On September 11, 2005, I boarded the Isaac H. Evans, an 1886 wooden Maine
windjammer and a national historic landmark based in Rockland, Maine for six day sailing excursion. According to Capt. Brenda Walker, the course for the week is determined by the wind and tide, with our destinations based on the weather conditions of the day. Passengers are encouraged to leave their work and watches back on land. By the time we hit the small town of Vinalhaven, I was out of cell phone range and transported into a paradise dotted with lobster pots, lighthouses and Guillemot ducks.
While a few brave souls would celebrate the crisp Maine morning by swimming or diving, others chose to wake up to the smell of hot coffee followed by a full breakfast cooked on a classic wood-burning stove. Meals featured New England delicacies such as Maine scallops l’orange, Boston baked bread, and blueberry pancakes with Maine blueberry syrup. Our snacks included Maine favorites like Jack’s Zesty Toe Jam (a spicy Jalapeno spread) or Sweet Red Pepper Jam served with cream cheese with crackers. One afternoon, we feasted on a special sushi buffet featuring uni (sea urchin roe), mackerel, and scallops that guests caught while diving or fishing. Another day we had steamed crabs that were caught in the boat’s lobster pot. Through the schooner’s arrangements with the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs guests are guaranteed the freshest fruits and vegetables.
I attempted to work off these feasts by helping to hoist the mainsail every morning. During the course of the week I took my turn at the wheel, gave morning hellos to porpoises and harbor seals, jigged for mackerel, and climbed aloft the boat’s rigging for a literal bird’s eye view of Penobscot Bay.
Passengers can help hoist and furl the mainsail and foresail, coil the lines, raise the anchor or take a turn at the helm. If guests prefer, they can spend their time reading, knitting, swimming, guitar playing, relaxing, fishing and other leisurely pursuits. Once we anchored for the night, some passengers borrowed a rowboat, kayak or skiff to explore the uninhabited islands and small towns that dotted the Maine coastline. Sing-a-longs, poker games and storytelling sessions rounded out the evening’s activities.
One of the many highlights of a six-day Maine Windjammer vacation includes a traditional lobster bake. On our particular trip, we rowed over to Buckle Island, an uninhabited moss covered island where we dined on a late afternoon feast consisting of lobster, corn, and champagne and s’mores. As the crew prepared the lobster bake, we participated in an ‘island clean-up.” So, in exchange for all the lobster we could eat, we helped keep Maine pure and pristine. All guests on Maine Windjammer cruises are instructed on the “Leave No Traces” behind policy that is intended to minimize the environmental impact of visitors to these isolated islands.
Throughout the season the 14-member Windjammer fleet gathers for fun and fellowship at events including the Schooner Gam where the fleet rafts together in early June, Windjammer Days, Great Schooner Race, Windjammer Parade, Windjammer Music Festival, and Camden Windjammer weekend. My trip coincided with the WoodenBoat Sail-in. This fall gathering of the fleet takes place in Brooklin, Maine, headquarters of WoodenBoat Magazine and WoodenBoat School. Festivities included an afternoon snack of steamed mussels, live music courtesy of a local steel drum band and tours. Later that evening, Capt. Brenda took some of us on a harbor tour in her motorized yawl boat named appropriately Tug ‘n’ Grunt, where we had the opportunity to see the other Windjammers up close and personal.
While there were no children on my particular trip as school was in session, the Isaac H. Evans is a family friendly schooner and is one of the three schooners in the fleet to allow children on board. As each Maine Windjammer is independently owned and operated, prospective passengers check with each captain for their policies regarding children, pets and other pertinent matters.
The Maine sailing vacation season extends from mid-May to mid-October with prices ranging from $395-$875 for a three- to six-day cruise, all meals included.