Is There a Sailor in Your Soul? Try a Windjammer Cruise Off the Coast of Maine
The siren’s call of Maine’s mid-coast region pulls us to a land of stark beauty and resilience. Here green forested islands shelter lighthouses, sustainable farms, and island towns that wear their history proudly. Maine has over 4,600 islands off its coast, set in unusually blue yet cold water not far from the mainland. However, sailing among these islands is entirely different than sailing the open sea. In fact, it takes a special ship to sail here – a windjammer – to slalom among the islands through calm lagoons and narrow channels on wind swept currents and tidal flows. And we’re about to step aboard one of these classic schooners and explore these islands firsthand.
An authentic sailing experience
In the 1880’s, between the age of sail and the age of steam, an informal, if not pejorative, term was coined to reflect a specific class of sailing ship. Windjammer, with its traditional, multiple masts, served as a commercial sailing ship capable of carrying cargo for merchants with incredible alacrity from port to port.
Today, managed and marketed by the Maine Windjammer Association (MWA), a fleet of these ancient maritime schooners race about the bay waters off the coast of Maine ferrying passengers for the sheer enjoyment of sailing as in an age gone by. Most are historic landmarks, and each vessel is individually owned and operated.
Windjamming is an authentic sailing experience. Off the coast of Maine, it means rocky coastlines, historic lighthouses, abundant sea life, fire red sunsets, and of course, traditional island lobster bakes.
These intimate, discovery-designed schooners invite you to encounter immersive sailing experiences and the hidden gems of the coastal islands of Maine. Breathe in the misty air as the ship skims across the water, watch the sun dance through rugged rocks and evergreen pine forests on shore. Anchor and row ashore to explore state parks and historic small villages. True New England Americana, with whispers of old Europe, lies in store on these extraordinary voyages with vast expanses of gorgeous horizon and stunning shoreline for view along the way. Beyond ordinary, beyond imagination, these windjammer cruises open an oceanic fantasyland that captivates you from the sturdy decks of these sleek small ships designed for coastal exploration.
We have chosen a lighthouse themed tour aboard the Angelique, owned by Captain Dennis Gallant and Candace Kuchinski. We rise early today, excited to board the Angelique, a 130-foot, 41-year-old gaff topsail ketch with over 500 square feet of majestic crimson sails. With four nights and four glorious days aboard, we’ll sail throughout the islands off Maine’s Mid-coast region.
As we head to Camden Harbor, where the Angelique is docked, we feel our excitement rising. We arrive at our vessel and quickly stow our bags below in our cabin, then climb to the deck and mingle with other passengers. We spend the first night in harbor which gives everyone a chance to explore Camden, the self-described Jewel of the Maine coast.
The next morning, as we prepare to depart, the kitchen prepares what will be the first of many sumptuous buffet meals. Before we know it, the Angelique is motoring out of the harbor and our adventure begins. Captain Dennis says the wind has no script and with thousands of islands to sail between and around in Penobscot Bay, he never sails the same route twice.
Soon the crew prepares to raise the sails. Passengers are encouraged to participate and helping to raise the sails is part of the fun. Immediately the wind fills the sails, and we quickly pick up speed.
The crew, full of youth yet highly experienced, runs the boat, hoists the sails, and drops anchor. Even while hard at work with some tasks, the crew conveys a warm, spirited conviviality to the guests. They teach us how to raise the sails, how to clean the anchor, and even how to tie knots when time permits.
Sailing through these islands is more than just scenic. It invites you to see historic light houses and towns, explore hidden coves and tiny island chains from the comfort of our discovery-designed ship. We unwind in a sunlit seascape as a canvas of blue and green slips by. From rocky shorelines cloaked in evergreens to boundless blue sky, the Angelique sweeps along Maine’s majestic maritime coast and through the islands. The windjammer’s journey around the islands is like sailing past the historic playgrounds of both pirates and patriots.
We’ve chosen the Lighthouse Tour and along the coast and throughout the islands there are plenty to see. It seems like just minutes when we sail past the first one – Curtis Island Light. Built in 1836, this lighthouse sits on the southern end of a seven-acre island just offshore from Camden. Next, we sail past the Straitsmouth Island Lighthouse, built in 1835 to mark the entrance to Rockport Harbor. Soon we come upon the Owls Head Lighthouse, built in 1825, atop a steep rise near Rockland Harbor. Tales of ghosts, shipwrecks, and bell-ringing dogs are part of the Owls Head legacy. We will come across many more lighthouses over the course of our journey. With so many photographic opportunities and stories about these symbols of the sea, it’s clear that we’ve chosen a cruise that will not disappoint.
