Sailing Adventure: Windjammer Cruise in Maine

Cruising in Maine is a unique experience. Instead of massive cruise ships, a small fleet of historic wooden tall ships plies these waters.

Getting the American Eagle ready to sail. Photo by Ben Rader
Getting the American Eagle ready to sail. Photo by Ben Rader

The American Eagle is in pristine condition. There are two living areas below deck, along with a tiny galley. Our accommodations are simple. Ben and I have a small cabin big enough to fit a double and a single bunk, with a tiny sink, several lights and hooks for hanging clothes. There are warm wool blankets if it gets cool at night. At first it seems tight, but we finally figure out how to organize and move about in the room.

There are restrooms and two showers on board. In truth, the term “shower” is a loose one. It’s rather like a small stall with a kitchen hose sprayer which allows us to get wet, soap up and then rinse down. It’s not relaxing, but it does the trick.

One of the best parts of sailing on the American Eagle is getting to know the six-man crew and the other passengers.

“There is an easy congeniality on board,” the American Eagle brochure had promised — and it’s true.

Everyone is open and friendly. We get to know folks from Texas, Boston, Michigan and elsewhere, enjoying the wide range of personalities and ages on board. Jennifer and Scott are a couple from Seattle, celebrating their 10th anniversary with a sailing cruise. We joke, swap stories, drink wine and lounge on deck, soaking in the scenery and enjoying the fun camaraderie.

Dining is a huge part of any cruise, and the American Eagle is no exception. Meals are served family style, all-you-can-eat. Andy is our cook, and he makes every homemade meal in the tiny galley on a wood-burning stove. We can hardly believe the good meals he turns out from his simple kitchen. Meals include lots of fresh fruits and local produce, fresh baked breads and pies, hearty soups and more.

Meals are served on deck or in the dining area below. It’s strange how the fresh air and the smell of the sea can really increase the appetite.

Lobster bake on the American Eagle. Photo by Ben Rader
Lobster bake on the American Eagle. Photo by Ben Rader

Lobster Bake

Lobster is a huge part of life in Maine, from its economy to its very culture. So it’s only natural that a highlight of sailing in Maine is taking part in a traditional lobster bake. Each Maine Windjammer cruise includes one of these yummy events; collectively, the Maine Windjammer Association captains purchase more than 10 tons of lobster each season.

Before we headed out of the harbor, Captain John had purchased 40 lbs of fresh lobster. The lobsters have been kept fresh and happy with regular dousing of sea waters. Now, they will play a feature role in our feast.

As the sun begins to sink lower in the sky, we sail into a secluded harbor at a small private island. After dropping anchor, we row ashore in two trips. It is our first time rowing, and it takes us a while to learn the drill. After some awkward maneuvering, we find our rhythm and row to shore.

Some of the crew have gone ahead and built a fire on the beach. A large metal pot is filled with 5 inches of seawater. While that cooks, the crew sets out a feast of hamburgers, cheese and crackers, veggies and even wine.

When the water is at a boil, Captain John plops the lobsters into the pot one at a time. Then the crew gathers seaweed and piles that on top of the lobsters, creating an efficient steaming pot.

Thirty minutes later, the lobsters have turned that famous color of orange and they’re ready to eat.
It’s quickly evident which of us live by the water and which of us rarely eat lobster. I have a hard time figuring out how to tackle my dinner.

These Mainers know their lobster, though, and Mike, one of the crew, shows me a quick and efficient way to take apart a whole lobster, saving every available morsel.

I’m surprised by how tender the fresh lobster is. Used to frozen lobster at home in the Rockies, this tastes amazing.

We’re offered as many lobster as we can eat, and Ben and Scott enjoy seconds…and even a third. We have homemade blueberry pie, and drink more wine, watching as the sun slowly sets over the water, casting a soft light on the American Eagle.

“It doesn’t get much better than this,” I say, and the others agree between bites of blueberry pie.

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