A Maine Windjammer Cruise

19th-century Style Cruising

By Bill Burnham
Photos by Mary Burnham, copyright 2005

“Two... Six.... HEAVE!”

Twenty-four people yelled the last command in unison while drawing with strained arms and back muscles a rope tied to 5,600 square feet of mainsail.

“Two... Six... HEAVE!”

Again and again, hand over hand, slowly, oh so slowly, rose the sail. Wind from the southeast, earlier a playful tickle upon our necks, now bit into the canvas and into us. The whip-and-snap of passengers’ nylon windbreakers echoed sharp cracks in the billowing sail.

The next command signaled near-completion of our first task as passengers-turned-swabby deck hands. “OK now, let’s giv’er a –“ and then, in a disarming and quite unexpected high-pitched voice: “HEAVE-LET.”

“Two... six... HEAVE” squeaked twenty four passengers, grimaces replaced with ‘aw-shucks’ grins.

Leaving Camden Harbor
On command, we loosened our grip and craned our necks backwards, eyes afixed on our handiwork. The Mary Day heeled left and saltwater sprayed across her deck. On the bow, one man found a premium front row seat and watched the boat knife a frothy path through Penobscot Bay. Others had settled into deck chairs; one lady in a white hooded sweatshirt resumed reading her book, "Dating Dead Men" another hustled below to volunteer in the galley. I headed for the helm, where Dumas, his white beard trimmed square to the jaw, stood in for the ship’s captain. His left hand steady on the wheel, his right firmly planted in the pocket of his tan canvas jacket, he appeared at that moment nothing short of the iconic Maine mariner.

Was it only 24 hours prior, each of us carted luggage down a gangway, scaled a Jacob's ladder up the steep-sided schooner, and swung our landlubber legs on deck? Less than 24-hours, indeed, and already folks had settled into life aboard an authentic Maine Windjammer.

Windjammer passengers discover the camaraderie of a week on a wooden ship: Heaping meals served organic and family-style. Sea ballads and puppet shows instead of formal night. Lobster bakes on a windswept island. There’s no itinerary and only one request: leave your cell phone and laptops at home.

The fleet of 14 historic ships are now taking reservations for summer and scenic fall cruises, departing from Camden, Maine. The cost is affordable ($395-875 for three to six days), with the added bonus of learning how to sail, navigate and even cook over a wood-burning stove.


Heading for a "shore excursion"