A Maine Windjammer Cruise: The Perfect Escape

By Sharon Kurtz
January 5, 2022

Photos by Sharon Kurtz ~ 

Windjammer cruise combines the beautiful coast of Maine with unforgettable sailing aboard a historic schooner. By turns ­exhilarating and relaxing, you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped back in time.

Settle into the rhythm of shipboard life and leave that “other world” behind as you pack spectacular scenery, great food, and good times all into one sailing trip.

Windjammer Capital of the World

Operating out of Camden and Rockport, Maine, a fleet of majestic wooden schooners sail the Penobscot Bay. Stretching from Rockport to Bar Harbor, the Bay is full of spruce-fringed secluded islands and more than 1,000 miles of rocky shoreline.

The Historic  Lewis R. French

My husband and I joined Captain Garth Wells on the Lewis R. French for a five-night adventure during the waning days of summer. The French was launched in 1871 and is registered as a National Historic Landmark. She is proud to be Maine’s oldest working vessel and the oldest commercial sailing vessel in the U.S.

Our destinations were dictated by the winds and tide, for the French is a “pure” sailing schooner with no inboard engine. Participation on board is encouraged but not required.

We spent the days trimming sails and learning about the Maine coast and wildlife, often spotting bald eagles, seals, and porpoises. You can also sit back, read a book, and watch the scenery drift past. The choice is yours.

Passengers and Crew

The French is one of the smallest vessels in the fleet at 101 feet long, with cozy cabins below deck. The living quarters are tiny but functional, with a small sink, linens and towels, and a reading lamp. We spent most of our time on deck anyway; the cabin was just for sleeping.   

Along with the four crew members, we were a small group consisting of 20 passengers, a mix of newbies and veterans. The onboard camaraderie between congenial shipmates and crew was an unexpected but welcomed bonus.

Fresh caught lobsters from Penobscot Bay

What to Expect on a Maine Windjammer Cruise

Windjammer sailing cruises offer novice sailors or experienced seamen a chance to help sail the boat. It’s not every day you can assist in hoisting the sails, raising the anchor, and taking a turn at commandeering the helm on a historic tall ship.

The crew cooked up delicious meals on the wood-fired stove in the galley; our sea-going appetites were more than satisfied. And the hand-churned ice cream? Yummy!

The highlight of any Maine windjammer cruise is an authentic lobster bake on the shores of a secluded island. Our feast of fresh lobsters, steamed in seaweed over an open fire and served right up on the beach, was delicious. It was an experience I will treasure.

We sailed with the wind each day, taking in the spectacular coastal scenery where lighthouse-illuminated capes hugged rocky shorelines. Anchoring in the afternoon provided shore excursions to explore small fishing villages or skip stones on a secluded island beach.   

Sunset over Penobscot Bay

Stunning Sunsets

The sunsets were spectacular from the deck of the French. In sherbet hues, the cloud-filled sky morphed from soft shades of pink and orange to deep fuchsia in the blink of an eye as the sun simmered into the horizon.

As the French settled into a cozy harbor and swung silently at anchor, the motion of the boat lulled me to sleep with the gentle, rhythmic slip-slap of soft waves.

Is There a Sailor in Your Soul? 

The exhilaration you’ll feel when the wind fills the sails and sends the boat racing through pristine waters is not a feeling one can describe. Instead, one must experience it.

“Some people come to experience a pure sail experience on a historic schooner,” The French’s Captain, Garth Wells, said. “And some people come for the peace, quiet, and scenery. Whatever your reason, the carefree days among the islands of Maine are unforgettable.”

A windjammer cruise on the coast of Maine is the relaxing vacation of your dreams: A perfect opportunity to unplug, unwind, and immerse yourself in nature.

Should you try it, you’ll love the experience. When the sea expands in front of you and the fresh sea air blows on your face, you’ll know you’re in for a grand adventure.

Stephen Tabor and the J&E Riggin under full sail down the bay

When You Go

The Maine Windjammer Association (MWA) represents nine classic tall ships that homeport out of Camden and Rockport, Maine. They provide affordable all-inclusive sailing vacations from May through October.

Email sail@mainewindjammercruises.com or call 1-800-736-7981 for more information.

To learn more about the history of the Lewis R. French, visit: www.schoonerfrench.com

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