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Melissa’s Maine Travel Journal: Facing Fear & Looking for Whales

Cap'n Fish's Whale Watching Melissa Looking Scared, Chris in Background

While living in Maine for the month of May, I’ve been building my being-in-the-ocean comfort-level. First, we went on a lobstering excursion in Portland’s Casco Bay with Lucky Catch Cruises. The sun shone, the water was calm, and land remained within sight. Then, we sailed around Penobscot Bay on Schooner Olad helmed by Captain Aaron Lincoln. The sun shone, the water was calm, and land remained within sight. Sailboats are tippier and the experience felt more daring to me. My husband, Chris, and I like to take on experiences in threes, so we decided to take on one more boating-related adventure during our stay in Maine.

For Our 3rd Mid-Coast Maine Boating Adventure...

I researched boating options in the area and compiled a list of  my 10 favorite possibilities. It included kayaking, romantic cruises, happy hour cruises, sunset cruises, overnight schooner trips, and whale watching. Beneath each, I listed what I felt were the potential positives and negatives of each trip. Then, I shared it with Chris and let him know I would be happy with any item on the list that he picked. He chose the Whale Watch and Puffin Combo Cruise put on by Cap’n Fish’s Cruises. Puffins are adorable. I’ve been obsessed with them since I learned about their existence a few weeks ago. Thanks to the Puffin Project a number of puffins migrate to the Eastern Egg Rock island each year.  

In my puffin excitement, I overlooked a rather important detail when I booked our tickets on May 15th. About 10-minutes after I completed the transaction, Chris mentioned that we would probably be far enough out into the ocean to not see land during the whale watching part of our excursion. I’m sorry. What? How had I not noticed this? I went to the FAQs of Cap’n Fish’s site to see if he might be mistaken. He’s seldom wrong, but I’m often right.

“Given clear conditions, all our sightseeing and puffin trips will be able to see shore throughout the trip. Whale watch routes vary depending on where the whales happen to be. Many trips may travel up to 20 miles and will lose sight of shore.”

Will lose sight of shore.

There has only been one time that I’ve lost sight of shore while out on a boat. It involved being in a Lund boat, on a good-sized lake in Wisconsin, and a tornado-spawning storm. 

In the past, I’ve been happy to surf, near shore, able to walk away if the waves, or weather were not to my liking. Sure, there were sharks nearby at times, but my fear of them is not as strong as my fear of being out so far in the ocean, or my fear of being stranded out in the middle of nowhere during a storm.

Cap'n Fish's Whale Watch in Boothbay Harbor

On Cap’n Fish’s site, I noticed that the company is family owned and that they began “boating operations out of the Boothbay Region in the 1930s.” Their amount of experience gave me comfort. I checked their reviews. They had more than 2,000 reviews and a 5-star rating on TripAdvisor and 4.5-stars on Google. To be operating for as long as they have with the great ratings they have, Cap’n Fish’s must be doing something right, right? Dead people lost at sea don’t rate things though, do they?

Our trip out to sea was 13 days away. Most of the time, I looked forward to it. Sometimes, out of fear, I dreaded it. I reminded myself of how far I’ve come in the past 12 months. Despite my fears, in the past year I’ve bobsledded the world’s fastest track, rode the world’s largest rotating aerial tram 6,000 feet up a mountainside, and ziplined through, skied down, and snowmobiled around the mountains of Whistler.

Each adventure involved hesitation and the temptation to skip out. Words of wisdom, breathing techniques, and meditation helped me overcome my fears in the past. I turned to them as I prepared to face off with fear again. 

Calming-To-Me Words of Wisdom like:

“Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I’d like to see you in better living conditions.” – Hafez of Persia

“Remember this: a self is not a thing, but a becoming – on and on until we die.” – Annabel Abbs

“In the eye of the storm, can you be the calm in the storm?” –  paraphrasing Travis Eliot’s words from one of my favorite yoga practices.

