Sailing out of the present and into the past: Maine’s windjammers

By | Category: Travel destinations

Irene Middleman Thomas and son sign up for a five day sailing trip, and catch the sailing bug in Maine’s picturesque Penobscot Bay

I need ‘hookers’, ‘haulers,’ ‘coilers’ and a few people to ‘flow,’” Captain Linda shouted out. Whatever all that meant, I decided I’d really rather just ‘chill,’ being that I had just awakened from my first pleasant little siesta on board the Heritage, an authentic coasting schooner. Sailing for a week with my 14-year-old son, I felt happy to have the opportunity to help out in the traditional tasks of handling a large sailboat. Then again, sometimes I just HAD to have a nap – after all, all that fresh sea air, camaraderie and incredible food just wore me out!

Picture courtesy of Fred LeBlanc

The Maine Windjammer Association consists of 10 heavily built sailing vessels, the oldest dating from 1871 and the youngest from 1983. These traditional tall ships range from 46 to 132 feet in length, carry between 20 and 40 guests and eight have been designated as national historic landmarks. They offer three- to six-day all-inclusive trips in the gloriously beautiful waters of Penobscot Bay, filled with over 3,000 islands, off the coast of Maine. The boats operate solely with sail power, just as in the days of yore, but unlike those days, passengers can now enjoy such luxuries as hot showers, flush toilets and giant ice coolers in which to store beer and soda.

Picture courtesy of Fred LeBlanc

We chose the Heritage, authentically designed and built in 1983 according to 19th century standards by its devoted captains, owners and life-long seafarers Doug Lee and his wife, Linda. One of two ships in the fleet specifically fitted for passenger use (the others have been retrofitted from previous work lives,) the 95-foot Heritage offers small but cozy, adequate cabins for 30, three well-designed bathrooms and a charming galley. Its woodwork is exquisite – from the stately Douglas fir trees from which the towering masts were made, to the highly varnished Maine pine and oak adorning the public areas.

Picture courtesy of Dick Loehr

I found the trip exhilarating, yet sublimely relaxing. I loved the freedom to enjoy a hearty breakfast (meals never seemed to end) and then just plunking myself down into a deck chair to read and doze, doze and read. When I tired of that, I found myself in one pleasant conversation after another with fellow passengers, a diverse and immensely friendly lot. My son, Henry, made friends with the three other teens on board and enjoyed jumping off the deck into the chilly Atlantic waters with them. The kids also enjoyed climbing the ladder up the mast, helping to skipper the boat and even helped prepare meals. In the evenings, they enjoyed ‘hanging out’ with the young crew members. Henry and his friends especially loved the 4 pm appetisers, after working up a post-lunch appetite. I found it a perfect trip to take with a teen – indeed, it was probably the best time I’ve had with my son in the past few hormonal years. Four of the boats actually cater to families and accept children as young as five, offering a wide variety of special activities for them.

Picture courtesy of Fred LeBlanc

Meals are outstanding – plenty of organic, fresh, high-quality products and produce prepared into decidedly not-ho, hum fare. Lunch is always a thick soup served with fresh-baked thick slices of bread. My favourite was the rosemary olive bread, a new recipe from Rachel, Doug and Linda’s daughter. In between meals, if someone were to get hungry (not likely!) coffee and tea were always hot and ready, as well as fresh-baked treats and fruit. Meals are served at set times of 8 am, 12 noon and 6ish for dinner.

Picture courtesy of Michael Cavalear

The boats, which follow different itineraries weekly due to wind and weather conditions, usually dock at several delightful seaside towns, replete with lovely New England homes and shops, dotted with wildflowers and gardens. Antique stores abound, as do shops selling ‘famous’ lobster rolls and ‘famous’ ice cream.

Picture courtesy of Fred LeBlanc

An enormous percentage of windjammer travelers are return guests; in fact, Captain Lee, who gives every tenth trip for free, has had “hundreds” of passengers who have earned that. The returnees say that they love the scenery, the sumptuous food, the on-board friendships that are cultivated and mostly, the total escape from television, phones and the outside world. Indeed the windjammers bring one into the past – a world of ‘heave’ and ‘hoist’ and yes, flow, hook and coil. Oh, and don’t let me forget that all-you-can-eat lobster feast on the deserted beach. I did myself proud – THREE lobsters in one sitting. Not bad for this Colorado landlubber.

Picture courtesy of Michael Cavalear

NEED TO KNOW
Maine Windjammer Association (800-807-WIND, www.sailmainecoast.com). Each boat reserves separately. To contact the Heritage directly, www.schoonerheritage.com, info@schoonerheritage.com.) The Heritage offers two double-bed cabins with private toilets in addition to double and single cabins (all with hot and cold water sinks,) stairs instead of ladders and three rowboats for exploring harbor areas while docked. Children 12 and over are welcome. The season runs from early June to late September.

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