By Theresa St. John
Maine. It’s my go-to place.
Under stress? I leave for Maine. Need to take a long swim, see a sunrise, visit a lighthouse, walk along the sandy coast? I pack a quick bag and my camera equipment, jump in the car, and drive to Maine.
The Piscataqua River Bridge connects Portsmouth, New Hampshire with Kittery. Its high arch design eliminates the need for it to be raised and lowered for ship traffic along the river, unlike the nearby lift bridges of Memorial and Sarah Mildred Long.
For me, driving over the Piscataqua is freedom. When I get to the steel bridge’s center and catch sight of the big sign welcoming me to the state whose motto is “The way life should be,” my windows roll down, I breathe in the salty spray, and leave any little thing that might be bothering me behind.
And when I choose a place to stay, whether it’s a hotel, motel, or charming Bed & Breakfast, I want an unobstructed view of the ocean. Please don’t suggest a place a mile away, even a street or two over from Maine’s sandy beaches. I need to wake up to a stunning sunrise, fall asleep to the sound of waves pounding the shore right outside my window.
Cutty Sark Motel fits the bill, in spades.
When Edward Hughes first bought the elegant beach home, situated along the shores of York Beach, Maine, it was with his young family in mind. I suspect he had no inkling the property would become what it is today-a strong, inviting draw for vacationers all over the world.
He eventually enlarged the home to welcome the coastal community, which was growing by leaps and bounds, much faster than anyone thought possible. Due to its prime oceanfront location, a third floor was added to accommodate the crowds hoping to stay there, no matter what the season.
Before long the family settled into another home nearby, which allowed for even more upgrades to the motel. Overnight guests became regulars-much more like friends and extended family than business transactions checking in at the front office.
Second generation owners and current operators, Peter and Patrick Hughes, have since added a second three-story building and today the entire Cutty Sark staff works tirelessly to ensure each person’s experience is a great one.
We’re staying here for the weekend. Our spacious corner room is on the third floor and overlooks a well-manicured lawn. A row of comfortable-looking lounge chairs has our name written on them, figuratively speaking of course. After dinner, we’ll wrap ourselves in blankets and curl up under the stars there. We’ll drink wine while listening to waves rolling over one another as they make their way to the sandy beach before us.
For now, we set our bags down just inside the doorway, listening for the familiar sound of seagulls cawing overhead, children calling to each other as they play in the surf and the laughter of adults relaxing for a few days at their seashore escape. We gaze out our picture window for several minutes, decompressing as we watch a parade of colorful boats making a lazy zig-zag pattern across the horizon.
And can we talk about the motel’s namesake for a minute? Cutty Sark was the last of the extreme clipper ships built for the 19th century China/England tea trade. She made eight successful trips to China carrying cargos of wine, spirit, and beer between 1870-1878, returning to England each time with flavorful, exotic teas.
Eventually, she was sold and renamed Ferreira, after her new owners. Traveling extensively, the Ferreira transported a select number of cargos between Portugal and her home port. In 1917 she was dismantled and re-rigged as a barquentine-a sailing vessel with three or more masts. Purchased by Captain and Mrs. Dowman in 1922, her name was promptly changed, once again, to Cutty Sark.
In 1953, the Cutty Sark Society took possession of the ship, moving her to a dry-dock in Greenwich, England, designed specifically for her. Painstakingly restored, and much to the public’s delight, she then began her new life as a museum in 1957.
Cutty Sark Scotch, on the other hand, is a blend of Scotch Whiskey produced by Edrington plc of Glasgow. My dad enjoyed this drink many a night sitting on the front porch with my great-grandfather, Pop Stevens, a well-known Rum Runner from Nova Scotia during the height of Prohibition.
Some people I spoke with said Edward Hughes enjoyed the spirit as well, that this is how the Cutty Sark Motel earned its name. Others told me he loved the shipping world and that the majestic clipper ships were his favorite. No one seemed to have a definitive answer when I asked. And I asked a lot. But over the years the name’s never been changed, that says something.
Maybe the name was inspired by the Atlantic Ocean itself. On the shores of Long Beach, the ebb and tide are constant. Nubble Lighthouse lies about one mile away, a perpetual beacon of light for ships in the water. Seafood restaurants, homes, and other businesses line the main drag, welcoming visitors passing through, sharing the beauty of the beach with strangers who sometimes become friends.
This weekend, it feels like the Cutty Sark Motel has been an enduring presence on the beach for eons, remaining unwavering in its belief that everyone deserves the stunning views and restful overnight stay afforded beneath its roof.
We’re going to sleep like babies.
All photos by Theresa St. John