Want a cruise whose only relation to Carnival, Princess, NCL, and Royal Caribbean is that it takes place on water? Want a cruise where the most advanced technological wizardry aboard is an electric light? Then head to Maine and the antique schooners of the Maine Windjammer Association (tel. 800/807-WIND; www.sailmainecoast.com), an association of fourteen privately owned classic schooners offering sail-powered summer trips along the gorgeous mid-Maine coast. It's the most natural cruise you'll ever take.
It all began in the 1930s, decades after steamships had supplanted the sail craft that had been the mainstay of world commerce and transportation for centuries. In Maine, formerly one of the country's top boatbuilding regions, the boats that had escaped the scrapyard were in danger of simply rotting away from despair and disuse. In 1936, though, Maine artist Frank Swift began offering pleasure cruises on one of the old vessels, confident that people would be glad to escape the bustle of modern life for a few days of relaxation and simple pleasures. As Swift later recalled of his first trip, "We had only three lady passengers from Boston. The next time, I believe, we took off without any passengers." But Swift didn't give up, and soon his trips were in such demand that over the next three decades he not only grew his fleet but also lured other captains into the business. By 1977, there were so many schooners operating in coastal Maine that it only made for them to pool their advertising and marketing dollars, and thus the Maine Windjammer Association was born.
Cruises are mostly 3- to 6-nighters in and around Penobscot Bay, priced from $395 to $875 per person. With no engines on most of the vessels, plus little electricity and only the most basic accommodations, these ships offer their passengers a reminder that their lives don't have to be rushed and multitasked. Here, days are filled with sailing and walks around quaint Maine towns, and evenings are pure serenity.
The schooners attract passengers of all ages, though few young children (few even accept children under 12 or 14). Many are returning passengers who sail a particular schooner every year, often coordinating with other passengers they've met on previous trips. Many others are sailors themselves who enjoy helping out or taking a turn at the wheel. And most understand that they won't be getting luxury cabins or doting service: On these boats, cabins are almost universally tiny, most with only rudimentary furniture and lighting, and toilet and shower facilities shared with the other 20 or so people aboard. As for the crew, they really are crew -- the folks who haul the sails and swab the decks. In their spare time they do the dishes, clean the shared restrooms, and mend what needs mending. The first mate might also be the cook (and, often enough, the spouse of the captain). For the most part, you're on your own, and that applies to activities too: Other than helping with the sailing or traveling ashore for a walk, there are few organized entertainments on these vessels. Instead, passengers spend their time talking, taking a turn at the wheel, reading, or staring out over the water, looking for wildlife (seals, porpoises, puffins, and every once in a while a minke whale) and other schooners.
Meals are prepared on wood stoves in rustic galleys and served out on deck, picnic style. Expect traditional New England staples such as fresh seafood, chowder, roasts, Irish soda bread, and homemade ice cream. The cooks can accommodate vegetarian and some other special diets, but be sure to mention your needs when you book. At night, after dropping anchor, dinner is served by lantern light. Chances are, other schooners will be anchored not far away. You'll hear them off across the water, singing folk songs or saluting you with blasts from their tiny brass signal cannons. A few passengers or crew may even brave the frigid Maine water and swim over for a visit.
All the ships are BYOB, with coolers and ice provided if you've got beer to keep chilled. During the day, snacks are usually available in the galley. Once per cruise, most of the ships debark passengers onto a quiet, rocky beach for a traditional lobster bake-sometimes with champagne.
You can request information for all ships from the association (and find basic information and links to all the ships through www.sailmainecoast.com), but bookings must be made directly with the captain of each schooner. Full contact information for each is listed below.
Launched in 1930, American Eagle was a fishing schooner for 53 years before being refurbished for passenger sailing. She was named a National Historic Landmark in 1991, and has won the Esperanto Cup Race in Gloucester 5 times since 1987. Ambience: Quiet. There's often a cribbage game in the galley, and in the evening Capt. John Foss hold storytime, with pieces appropriate to the day's sights. Guests spend an hour a day on shore, minimum. Cabins: Cabins are fitted with hot and cold running water, reading lights, natural lighting, and some heat in the spring and fall. Bathrooms/Showers: Two shared heads below deck, each with a wash sink. One shower in the midships compartment. Size: 92 ft. Passengers: 26. Minimum Age: 12. Homeport: Rockland. Contact: Captain John Foss, P.O. Box 482, Rockland, ME 04841; tel. 207/594-8007; www.schooneramericaneagle.com.
