Now I’d like to put the spotlight on the Maine Windjammer Association, which represents ten traditional Maine tall ships, seven of which are National Historic Landmarks. Collectively, it’s the country’s largest fleet of historic, passenger-carrying vessels.
Besides the Bowditch and the Evans, they include the American Eagle, the Angelique, the Heritage, the Lewis R. French, the Mary Day, the Stephen Taber, the Timberwind, and the Victory Chimes.
While all of the vessels are privately owned, the Association promotes and markets the windjammers as a group, producing significant savings in advertising budgets for each ship.
All the ships sail out of the coastal towns of Rockland, Camden, or Rockport, located just a few miles from each other in the mid-coast region of Maine. The Association promotes package deals with B&Bs in the area — I recommend spending a day or two extra there before or after the cruise — as well as a land and sea package that bundles air and ground transportation at reduced cost to and from Boston.
The Association also hosts several area events each year including schooner races and windjammer parades, which help to raise awareness of the historic ships.
One of the Association’s most vital contributions is its attractive, easy-to-use website. If you’re interested in taking a windjammer cruise and aren’t sure which is right for you, you can go to the website (which in turn has links to all its members’ websites) and compare the ships, their schedules and prices, and individual differences in their emphases.
For instance, the captain of the Isaac H. Evans, Brenda Thomas, encourages families with children on all of her trips, including offering special pirate-themed voyages each summer. On the other hand, the captain of the Angelique has a minimum age of 12 for that ship.
Prospective passengers who have specific questions can even query all the captains with the click of a button, a terrific feature for information-hungry travelers. Having use of a (recently revamped) website like this cuts down on time and frustration for anyone who wants a windjammer cruise but doesn’t know where to start.
My experience is that many baby boomers have an interest in history when they travel, and several of the ships have compelling histories to be told. The Lewis R. French, for example, was launched in 1871 and is the oldest commercial sailing vessel in the United States. The Victory Chimes, the only original three-masted schooner in the fleet, was depicted passing a lighthouse on the Maine state quarter minted in 2003. The Bowditch served as a coastal patrol boat during World War II.
Along with the individual differences, though, each windjammer voyage has much in common with the others. All of them welcome — but don’t require — passengers to help out with sailing duties such as hoisting sails, weighing anchor, taking a turn at the wheel, or helping to navigate.
Most of the sailings set off into island-dotted Penobscot Bay without fixed itineraries and vary with wind, weather and other conditions, but you can be sure they’ll drop anchor in some peaceful bay or near a small island village, where some passengers may choose to go ashore and explore.
Cabins are always simple and space can be “cozy,” but they’re clean and comfortable once you’re snuggled into bed. Food is served family-style and relies largely on fresh ingredients including seafood and salads. Every windjammer cruise features a lobster bake during each voyage — that’s one of their key trademarks.
Sailings are seasonal, lasting from late May into mid-October. The cruises themselves may be as short as one or two nights to as long as nine nights, with the average falling somewhere in-between.
On a personal note, I’ve seldom had such enthusiastic responses from other baby boomers when I’ve mentioned that my wife, Catharine, and I were going on a Maine windjammer cruise. Certainly the craggy beauty of the Maine coast, the romance of experiencing old-time sailing ships, and being out in peaceful waters away from the cares of the world for a few days all play into it. It’s really a prototypical “bucket-list” type trip for boomers.
So the Maine Windjammer Association has a lot to work with, to be sure. But there’s also no doubt that collective promotional efforts of this sort are a win-win proposition for all concerned — allowing the ship’s captains to do what they do best, which is keeping these wonderful ships afloat and thrilling for all generations of passengers.
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