A Word On Maine's Weather

Six days before our big excursion, scheduled for Saturday, May 28th, I noticed storms in the forecast. 

“Should I call and see about rescheduling?” I asked Chris. 

“It’s early. Things might change before then,” he said. 

Each day I checked my weather app. Subtle changes happened on many days, yet Saturday’s forecast remained the same. One more fear layered on top of the other.  

Before we left the house, I rubbed my pulse points with oil from Ste. Anne de Beaupré. Among other things, Sainte Anne is the patron saint of sailors. Grateful sailors built a shrine to her in Beaupré back in the 1600s. They felt she had saved them from certain death. I’d purchased the oil when we visited her shrine last month. I figured putting a bit on could only help. 

Storms were still in the forecast as we drove out to Cap’n Fish’s in Boothbay Harbor. Per their instructions we arrived in town an hour early. Thanks to it being the beginning of the season and the weather being less than ideal, we didn’t run into any of the traffic they cautioned guests about during registration. We parked with ease and took some time to explore nearby shops. 

Fifteen minutes before boarding time, a considerable line had formed. We joined the line of couples with young children, retirement-aged couples, and every sort of person in between. After boarding, we stationed ourselves on a bench of the Harbor Princess’s upper deck. As we waited for the boat to depart, we watched the fog, dismayed by its presence.

Captain Nick backed us out into the bay. He and the Naturalist on board with the microphone (I wish I could remember her name. She did a wonderful job.) went over safety tips. They warned that on a day like today we’d need to make sure we were holding onto something when standing. “It’s going to be rolly out there.” They didn’t need to tell me twice. After the first set of big waves, I gripped the top of the bench in front of me while seated, smiling and shaking. Chris stood at a railing nearby, holding on with one hand, filming with the other, doing his job as a video creator. 

Maine Cap'n Fish's Whale Watching Chris Standing at the Railing

A Roll-y Ride On the Ocean

Between rolling waves, I took pictures and video while sitting down. Then, I sent them to a few friends. Partly to connect. Partly to know that if any of them heard about a Maine whale watching excursion becoming lost at sea on Saturday, May 28th, 2022, that they’d think of me and help identify me among the missing. I didn’t tell them that. 

I asked Chris to sit next to me. He did. He asked if I was cold. “No. I’m fine.” I wore a winter coat and hat and felt fine on that front. Fear shook my body. The brisk wind did not. I did my best to wear a brave face, because young children sat in front of and behind me. One kept asking his parents if they thought we’d see sharks. I didn’t know if fear, or fascination prompted his questions. I did not want my fears to add to his, or any other child’s around me, so I kept smiling and shaking. After a few minutes, Chris stood back up and returned to his spot on the railing. Sitting made him feel seasick. 

A man behind me answered his young son’s questions about how boats work. After a time, my anxiety swelling, I turned to him, hoping for reassurance and said, “You seem like you’ve spent a lot of time on boats.”

“Not really.” He offered a kind and apologetic smile. 

“It’s my first time on a boat out in the ocean,” I shared. “Beyond the bay.”

“Oh this is a bad day.” He said. “I’ve been out a few times before, in Florida. It’s a good thing this is a big boat. I was out on a day like this, maybe rougher, in a small boat and everyone aboard got seasick.” I took mental note of the fact that he’d lived to tell the tale and didn’t mention anyone perishing in it. They’d gotten seasick. That’s all. He didn’t seem fearful of the current state of our boat. Good news to me. 

My desire to stand next to my husband felt stronger than my desire to remain firmly planted, so I joined him where he stood at the railing. For a moment. A brief moment. It felt too tippy and too windy. I spied space at a sturdy railing right behind the cockpit, away from the sides of the ships and the spray of the water. Another man and his son stood near the open spot. Next to them, a few cheerful folks rearranged themselves from time to time. 

“Mind if I join?” I asked as I cautiously released my grip of the side railing and made my way over to cling to the railing behind the cockpit that looked like safety. 

“Not at all.” 

