During the transition from sail to steam, captains of fancy new steamships belittled old-fashioned sailing ships as “windjammers.” The term stuck; through a curious metamorphosis, the name evolved into one of adventure and romance.

Maine is the windjammer cruising capital of the U.S., and the two most active Maine harbors are Rockland and Camden on Penobscot Bay. Cruises last from 3 days to a week, during which these handsome, creaky vessels poke around tidal inlets and small coves that ring the beautiful bay. It’s a superb way to explore the coast the way it’s historically always been explored—from out on the water, looking in. Rates run between about $200 and $300 per day per person; the best rates are offered early and late in the season. Of course, some schooners, like the Schooner Surprise in Camden (tel. 207/236-487) offer day sails and sunset cruises of two or three hours for $50–$75 per passenger. If you have a group and would rather not sail with strangers, vessels like Rockland’s Bufflehead (tel. 207/691-5407])  can be chartered for just a few hours at a time for a few hundred dollars.

Maine boasts a sizable fleet of sailing ships both vintage and modern that offer private cabins, meals, entertainment, and adventure. The ships range in size from 50 to 130 feet, and accommodations range from cramped and rustic to reasonably spacious and well appointed. Most are berthed in the region between Boothbay Harbor and Belfast—they cruise the Penobscot Bay region during summer, and some migrate south to the Caribbean for the winter.

Cruise schedules and amenities vary widely from ship to ship, even from week to week, depending on the inclinations of captains and the vagaries of Maine weather. You choose your adventure: An array of excursions is available, from simple overnights to weeklong expeditions gunkholing among Maine’s thousands of scenic islands and coves. A “standard” cruise often features a stop at one or more of the myriad spruce-studded Maine islands (perhaps with a lobster bake on shore). Breakfasts are served at tables below decks (or perched cross-legged on the deck), and you absorb a palpable sense of maritime history as the ships scud through frothy waters.

Ideally, you’ll have a chance to look at a couple of ships to find one that suits you before signing up. Several windjammer festivals and races are held along the Maine coast throughout the summer; these are perfect events to shop for a ship on which to spend a few days. Among the more notable events are Windjammer Days in Boothbay Harbor (late June) and the Camden Windjammer Weekend in early September. If you can’t do that, contact the Maine Windjammer Association (tel. 800/807-9463;), in Rockland, or Maine Windjammer Cruises (tel. 207/236-2938), in Camden., for brochures, or sSimply check their websites for info on member ships and to comparison-shop. If you’re trying to book a last-minute windjammer cruise on a whim, stop by the chamber of commerce office on the Rockland waterfront and inquire about open berths.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.