The old timbers creak and the deck sways. Tall masts soar overhead. Huge sails luff and flap in the wind. The clean salty smell of the sea washes over you. In the distance, a schooner is bent over in the breeze. You can almost imagine it's 1888. Welcome aboard a Maine windjammer.
Windjammer cruises are perfect for couples—or for a family cruise. If you want, you can pitch in and help with hauling in sails and coiling ropes. You can also choose to relax while you sail past island-studded bays, harbor towns and mountains, keeping an eye out for porpoises and whales along the way. Whether you're looking for a weeklong vacation, a day trip, a sunset sail or a private charter, you'll be sure to find a ship to your liking.
History of Windjammers
Before the advent of steamships and trains, thousands of wooden sailing ships could be seen racing up and down the Eastern Seaboard in hopes of being first to market with their cargo. Centuries later, just a handful of these majestic ships survive. A Maine artist named Frank Swift helped keep this tradition alive by offering his first windjammer cruise in 1936. Today, the Maine Windjammer Association has 12 vessels, seven of which have been designated National Historic Landmarks. The fleet includes: two of Swift’s original schooners; America’s two oldest working coasting schooners, built in 1871; an oyster-fishing schooner; a Gloucester fishing schooner; a three-masted ram schooner; and a racing yacht. Since 1960, four new vessels built specifically for wind jamming have been added to the fleet.
The Maine Windjammer Association offers a wide range of specialty cruises, focusing on such hobbies as: bird and wildlife watching; wine, cheese and chocolate tasting; knitting; painting; and photography, You can choose a longer cruise to a destination such as Nova Scotia or Gloucester or a shorter trip along the state's coastline. Some vessels offer family-friendly cruises with hands-on activities catered toward young children. Hands-on activities for adults are featured on Seamanship cruises that offer instruction in navigation and practical skills training. No matter what kind of cruise you'd like to participate in, you'll be sure to find a cruise that fits your interests and schedule.
Wine Tasting Cruises
Whether you're a wine neophytes or a seasoned oenophile, you can enjoy professionally guided samplings of vintages from around the world aboard a wine tasting cruise. Each day of sailing ends with an informal, professionally conducted wine tasting. You can learn to appreciate wine using different parts of the palate while relaxing on deck.
Pirate Adventure Cruise
You and your family can sail away into the legendary world of pirates, scallywags and undesirables aboard a Pirate Adventure Cruise. Swashbucklers may be called upon to defend the ship by sword or cannon, or may be forced to walk the plank as they search for pirate treasure.
Art and Photography
Whether you're a shutterbug, illustrator or painter, you can draw inspiration from Maine’s sea coast to capture images of flora and fauna, lighthouses, coastal architecture, sunsets, and tall ships under sail aboard an Art and Photography Cruise.
Dovetailing with such events as the Maine Boat Show, Lobster Festival or the North Atlantic Blues Festival, many windjammers offers you the chance to combine sailing with a weekend of festival fun.
You can get an excellent view of the state's lighthouses aboard a windjammer, while you learn more about their history from the ship's captain.
Whale, Bird and Naturalist Cruises
No one can guarantee a whale’s whereabouts, but schooner captains have good luck finding finback, humpback, mince whales and other marine life. While you sail, you can see seals sunning themselves on rock outcroppings and pelagic birds and eagles soaring overhead. Some cruises venture to see puffin colonies.
Knitting and sailing have gone hand in hand since the Middle Ages, when sailors first knitted fishing nets. You are encouraged to bring your own project or to learn to design a gainsay sock (in the tradition of the fisherman's sweater), a nautical sweater, or a hat from patterns provided by a local knitting expert who sails as shipmate and instructor.
Music and Storytelling Cruises
The windjammer captains are terrific storytellers—and cruises showcase these talents, whether the stories are of maritime history or Downeast legends. Folk songs and sea shanties round out the evenings and you are encouraged to bring your instruments or sing along.
Weddings at Sea
If you're planning to get married, celebrate an anniversary, or renew your wedding vows, you might want to consider planning your ceremony aboard a windjammer. Most captains are licensed to perform weddings at sea or on shore—and getting married in Maine is easier than ever, thanks to recent changes in Maine’s marriage license procedure. Please note that the captains take their officiating duties very seriously, so you are encouraged to discuss your plans prior to sailing.
For more information, visit the Maine Windjammer Association or Maine Windjammer Cruises websites.