Launched in 1980 for passenger sailing, she's the only non-schooner in the fleet, rigged instead as a gaff topsail ketch with distinctive dark-red sails. Ambience: Quiet, with no organized activities. There's music if someone brings aboard an instrument and isn't shy. (There's also a piano in the deckhouse salon.) Guests can go ashore both morning and evening if time allows. Cabins: Cabins have upper and lower bunks or double beds. All have running water and reading lights. Bathrooms/Showers: Three shared heads below deck, and three showers. Size: 95 ft. Passengers: 29. Minimum Age: 12. Homeport: Camden. Contact: Yankee Packet Company, P.O. Box 736, Camden, ME 04843; tel. 800/282-9989; www.sailangelique.com. Book before April 1, 2005, for a 5% discount.
Launched in 1882 as a cargo ship, sailing the U.S. east coast as well as to the West Indies. Brought to Maine for cargo work in 1910. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990. A fast ship, she's won and placed multiple times in the Windjammer Association's annual Great Schooner Race. Ambience: Quiet, with no predetermined activities. There's music if any musicians are aboard (there's a piano in the after-cabin lounge). When possible, guests can go ashore in the mornings, with hiking time available during the lobster bake (on longer sailings). Cabins: Rustic and small. Bathrooms/Showers: Three shared heads below deck. One hot/cold freshwater shower. Size: 80 ft. Passengers: 29. Minimum Age: 16, but younger teens can be accommodated with supervision. Homeport: Camden. Contact: Maine Windjammer Cruises, P.O. Box 617, Camden, ME 04843; tel. 800/736-7981; www.mainewindjammercruises.com. Reserve by Jan 15 and mention their website e-special for a 10% discount. Double discounts apply to pre-season (May 20-June 15) and fall foliage (Sept 18-Oct 7) cruises.
Built by her captains on a 19th century model, and launched in 1983 for the Windjammer trade. Ambience: Flexible to whatever the group on board is interested in: singing, storytelling, games, piracy, and/or quiet. Guests are able to go ashore several times a week, as time permits. Cabins: Cabins have hot and cold running water and 12-volt cell phone charging outlets. Two cabins have private heads -- talk about luxury! Bathrooms/Showers: Three shared heads. One hot/cold freshwater shower. Size: 95 ft. Passengers: 30. Minimum Age: 12, but past guests may bring younger children. Any age OK for full charters. Homeport: Rockland. Contact: Schooner Heritage, P.O. Box 482, Rockland, ME 04841; tel. 800/648-4544; www.schoonerheritage.com.
Isaac H. Evans
Launched in 1886, after which she spent 85 years working Delaware Bay as an oyster schooner before switching to passenger sailing in Maine. Named to the National Register, she's currently the only Maine schooner exclusively owned and operated by a woman. Ambience: Sailings vary by how much guidance and entertainment passengers want, with games, music, and activities programmed for more fidgety groups. Guests are able to go ashore at least once per day, sometimes twice. Some sailings are themed: on photography, hiking, knitting, etc. Cabins: Cabins have hot and cold running water, electric reading lights, windows for light and ventilation, and more than the average number of extras (soap, lotion, shampoo, etc.). Six cabins have double beds, the rest have upper and lower berths. Bathrooms/Showers: Two shared heads. One enclosed shower whose water is heated by the galley's wood stove. Size: 65 ft. Passengers: 22. Minimum Age: 6, though younger children are considered on a case-by-case basis. Homeport: Rockland. Contact: Capt. Brenda Walker, P.O. Box 791, Rockland, ME 04841; tel. 877/238-1325; www.midcoast.com/~evans.
