Sailing Into the Past

Windjammin’ in Maine

By: Irene Middleman Thomas

I need hookers, haulers, coilers and a few people to flow,” Capt. Linda shouted out. Whatever that meant, I decided I’d really rather just chill out, having just awakened from a pleasant little siesta on board the Heritage, an authentic coasting schooner.

Sailing for a week with my 14-year-old son, I appreciated the opportunity to help out in the traditional tasks of handling a large sailboat. Then again, sometimes a nap was the better option all that fresh sea air, sunshine, camaraderie and incredible food just wore me out.

The Maine Windjammer Association consists of 14 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 6 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.

We chose the Heritage, authentically designed and built in 1983 according to 19th-century standards by its devoted captains, owners and lifelong seafarers Doug Lee and his wife, Linda. The only ship 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 holding up the towering masts, to the highly varnished Maine pine and oak adorning the public areas.

I found the trip exhilarating, yet sublimely relaxing. Fellow passengers were a diverse but extremely friendly group. 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 they even helped prepare meals.

In the evenings, they enjoyed hanging out with the young crew members. Henry and his friends especially loved the 4 p.m. appetizers, after working up a post-lunch appetite. I found it a perfect trip to take with a teen four of the boats actually cater to families and accept children as young as 5, offering a wide variety of special activities for them.

Meals were outstanding plenty of organic, fresh, high-quality products and produce. Lunch was always a thick soup served with fresh-baked slices of bread. My favorite was the rosemary olive bread, a new recipe from the head cook, Rachel, Doug and Linda’s 23-year-old daughter. In between meals, if someone were to get hungry (not likely!) coffee and tea were always hot and ready, as well as fresh treats and fruit.

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 ice cream.

An enormous percentage of Windjammer travelers are return guests. In fact, Capt. Lee, who gives every 10th 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. v


In addition to double and single cabins (all with hot- and cold-water sinks), the Heritage offers two double-bed cabins with private toilets. Children 12 and over are welcome. Prices begin at about $600 for a four-day trip, with the season running from early June to late September. Prices in general for the Maine Windjammer Association fleet run from $330-$925 per person, and itineraries range from weekend trips to six-day cruises. Each boat in the Maine Windjammer Association (which offers 10 percent commission) reserves separately.