Maine Windjammer Cruise

Theresa Russell

Oh, so you think that cruising involves a city sized mega ship with tons of space, casinos and restaurants? Well, think again.   If you want to sail on a ship and feel like you are really sailing, then consider a Maine Windjammer cruise.


The Maine Windjammer Association is a marketing group with a variety of ships, many old and designated as National Historic Landmarks,   while others are newer reproductions of historic vessels. They have an excellent website with brief descriptions of each member in the fleet, which is a wonderful way to choose a ship that is perfect for you.  Feel free to speak with the captain about the experience that a particular ship will offer.


On my initial contact with the reservations personnel, I was emphatically reminded that these were not luxury cruise liners.   I had guessed that from looking at the deck layouts and reviewing the informative web pages. The receptionist wanted to make this point clear as it seems that they had some customers who didn't catch this difference and were in for a real surprise.  And how you look at it will make this a real surprise or a treat or both.


First of all, expect tight, cramped quarters, much as you might expect that a small vessel would contain. I did imagine this, but our bunkroom was even smaller than anticipated.  No worries though, the cabin is really just the place to sleep so you don't need that much space and soon realize that this is just part of the windjamming experience.


So, this means that you will be spending a lot of time on the deck interacting with the other guests. I will suggest that once you decide on a ship that you ask if there are any groups booked on the dates that you are considering.  This can make a big difference to the experience. On our cruise, there was one largish group that basically wanted to stay as a group and didn't interact much with the other guests. Fortunately, the other half of us booked on our own, so we socialized amongst ourselves. However, had there only been 3 or 4 of us outside this exclusive group, our experience would not have been as fun.


The conditions onboard are a great conversation starter and asking to see other sleeping quarters is a great ice breaker. One such topic is the food onboard. The Isaac Evans, the boat on which we sailed had a former bakery owner as cook. How lucky we were. Even though the stove is wood fired, she cooked up some delicious bakery items and other delectable meals. We anxiously awaited our daily meals and wondered if the next one could beat the last and it always did. Since this type of experience encourages passenger participation, it was possible to help Eileen in the kitchen, either in the preparation of food or the washing of dishes and clean-up after the meals.


Probably the most exciting and anticipated meal was the lobster bake held on the beach of a small island. Our particular feast took place on a previously unvisited spot. The lobsters and cooking pots were rowed ashore as was everything else necessary for this highlight of the trip.  We watched the fresh lobsters boil in the pot and picked out the meat from the shell.   We walked along the shore and enjoyed the setting until we realized that our beach was quickly disappearing. The incoming tide brought the water higher and higher and we quickly cleaned up and scurried into our dinghies to return to our home.


Cruising without an itinerary is one of the advantages of the windjamming experience.   Our captain, Brenda, decided on the day's course depending on the wind and weather.  We departed from Rockland, Maine on the first day and headed out into Penobscot Bay.  We passed by many islands, lobster boats and other windjammers.  The wind determined our destination. We usually anchored offshore for the night. Certain days we took the dinghies into town and strolled the streets for awhile.   Onboard we assisted with sailing chores. Raising the anchor and unfurling the sails required many strong bodies and willing hands.   Brenda often let someone take the wheel as she explained the finer points of navigating the seas and told stories of her many adventures.


Fortunately for our cruise, we had decent weather.  We saw dolphins frolicking near the boat and enjoyed the clear skies and calm weather. Only one day did we see rain and this puts an entirely new twist on the experience. While we usually ate on the deck, we had to go to the galley.   Well, 22 of us somehow fit into a galley that might easily fit 22 small people.    We somehow managed to bend our elbows to lift our soup spoons. This meal finished in record time as some of the more claustrophobic types became stressed by the tight conditions. Others remained below deck to play some of the board games that are stocked below. Reading in the warmth of the cabin was another preferred option.  In the rain,  the tiny cabins became magnificent refuges from the wet and chilly deck.


Captain Brenda says that many passengers are repeat guests, some bringing their children and grandchildren. While this particular boat is kid friendly, I personally would not feel comfortable having a young child wandering around the deck. I would recommend that a child be at least 8 years old or have sailing experience.

As one guest pointed out, if the boat happened to lurch during the night while he was visiting the head, he could have been tossed overboard.  This is not to say that the boat is dangerous, but it certainly demands respect. Most passengers who opt for a week long cruise have taken a shorter length cruise previously.  This is an excellent way to see if you enjoy this type of travel.

There are also theme cruises offered such as a wine tasting, knitters or photography cruise. The scenery is spectacular and the company is good. Remember that your fellow guests are as adventurous as you are, so you already have something in common.  Welcome aboard, maties.  Happy Traveling.



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