Life at Sea
The joy of sailing a tall ship, listening to the wind in the rigging, smelling the salt air and traveling by same means, to the same places, and often aboard the same vessels generations of Americans have sailed before, is for some passengers, the ultimate attraction of a Maine windjammer cruise.
Ask any passenger who’s just returned from a week’s cruise to describe their favorite aspect of windjamming, and you’ll probably get many answers. They might start by describing the food, Highly memorable and delicious home-cooked meals prepared on a wood stove with hearty appetites in mind. Thick, hot chowders served with fresh-baked bread, turkey dinners complete with home-made pies and hand-cranked ice cream. One night during each week-long cruise is set aside for a sumptuous lobster bake on a deserted beach with all the steamed lobsters and corn on the cob you can eat. In the seventy years of windjamming history, no passenger has ever gone hungry.
Scenery and Wildlife
For many passengers it’s the ever-changing scenery that captures their fancy. Maine, with its 3,000-mile long coastline and thousands of islands, offers passengers visual diversity around every bend. Each day you sail past lighthouses and lobstermen, through narrow channels and across great bays. Places with names like Smutty Nose, Toothacre, Tow Bush and Hurricane quietly slip by. Every evening, your windjammer drop anchor in the safe, snug harbor of a quiet fishing village, a bustling waterfront, a cove below the cliffs of Acadia National Park or an island inhabited solely by nesting eagles and terns. In addition to the beauty the islands add to every cruise, they offer protection from rough weather, making windjammer passage comfortable and seasickness rarely a problem.
Going hand in hand with the natural beauty of the coast is the abundance of wildlife, sure to please the most enthusiastic naturalist. Bald eagles and ospreys, loons, dozens of varieties of sea ducks, seals and porpoises are just a few of the creatures passengers encounter on every cruise. If you’re lucky you may even see a whale.
Camaraderie Between Shipmates
While the thought of leaving a familiar world behind to spend time at sea with a group of strangers may not seem entirely comfortable at first, the friendships that develop during a cruise are unique and satisfying, with the best of human nature often revealing itself. Its not suprising that nearly half of the guests on every cruise become repeat passengers—many times shipmates plan future cruises together. People from all professions, single and married, retired or young adult, come from all parts of the world to spend up to a week soaking up the peaceful surroundings and adventure of shipboard life. While there is plenty of space to be alone on a windjammer, the cruise experience tends to bring people together – laughing together, sharing meals, games and storiessc, evening forways into quiet villages, and of course the teamwork of running a tall ship together. With room for between 6 and 40 guests on the 14 windjammers in the fleet, there is plenty of opportunity for camaraderie to develop between shipmates.
Captain and Crew
Even with all the delicious food, gorgeous scenery, and friendly shipmates, a windjammer cruise would pale without the captain and crew who add interest and pleasure to every cruise with their tall stories and undisguised love of the sea.
Always eager to share their knowledge of the area or the running of the vessel, passengers can feel secure in their safety as well as gain a much greater appreciation for the sea and the people who live or work on it, both in the past and present.
Sailing a Tall Ship
Propelled solely by the wind and tide, these 19th-century workhorses once used to freight cargoes of timber, bricks, fish and lime up and down the eastern seaboard before steam power and rail transportation took the place of sail. Fruit from the West Indies, Maine granite to the federal buildings of great cities, and oysters from the Delaware, these century-old traditional schooners still ply the water, but carry a new cargo—passengers.
Several new vessels built along the same traditional lines have been added to the Maine fleet since artist Frank Swift came up with the idea seventy years ago of converting the vessels from cargo-carrying to passenger-accommodating, thereby rescuing the fleet from extinction. All of the historic vessels have undergone rigorous rebuilding and, along with the newer vessels, receive an annual inspection by the U.S. Coast Guard. Except for the addition of cozy cabins and hot showers, passengers can experience shipboard life in much the same fashion as yesteryear’s mariners.
For passengers looking for the ultimate vacation, a windjammer cruise offers total escape from the demands of life at home or work. Unlike typical vacations that often afford no relief from cars and parking garages, restaurant and hotel arrangements, and the constant concern over money spent, life aboard a windjammer frees the vacationing passenger from all of the worries.
Mornings begin with the aroma of fresh coffee wafting through your cabin window and drawing you up on deck to greet the new day. A breakfast of eggs and sausage, fruit and fresh-baked muffins is served family-style down in the galley around the wood stove. Hauling the sails and anchor comes next, when passengers are invited to join in the fun and exercise of raising 3,000 square feet of canvas and a half-ton anchor.
Once underway, passengers may choose to spend their time sunning themselves on spacious decks, reading, getting to know fellow passengers and crew, helping out in the galley, taking a turn at the helm, learning about the history or ecology of the area, or just plain relaxing in the glory of the passing scenery. A buffet lunch on deck punctuates the day, and late in the afternoon, after dropping anchor, passengers have an opportunity to row ashore and explore. A dinner bell summons passengers to come below for another tasty, hot meal, and after supper, sun-weary and wind-burned passengers may retire early or choose to stay up and star-gaze, tell stories or listen to the sounds of a shipmate’s guitar. With the gentle motion of the vessel to lull you, sleep comes peacefully and deep.
As the week draws to a close and homeport appears on the horizon, many passengers are reluctant to leave, having discovered the rhythm of life at sea and the serenity of a bygone era. Certainly there are attractions to lure you ashore, but after a traditional Maine windjammer cruise, the sea will always beckon.
Whether it’s the thrill of sailing at top speed through a narrow passage, or feasting on lobster, making new friends or experiencing shipboard life on a traditional tall ship, passengers always leave a windjammer cruise with unforgettable memories.