J and E Riggin
Launched in 1927, Riggin worked as an oyster dredger before being rebuilt for passenger sailing in 1977. Known for her speed, she won the first and only oyster schooner race ever held on Delaware Bay, and has won the Great Schooner Race several times. She was named a National Historic Landmark in 1991. Ambience: Days are quiet, with guests getting into the rhythm of the sailing routine. Nights usually see music, games, and storytelling. Guests can usually go ashore in the mornings for an hour or two. Co-captain Anne Mahle is known for her cooking, and has published a cookbook of the dishes served on board. Cabins: All cabins have quilts, reading lights, a porthole, and a sink with cold running water and handmade soap. Bathrooms/Showers: Two shared heads and one hot/cold shower, all on deck. Size: 89 ft. Passengers: 24. Minimum Age: 12, but four family sailings during the summer take kids as young as 6. Homeport: Rockland. Contact: Capt. Jon Finger and Anne Mahle, 136 Holmes St., Rockland ME 04841; tel. 800/869-0604; www.riggin.com. Book before Feb. 1 for a 5% discount.
Lewis R. French
Built in Maine in 1871, the French is the oldest schooner in the fleet (along with Stephen Taber) and the only Maine-built 19th-century schooner still in existence. She operated as a cargo schooner until 1971, after which she was converted for passengers and named to the National Register. Ambience: There are no planned events, leaving guests to make their own atmosphere. Guests can go ashore almost every day for 1 or 2 hours. Smoking is not allowed on board. Nor are cell phones, TVs, or loud radios. Cabins: Cabins have cold running water and a window for ventilation. Bathrooms/Showers: Two shared heads and one hot/cold freshwater shower, all on deck. Size: 64 ft. Passengers: 22. Minimum Age: 16. Homeport: Camden. Contact: Capt. Garth Wells, P.O. Box 992, Camden, ME 04843; tel. 800/469-4635; www.schoonerfrench.com. Book before April 1 for a 10% discount.
Launched in 1962, Mary Day was the first schooner built specifically as a windjammer and the first coastal schooner built in Maine since 1930. Ambience: Games and music are encouraged aboard Mary Day. Captain Barry King plays guitar, the cook plays the accordion, and the captain's wife, Jen, instigates games in the evenings. Guests are able to go ashore every day for an hour or more, and the weekly lobster bake allows for 3 hours ashore on a remote beach. Cabins: Cabins have cold running water, reading lights, skylights and windows, and unusually high headroom (9 feet in most). Bathrooms/Showers: Two heads and two hot/cold showers, all on deck. Size: 90 ft. Passengers: 30. Minimum Age: 15. Homeport: Camden. Contact: Schooner Mary Day, P.O. Box 798, Camden, ME 04843; tel. 800/992-2218; www.schoonermaryday.com.
She was built on the beach near Little Deer Isle, Maine, and launched in 1916, Mercantile is the last of the famous Deer Isle Down Easters. She hauled cargo before Windjammer founder Frank Swift converted her for passengers in 1942. She was named a National Historic Landmark in 1990. Ambience: Onboard experience is tailored to the passengers aboard, with music and games offered if anyone's interested. When possible, guests can go ashore in the mornings, with hiking time available during the lobster bake (on longer sailings). Cabins: Rustic and small. Bathrooms/Showers: Two heads below deck and a third in the galley/dining area. One hot/cold freshwater shower. Size: 78 ft. Passengers: 29. Minimum Age: 16, but younger teens can be accommodated with supervision. Homeport: Camden. Contact: Maine Windjammer Cruises, P.O. Box 617, Camden, ME 04843; tel. 800/736-7981; www.mainewindjammercruises.com. Reserve by Jan 15 and mention their website e-special for a 10% discount. Double discounts apply to pre-season (May 20-June 15) and fall foliage (Sept 18-Oct 7) cruises.
The smallest ship in the windjammer fleet, Mistress was launched in 1960 as a blend of traditional schooner and private yacht. A local blacksmith did all her ironwork, and much of her hardware was secured from an old-time ship's chandlery in Nova Scotia. Ambience: Onboard experience is tailored to the passengers aboard, with music and games offered if anyone's interested. Because of her small size, it's easy to arrange time ashore for groups. Lobster bakes are included on 4- and 5-day cruises, with time for hiking. Cabins: Each of her 3 private cabins has its own head, sink, and private companionway from the deck. Two hqve double beds, the other upper and lower bunks. Bathrooms/Showers: Three private heads. One sun shower for impromptu wash-ups during warm weather, plus stops at friendly B&Bs and inns, where passengers may use the showers. Size: 46 ft. Passengers: 6. Minimum Age: 16, though there's no minimum if you're booking the whole boat. Homeport: Camden. Contact: Maine Windjammer Cruises, P.O. Box 617, Camden, ME 04843; tel. 800/736-7981; www.mainewindjammercruises.com.