“Have you been out in the ocean like this before?” I asked, wanting his answer to be yes, many times. This is nothing. 

“Nope. First time.”

“Me too.”

I think we exchanged apprehensive glances, but when my emotions run high, I often misread things. I missed land and we were only an hour into our 4-hour journey.


About ten minutes and many big waves later, I tapped on the  back cockpit window to get the attention of the Naturalist. Earlier in our trip, she said we could ask her anything at anytime. “When do you worry?” I mouthed through the glass. She signaled that she’d come out to talk with me. 

“Sorry, I don’t read lips well,” she said. “What’s your question?”

“When do you worry?” I asked. 

She didn’t say anything for a moment. Her expression seemed to say worry in reference to what? Not seeing any whales? What to make for dinner? 

“I’ve never been this far out in the ocean before,” I explained. 

“Oh. This is a pretty calm day. Thursday was worse.” she said. “Nick has everything under control. You’re completely safe.”

“Oh! Thank you!” My Darth Vader grip on the bar in front of me eased. I did not let go. The man and son that I’d first stood next to began to roam. Perhaps, they needed to overhear the answer to the question I asked to feel at ease exploring.  

I stayed put. Now and again I’d feel a slight inner wave of nausea. Thank goodness I’d made us a mellow lunch of turkey sandwiches and Hippeas Organic Chickpea Puffs. Food and drink was available for purchase in the galley below us. I saw others eating and drinking, but couldn’t imagine doing the same. Instead, I did my best to enjoy the thrill of the waves and to think of being in a barre class. “Come on ladies. Squeeze those butt cheeks now, so someone else will want to squeeze them later. Tighten that core. Navel to spine. And on, and on…”

Chris made his way up to me as soon as the space opened up.  The fog lifted. We watched for whales together and found none, but we saw some birds do some pretty cool things. Time sped up. The waves hadn’t changed much, yet my mind had calmed considerably. Captain Nick announced that we’d be heading toward Eastern Egg Rock to see the puffins.

Eastern Egg Rock.

A woman a few people down from me on the rail made the awful sound of a person throwing up. I couldn’t help but look over. She looked up at me and we shared an awkward laugh. She and the two men she was with were discussing the situation below deck.  

“It’s a bloodbath down there,” one of them said. 

“Oh no,” I said. 

“Yeah. I think they’ll be regretting what they spent on this,” said the other. 

Uff. I bet. In fairness, it was stated in the FAQs that if you thought you might get motion sickness, or if you didn’t know whether or not you’d get motion sickness, to bring medicine. I’d considered it, but I knew my problem would be panic not puking. My stomach knotted itself up at times like these. 

We made it to Eastern Egg Rock and Eastern Egg Rock is land! Being near it reassured me. We saw puffins! I thought they’d be bigger, or we’d be closer. It was magical nonetheless. The water around Eastern Egg Rock was pretty calm. A nice reprieve. When we left the rock to head back to shore, the waves became rolly once again. To me, it became a fun ride. As we entered the bay, gentle rain from the approaching storm began to fall. 

We didn’t get to see any whales and that’s okay. For me, something more momentous occurred. A seismic shift within myself. I let go and gave my full trust to the knowledge and skill of others. I learned that when facing big fears, connecting with others makes me feel better. I don’t know how I’ve lived this long without knowing that, but now I know. In the past year, I’ve faced plenty of fears. None as big as this one. Go out in a boat, in the ocean, out of sight of land, when a storm is forecast? I felt fear over and again while out on the water that day. I didn’t run from it, or inconvenience others with it, I acknowledged its presence, but didn’t let it take over. At the end of the ride, I was positively glowing with confidence. Just ask Chris. He’ll tell you. Or, see for yourself how our Maine boating adventures went by watching our 3 Boating Adventures in Midcoast Maine video. 


Note: Since we didn’t see any whales on our excursion, we’ve been given standby tickets to give it another go that we can use anytime through the summer of 2023. 

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