Maine Windjammer cruises are the stuff of legend. Sailing into the sunset off the ruggedly beautiful shores of coastal Maine aboard an historic tall ship means the accommodations are tiny but the experience is huge.
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A Laid Back Sailing Vacation
As we set sail for our three-day Maine Windjammer cruise vacation, we ask Captain Barry King where we were headed. Wherever the winds takes us, he says.
As the hours pass, we Type A passengers kept asking: “Is there a plan yet?” “Nope. Not yet,” he would respond is in his laid back, unflappable manner.
That was just one of many clues that this would be nothing like cruising on a mega ship.
Sailing Aboard the Schooner Mary Day
Captain Barry King is a soulful guy, as much teacher as sailor. His gentle, laid back style at the helm of the Mary Day sets the tone for a relaxed and relaxing Windjammer sail.
Even setting up the boat to tack – that’s sailor-speak for turning the boat and moving the sails from one side to the other – feels like a non-event. There was no urgent “Ready to come about” announcement. No crew scurrying about. Just a seamless movement from one direction to another.
When I ask him about it, Captain Barry says, “We like to sail with grace, not drama.” It is, I think, a good motto for life, too. My husband and I vowed to keep that feeling after our return to Camden harbor – even as we sat in snarled traffic in our Honda Passport SUV on our way to the Groton Inn.
The Graceful Schooner Mary Day
The Mary Day was built in 1962 as a passenger vessel. That makes it a rarity among the eight tall ships in the Maine Windjammer Association that sail out of homeports in Rockland and Camden, on the mid-coast of Maine. The majority of the sailboats in the Maine Windjammer Association fleet spent their early lives as working boats and were retrofitted to be passenger vessels.
The spartan accommodations came as a bit of a shock. Our teeny 7-by-5 foot cabin had two teeny bunk beds that were too short for my 6-3 husband.
We used to own a sailboat, so we were prepared for the cramped sleeping spaces. The surprise was the cramped standing space. We had to take turns dressing and brushing our teeth at the teeny sink.
“We call it glamping on the ocean,” Barry says.
Glamping on the Ocean
It does feel a bit like camping, albeit with a comfy mattress and yummy food. But the lack of private facilities takes some getting used to. The teeny cabins are below deck and the two tiny bathrooms are up on deck, which can mean a sleepy trek up the ladder when nature calls in the middle of the night.
There also are two showers – one inside a bathroom (remember to pull the shower curtain around the toilet to help keep the toilet paper dry), and the other on deck.
The key here is to give yourself over to the experience. Washing your hair using the deck shower while the other passengers lounge nearby? Sure, why not? It certainly beats never washing your hair on a 3-, 4- or 6-night cruise.
Funny Captain Barry
The heart and soul of a sail aboard the Mary Day is Captain Barry, who owns the boat with his wife, Jen. After 38 years spent sailing the Maine coast, Barry is completely at home at the helm.
And he is a born teacher. It’s easy to get him talking – about the wonders of Windjammers, the seabirds and sea life, how the lobster boats operate, where to find “down east” – and tough to get him to stop.
His eyes really light up when he’s teaching – helping a passenger learn to read the wind while holding the ship’s wheel, explaining to a curious teen how the boat’s systems work or talking a rookie crew member through a new procedure.
He keeps it fun and lighthearted, including keeping a copy of Sailing for Dummies near the helm, along with mementos left by previous passengers.
The Best Part of a Windjammer Sail
And that is the core of a Windjammer sailing experience. It’s all about relaxation and togetherness. For busy parents fighting constant obligations, emails and demands, the Mary Day is a breath of fresh air. For parents of teens, it offers another benefit: lack of cell service and no wifi. That means everyone – tweens, teens and parents—are forced to stop staring at their cell phones and tune into one another.
There are no hot tubs, movie theaters or swimming pools on board. There is only the sun, the wind and the sea. So days are spent on deck. A handful of passengers read books, but most of us found a spot to sit back and watch the granite islands of coastal Maine slide by. Or we jumped in to haul a line, trim a sail, use the firehose to spray mud off the anchor chain, or even just peel some potatoes.
Captain Barry considers that a good reason for families to charter a Windjammer sailing vessel for family reunions. Reunions at all-inclusive resorts or onboard mega ships that boast something for everyone to do, often mean that families spend the day apart, coming together only at dinnertime. But families on the Mary Day can’t get too far away from one another.
Sunny days are spent whiling away the afternoon on the deck while rainy days mean settling around a table below deck to play a board game. And then having dinner together, too.
Food Aboard the Mary Day
No cruise story is complete without talking about the food, right? Certainly, the food was fab, including the best gluten-free chocolate chip cookies I have ever eaten.
But the real food story aboard the Mary Day is the fact that chef Cathy Lamarre (her name translates to the “the sea” in French) cooks it on a wood-burning stove. There’s no temperature control. And when the sailboat is listing at 10 degrees, the cake in the oven lists, too. So it may come out a little thicker at one end and a little burned at the other. (Her baked goods were out of sight. She shared her recipe for maple cookies. Find that at the end of this article.)
But it was all yummy.
The day starts with a hearty sailor’s breakfast of eggs or blueberry pancakes, bacon or sausage, fruit and potatoes. Lunch is soup, salad and make-your-own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And, since we were in Maine, dinner one night was delectable lobster. It was supposed to be a lobster bake on land but rainy weather kept us and the lobsters on the Mary Day.
Like on any good cruise, the food is plentiful. When we were all sated and there still were four lobsters left, Captain Barry walked up and town the deck crying, “Who needs more lobster?” Since I’m not from New England, that’s the first time I’ve heard anyone say that – and likely will be the last!
Mistakes I made so you don’t have to
1. Packing too much.
We did the cruise in the middle of an 8-day trip, so we had to pack for several different types of travel – nicer clothes for staying in a fancy hotel as well as the warmer clothes for potentially chilly Maine sailing weather. We left the nice clothes in the Honda Passport we were driving and consolidated into one Ricardo carry-on bag. But the hard-sided suitcase did not fit fully under the bunk, so it ate up some of the precious floor space in our tiny cabin.
2. Waiting a day to brave the shower.
Somehow, the idea of showering in the tiny bathroom, then stepping out onto the deck with my hair dripping wet seemed off-putting. After two days, however, it was, shall we say, necessary. After, I felt terrific. And my hair took minutes to dry in the stiff breeze provided by Mother Nature.
3. Choosing sleep over wonder.
Captain Barry promised shooting stars would make an appearance on Saturday night over Penobscot Bay. But when my alarm went off at 3 a.m., I was tired. I turned it off and rolled over. On Sunday morning, he raved about the meteor shower. So when my alarm went off at 3 a.m. the next night, I jumped out of bed, only to find the shooting stars hidden behind clouds.
And, now that recipe for maple cookies
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups flour
1/2 cup evaporated milk
6 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon maple flavoring
3-4 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
In large bowl, beat 1 cup butter. Add brown sugar, baking soda and salt. Beat until combined. Add maple syrup, egg and vanilla, beat until combined. Add flour and mix well.
Drop by teaspoon onto greased cookie sheet. Flatten slightly, if you wish (I don’t). Bake 8-10 minutes, until tops are set. Cool, then frost.
Whisk 1/2 cup evaporated milk, 6 tablespoons melted butter and 1 teaspoon maple flavoring until combined. Gradually add 3-4 cups confectioners sugar until mixture is icing consistency.