Heave ho mates! Unfurl the sail.
Board a National Landmark schooner in Maine’s big Penobscot Bay.
I sailed among the 4,000 islands on Maine’s rocky, craggy coast aboard the Lewis R. French schooner built in 1871.
This is living the history, not visiting a museum — inside the history on an outdoor vacation.
Every sail adjustment, every lean and turn creates new scenes.
Living the history
Living this history happens mid-May through mid-October on a fleet of 12 schooners sailing from pretty harbors in Camden and Rockland, worth a holiday themselves.
I chose the Lewis R. French because it’s old, the oldest schooner sailing in America. Native red oak and white pine, 3,000 square feet of sail. No engine. Nothing mechanical.
No crowds either: only 21 passengers and four crew. Some windjammers carry 29 and 30 passengers.
Capt. Garth Wells confers with the wind, mapping the route as you go.
“What a connection to pass the same waters and coastal lands her other captains saw 130 years ago,“ Wells says.
Nights are still, anchored, often in serene quiet coves and sometimes in working harbors
Abundant farmer’s market groceries abound: asparagus, broccoli, salad greens, peppers, fresh herbs.
The clang of the schooner’s bell signals mealtime from the tiny galley with its wood-burning stove: hot muffins on the deck, coffee and many teas, always a big wooden bowl with grapes, bananas, oranges, apples.
Schooner meals abundant
Don’t skip a schooner lunch—as if you could go anywhere. Soup and salad takes on new meaning on a Maine Windjammer.
Sun-dried tomato basil bread and corn chowder one day. Butternut squash bisque and cucumber salad with fresh dill another. Goat cheese arugula salad with veggie pasta turkey tarragon soup.
Maine lobster feasting happens ashore.
Time there to hike around an Ice Age, glacier-created, deserted island, including an immense meadow of ferns.
No cell phones on the Lewis R. French; on this boat folks talk to each other instead of texting elsewhere.
Windjammer spaces small
Clear thinking about the quirks opens mental space to enjoy it all. Windjammer living is cozy.
Pack earplugs, the soft putty kind that mold to your ears. Don’t pack much else; re-wearing casual clothes is the way to sail.
Bring only what you can hang on hooks. This is not a dresser drawer place. Also, make sure your suitcase really is small or it won’t fit under the bunk.
Water’s hot in the one shower booth 9:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. The hand-held nozzle shares a spot with the toilet but a curtain keeps the paper, your towel and clothes dry.
Quiet time by 10:00 p.m. and if you like to read in bed, take a clip-on book light.
Exercise your knees before you go to prepare for steep ladders, the only way to your bunk, and safest facing backwards.
Then thoroughly embrace the experience to enjoy.
Christine Tibbetts recommends sharing a Maine windjammer experience with the grown-up members of her blended family. Friends too.
Photos by Christine Tibbetts