With even-keeled steadiness, the sleek Angelique easily cuts through the currents surrounding the islands in the bay. True to her windjammer spirit, she uses both the wind and the tide to move us. She cruises where sailing is best during the day and finds a snug harbor at night. Her seven large cinnamon-colored sails suggest both speed and grace. Built with steel and wood construction in 1980 as an authentic replica of a classic 19th century windjammer, this 142-ton vessel still maintains her charms although she’s been modified and upgraded over the years. One thing that hasn’t changed is her capacity to take guests on unforgettable sailing experiences.
The second night aboard the Angelique we anchor off the Isle au Haut. We settle in for a relaxed, multi-course dining experience. The weather cooperates, enabling us to dine al fresco on the midship deck. We share bottles of wine and get to know our fellow passengers.
Captain Dennis, our “windjammerlorian,” regales us with history of the lighthouses and their restorations, the history of the islands, and the changes he has seen for the past 25 years of his career.
Cuisine is a part of every windjammer cruise. It engages your senses and opens a window to the essence of a place. The chefs are inspired to create authentic Maine dishes using locally sourced ingredients. From regional classics like fish chowder and lobster quiche, the chefs bring bay island sailing to life.
Each morning we are greeted by a spread of hearty dishes from freshly baked cinnamon rolls, mushroom frittata, plates piled high with bacon and sausage, blueberry pancakes, and freshly squeezed juice. A seafood cioppino, an array of salads, and even a Vietnamese inspired feast are served midday. Evenings begin with generous charcuterie boards, and feature dishes such as grilled ahi tuna, carnitas tacos, pesto pasta, tri-tip, fresh salad, and of course, a different dessert each night.
Isle au Haut
In the morning we board the Angelique’s rowboats and head to Isle au Haut, where part of Acadia National Park is located. Lobster fishing is one of the biggest industries in Maine and lobster traps are everywhere around the islands. Population is sparse on Isle au Haut and the shops won’t open until 11:00 am. But that gives us plenty of time to hike up hill to view the island’s lighthouse. Back on board, we’re off to explore more islands.
The greenish gray of the water under overcast skies in the morning juxtaposed to the tan rounded rocks on the islands looks like folded canvas at the water’s edge. Back on board we motor out from our overnight anchorage, navigating through the hundreds of lobster buoys bobbing in the water, in search of the wind, all seven sails set to catch it. We are not disappointed. Soon we are keeling 15 degrees to the starboard, under a firm breeze, and cutting through the water at an exciting adrenaline rushing 8 knots. The captain is gleeful for this is the exact experience he and the crew have been looking for all season. We windjam at this pace for a while, passing several luxurious homes atop the islands, then “come about” to search for more a calmer, stabler surface for lunch.
In the afternoon, we sail towards Deer Isle for a visit to Stonington, a colorful fishing town. We carefully step aboard the ship’s rowboat and through careful coordination, paddle our way ashore. A stroll through town is like walking through Maine’s history. The iconic New England architecture is on full display in its colorful, wooden, multi-storied houses. Shops offer unique merchandise and friendly shopkeepers welcome visitors.
The lobster “luau”
Tonight, we’ve been promised baked lobster. The captain chooses a small, deserted island as the perfect place to prepare and serve the feast. The evening of the “lobster luau” we row Angelique’s small boats from the ship to the shore with all the accoutrements for boiling 60 lobsters – a giant pot with frame, firewood, and seaweed gathered for steaming the lid closed. More lobster is cooked than 25 passengers could possibly consume. Warm breezes and wine to accompany the meal add to the luau’s ambience.
Filled to the brim with all the lobster we can eat, we head back to the boat for one last night aboard and sleep comes easily.
The last leg of the journey
When we awake the next morning, the clouds overhead reflect on the water in a way that creates almost surreal scenes. It’s time to return to port and we take our place on deck to raise the sails. With no regrets we sit back and enjoy the last leg of the journey, the last few hours of our perfect sailing experience.
Is there a sailor in your soul?
Cruise themes among the nine windjammers in Maine vary from yoga and wellness to lighthouse discovery, to farm-to-table dinner. Is there a sailor in your soul? At Maine Windjammer Association, you’ll find something to satisfy everyone.