Winds of Fate: Windjammer Cruise in Maine

leadmainesailing“Hang on,” the man next to me advises, and I’m quick to comply. The Angelique’s red sails have caught the wind, and her tall wooden masts creak under the wind’s powerful hand. The sailboat angles sharply, cutting through the sea, and I have to hold on to keep my balance.

With my back against the boathouse, I brace myself and give in to the tall ship’s tilt. Sea spray mists my face as we slice through the rhythmic waves, and I’m thrilled with the freedom of sailing. Behind me, I hear the joyful whoops of my fellow passengers who are obviously just as happy.

Later, when the wind slows down, one of the crew members shows me how to climb out onto the head rig near the jib boom to watch the waves below. Netting is the only thing that holds me above the sea, and for a moment, I panic, watching the water crash beneath me. But I follow Abe’s careful steps to the edge, and then catch sight of the scene before me.

The blue waters of Penobscot Bay stretch across the horizon, with pine-covered islands in the distance and wood-shingled villages draped along the shoreline. Gulls float in the breeze against a cobalt sky, and the air is heavy with the salt of the ocean.

The sea is a mainstay for many who call Maine home. We pass boats of all sizes, from luxurious yachts with helicopter landing pads to rugged rowboats, faded from the sun.

We also pass dozens of lobster boats. Colored buoys marking their traps dot the water as far as the eye can see.

“It looks like God sprinkled Skittles candy across the sea,” one person remarks, and it seems an accurate description.

The Angelique herself is a gaff topsail ketch following in the timeless tradition of 19th-century tall ships. The 95-foot (29 m) vessel, one of 14 windjammers that sail the coasts of Maine, holds 29 passengers and six crew members.

Though the ship has two engines, the Angelique sails under the power of the wind.
Though the ship has two engines, the Angelique sails under the power of the wind.

Most of the windjammers were built around the turn of the century, when America relied on sailing ships for transport. In fact, several of the vessels are registered National Historic Landmarks.

Though the Angelique is one of the newer ships in the fleet, it is still patterned after vessels of old. Quarters are tight, but comfortable. Cabins consist of a double bed, a small sink and three feet of floor space.

All passengers share three “heads” (restrooms) onboard, and there are two narrow showers. The Angelique has a cozy deckhouse, complete with piano for singalongs.

Family-style meals are served in the mess hall, below. The cook whips up incredible dishes from her compact kitchen. From my perch on the deck, I can hear her singing “Swing low, sweet chariot” while she works, the tinny sound of banging pots intermingling with her soft voice.

Captain Mike Henry stands at the wheel, enjoying the breeze and looking as if he hasn’t a care in the world. Though we have two engines for backup, we sail under the power of the wind. With no set itinerary, we will go where nature takes us.

There is a certain freedom in that; still, I can’t help but ask Captain Mike where we might be headed today.

“Oh, probably straight … and then we might turn,” he deadpans in that dry Maine sense of humor.

Every day is different, Captain Mike says. He and his wife, Lynne, bought the Angeliqueback in 1986 because they loved the sailing lifestyle, the people and scenery.

The crew are mostly native “Mainers.” They are not afraid  of hard work or the cold weather that sweeps across the state in the winter.

Working aboard the Angelique is not easy. The crew sleeps in narrow bunks hidden in the walls of the mess hall, and they work from dawn to dusk. But the grins on their faces give it all away.

Living in such tight quarters, it’s easy to form camaraderie with our crew and fellow passengers. In fact, it’s a delight that I hadn’t anticipated. We spend hours chatting with our shipmates under the star-filled nights, and learn about sailing — and life in Maine — from the crew.

The Angelique drops anchor in a quiet harbor.
The Angelique drops anchor in a quiet harbor.

Each day is an adventure. One afternoon, we stop at the Holbrook Island Sanctuary and hike through the woods, the soft forest floor thick with pine needless. Our path leads us to a quiet inlet. Clear tide pools here brim with life, and I squat at each one to discover the world inside. Harbor seals play along the shoreline, and osprey swoop overhead. Tucked in the trees nearby is a worn, wood-shingled house with dozens of lobster traps stacked tidily out front.

The next morning, we wake to find a thick fog has enveloped the ship. Penobscot Bay has disappeared, and it feels like we’re the only people on the planet. It’s strange how the fog dampens sound. When a light rain begins, the crew spreads a blue tarp over our heads, and we move our camping chairs beneath it, huddling together and gulping down hot cups of coffee.

By the next afternoon, the sun has again taken over in a bright-blue sky. The Angelique sails into a quiet harbor and anchors near an uninhabited isle. Like previous days, we row ashore. Our first attempts at rowing had been comical, but our once-awkward strokes are now comfortable with experience.

My husband and I wander down the beach and discover a footpath leading into the forest. We hike through waist-high ferns to the top of a hill, where we sit and watch the sun grow lower in the summer sky.

When we finally rejoin our group, they are serving a picnic dinner — fresh Maine lobster steamed in seawater and seaweed, and hot corn-on-the-cob. It tastes so good that I eat two — yes, two! — huge lobsters. Seafood never tasted so good.

We row back to the boat as it nears dusk. And when the sky turns dark, we gather on deck, lounging in chairs and searching for Jupiter and Venus in the star-filled skies. There are no city lights to dim them here.

When the night air grows chilly, I climb down below deck to grab a sweatshirt. Through the thin floor, I hear laughter and the conversation on deck. The last four days have brought our small group of strangers together, and by now, I can tell each of the crew and many of the passengers just by the sounds of their voices.

I’ve come to feel at home here on the Angelique, and part of me dreads leaving her behind. But life can’t all be perfect waters and smooth sailing.

And besides, I’ll be back again soon, sailing the dark blue waters of Maine with the wind behind me and Penobscot Bay on the horizon.

If You Go

Windjammers are for those looking for a unique cruise experience in a small, intimate setting. Accommodations are simple, but comfortable. Not all windjammers allow young children aboard; be sure to check each specific windjammer for details.

The vessels sail from Camden, Rockport and Rockland, Maine. Transportation is available via the Portland International Jetport. Commuter flights from Boston to Rockland are available with Colgan Air (www.colganair.com).

Cruises run from late May to mid-October. Specialty cruises are available, including wine tasting, full-moon sailing, whale watching, puffin scouting, watercolor painting and a weeklong-seamanship course.

Maine Windjammer Association

800-807-WIND

www.sailmainecoast.com

Angelique

800-282-9989

www.sailangelique.com

 

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