history to it: The Frenchboro Island Seafood Company used it for packing lobster delicacies for Bloomingdale's gourmet market in New York City.
Life on Long Island is uncomplicated, as evidenced by the structure that sits where many of the island's trails meet. The building serves as the Frenchboro museum/community gift shop/library. Local crafts are on display alongside prehistoric whalebones.
Since the majority of your time won't be consumed by shopping or long waits at restaurants, you can explore the trails that cover the island's 2,500 or so acres. That is, unless, unless you visit during Frenchboro's only real tourist day of the year-the second Saturday in August, when the annual lobster festival takes place.
We wandered the island's trails for a little longer than we expected (like everything on Long Island, the trail map was simple, and thus not exactly to scale), taking in scenery that might have been intimidating if it weren't so accessible. We panted up paths that forged to the edge of cliffs shaped by waves beating into their sides for thousands of years. We must have been surrounded by animals in the forests, but either the sounds of the Atlantic drowned out their noises or the lush ground cover and sandy paths camouflaged them exactly as nature intended.
Our late-afternoon retreat to Azzura's afterdeck was a seamless transition for us, and for the locals we invited back for a cocktail. Alexander and his crew welcomed our guests and made everyone feel comfortable, even though the six of us on charter got a bit cozy having to share the space with a few more people.
Everywhere on Azzura, spaces are perfectly built for the six guests she accommodates-a nice number for a family with a nanny or for a group of friends. The stateroom layout, a master and two twins, gives everyone privacy in the comfort of Azzura's understated elegance. The dining area has two C-shape settees opposite each other, providing plenty of elbowroom and keeping conversation easy.
Alexander sums up what charter guests can expect by asking: "When you're out in open water, would you rather a captain that was a B&B guy, or a yacht guy?
After a week in the most classic of settings, on board an equally classic yacht built for real sailing, I know the answer: the yacht guy, aboard Azzura.