These ships range in size from 46 to 132 feet and their ages are every bit as diverse as their dimensions. In fact, it was with real consternation that I made my decision as to which ship I would spend my long weekend.
I had already sailed on the Victory Chimes, one of the largest ships in the fleet at 132 feet, so this time I decided to go for the next to the smallest one. The Lewis R. French, a national landmark, lived up to my expectations. The oldest windjammer of the fleet and even in the United States, the Lewis R. French was built in 1871 and is 64 feet long. Everything is tucked and stored on the ship in the most convenient little places and overall the 22 passengers on board don’t get in one another’s way.
While the French is the oldest ship, it seems only appropriate that her captain, Garth Wells, is the youngest windjammer captain in the fleet. He will quickly find his way into your heart. Wells knows his business too, since he has been a sailor since a little boy growing up on Cape Cod.
Maine has always been known for her tall ships, and to this day it is Maine that you will visit should you get a notion to relive a bygone era. As for the Lewis R. French, she once delivered fish, coal and bricks, much like the other schooners in the area. However, merchant sailing ships also epitomize a time still fond in America’s memory. It was the 1930s that these ships were in their glory, when jazz and swing ruled, Charlie Chaplin was all the rage and life as we know it today was rapidly becoming a reality with trans-Atlantic flight and the popularity of steam engines and railroads becoming the norm.
The good news is that even today, windjamming in Maine can still take you back to a bygone era.
Every morning as I awoke in my uber-tiny cabin I marveled at the clean, fresh ocean air, the islands beckoning in the distance and the sun baking down. Since I cruised the Maine coast in June it was still cold. June’s weather is known to be uncertain in Maine and the average temperate hovers around the low 60s. In spite of the cold however, it was part of the experience.
I became quite friendly with the ship’s cook one day because the breeze on deck was just too much to endure. Mainers are hearty folks though and the attitude you must take aboard a windjammer cruise is one of adventure. You won’t be disappointed. After all, the windjammer experience is one about roughing it while also relaxing. You might bring a book, but you probably won’t even have time to read it. You might bring a watch, but after a couple of days you won’t care what time it is anymore.
As for the sport of windjamming, it is an activity that relies on the wind and tide to get you where you want to go. Or, I should say, to get you to where you end up going. The captain was never quite sure where we would find ourselves, just somewhere near one of Maine’s 3000 islands.
For breakfast and lunch the cook creates family-style meals, traditionally Maine. If it’s not too cold meals are served on deck. On rainy days there are cozy little tables in the galley and it’s a great time to really get to know your fellow passengers.
One evening we went ashore and enjoyed a lobster bake on a deserted island. By moonrise we were back on the ship ready for singing, looking at the stars or even just getting to bed early.
While on board the Lewis R. French we were allowed to enjoy as much or as little of the experience as we wanted. From hoisting sails, to taking the wheel (under Well’s supervision of course), to navigating or helping out in the galley (I got a real lesson the day I spent in the galley as the attitude was if you come down here you have to work), the experience is yours for the taking.
When you think of cruising, a Maine Windjammer ship is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. Don’t let that stop you. I found it to be an excellent way to connect with nature and also make a difference with the environment. The Windjammer Association believes in keeping the ecosystem healthy and encourages guests to participate. While waiting for our lobster dinner we scoured the deserted island helping to clean up trash and debris. In that same spirit, the Lewis R. French used a wood-burning stove, served only the freshest fruits and vegetables and one schooner in the fleet has even decided to only use biodiesel fuel.
The windjammers of yesteryear rely on the future to keep the fleet strong. It is a unique American adventure, and I found the experience enlightening. I know I would not have made a good sailor 100 years ago, however I did find that living in the moment really is all it’s cracked up to be.
Know Before You Go
Each windjammer has a different passenger load so decide which one you prefer from six to 40 guests and then choose the ship accordingly.
You will either set sail from Camden, Rockland or Rockport. You can drive from a major airport such as Boston or Portland or fly on Colgan Air, affiliated with US Air, into Rockland.
When to Go
Maine windjammer cruises sail from May to mid-October.
For more information contact the Maine Windjammer Association at 888-807-Wind or www.sailmainecoast.com.
Rita Cook lives in Los Angeles and is the editor of Premier Bride magazine. She also has a romance novel coming out this winter called “Angel’s Destiny”.
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