Built in East Boothbay, Maine, and launched in 1922 as a private racing yacht, Bowditch won class honors in the Bermuda Cup in the 1920s and during WWII was used by the Coast Guard for submarine surveillance. She fished the North Atlantic in the postwar years and was rebuilt for the passenger trade in the early 1970s. Ambience: Music is encouraged, and an abundance of games and puzzles are kept in the galley for passenger use. Guests are able to go ashore every day, if possible, in the morning or evening. Quiet time is encouraged after 8pm. Cabins: Rustic cabins have either double or single beds. Bathrooms/Showers: Three shared heads below deck. One hot/cold shower on deck, with a privacy curtain set up while the ship is at anchor. Size: 82 ft. Passengers: 24. Minimum Age: 14, but designated family sailings accept kids as young as 5. Homeport: Rockland. Contact: Capt. Owen and Cathie Dorr, 4 Gay Pl., Rockland, ME 04841; tel. 800/288-4098; www.windjammervacation.com.
Like the Lewis R. French, Stephen Taber was built way back in 1871, and is the oldest sailing vessel in continuous service in the U.S. She hauled lumber, stone, and produce up and down the eastern seaboard for a full century, and is now listed on the National Register. Ambience: The Taber is known as a fun vessel, and a day's sail often ends with music and stories. Guests are able to go ashore once or twice daily, weather permitting. Operated by the same family for over a quarter century, the Taber is known for her food (former captain Ellen Barnes, mother of the current captain, has published many of their recipes in the cookbook A Taste of the Taber) and draws a huge number of repeat passengers -- upwards of 70% on most sailings. Cabins: Cabins have running water, lights, windows, and enough head-room to stand and dress. Bathrooms/Showers: Two shared heads and one hot-water shower, all on deck. Size: 68 ft. Passengers: 22. Minimum Age: 14. Homeport: Rockland. Contact: Capt. Noah Barnes, Windjammer Wharf, P.O. Box 1050, Rockland, Maine 04841; tel. 800/999-7352; www.mainewindjammers.com. Book before Feb. 1 for a 5% discount.
Built in Portland, Maine, in 1931, Timberwind spent the first 38 years of her life stationed 18 miles off Portland Head, taking pilots to meet large ships and navigate them in. She was converted for passenger sailing in 1969, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1992, and is one of the few windjammers that have spent their whole lives in Maine's waters. Ambience: Timberwind is a quiet vessel and one of the most rustic in the fleet. Days are spent sailing, with guests able to go ashore on many days for 1 to 3 hours. Music-lovers might be particularly interested in this vessel since her owner, Capt. Bob Tassi, was director of studio operations for Warner Brothers Records in Nashville before chucking it all to become a schoonerman. Evenings frequently see him pull out his guitar or accordion. Cabins: Tiny varnished-wood cabins have small electric lights but do without running water (instead, there's a enamel basin, a stack of towels, and a small oak water barrel). Beds are either bunks or doubles. Bathrooms/Showers: Two shared heads below deck. One on-deck shower with privacy curtain. Length: 70 ft. Passengers: 20. Minimum Age: 5. Homeport: Rockport. Contact: Schooner Timberwind, PO. Box 247, Rockport, ME 04856; tel. 800/759-9250; www.schoonertimberwind.com. Book before Feb. 1 for a 5% discount.
Launched in 1900, Victory Chimes is the largest U.S.-flagged commercial sailing vessel and the only classic 3-masted schooner still operating. Her image adorns the back of the Maine State Quarter, minted in 2003. Ambience: There are no scheduled activities, though music and games often break out. Guests can go ashore in the morning and evening every day for 1 to 2 hours. Cabins: Cabins have bunk beds, portholes, 110-volt outlets, reading lights, and sinks with hot and cold running water. Most have upper and lower berths. There are also 3 single cabins, 1 cabin with twin beds, 1 that sleeps 4, and 4 cabins with double beds and private toilets. Bathrooms/Showers: Three shared heads (two on deck, one below). Two showers. Size: 132 ft. Passengers: 40. Minimum Age: 10-12 years, based on the maturity of the child. Homeport: Rockland. Contact: Victory Chimes, P.O. Box 1401, Rockland, ME 07841; tel. 800/745-5651; www.victorychimes.com.
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