Maine’s historic windjammer fleet offers adventurous families a rustic but affordable unplugged outdoor summer vacation. Most ships and schooners in the fleet offer overnight trips lasting from one to seven nights. These trips feature majestic views of Maine’s coastline, unexpected interactions with seals and dolphins, and introduction to life at sea with limited modern conveniences or personal space. Each trip is different depending on the boat, the weather and the duration of the voyage. Passengers are often asked to help out with important tasks like raising and lowering the sails and anchor, but the crew takes care of the cooking and cleaning.
Two masted schooners and other windjammers are a common sight along the mid-coast of Maine, this one was seen from the deck of the Schooner Isaac H Evans
Our recent overnight sail aboard the 127 year old Schooner Isaac H Evans, based in Rockland, ME, offered an 18-hour view of life aboard these beautiful vessels. Our Friday afternoon departure in the pouring rain underscored the fact that these ships sail in all weather – no refunds offered if you don’t like the conditions. Because of the truly dreadful weather the first evening we sailed just a short distance out of Rockland Harbor to a protected inlet off the coast of nearby Rockport, ME. After weighing anchor and dropping the sails our intrepid crew raised a tarp that provided some protection from the elements and provided a semi-dry spot for a delightful onboard lobster and champagne dinner party. We particularly enjoyed the unlimited soft shell lobster and the easy clean-up — just throw the used up shells overboard!
Cooking Lobster on the Schooner Isaac E Evans
The next morning, in typical New England fashion, the skies had totally cleared and breakfast was served on deck (as are all the meals) — cooked over the ship’s wood stove which seemed to be in constant use, whether it was perking coffee, baking muffins or preparing eggs, bacon and hash browns. Our morning sail across the Bay on our return to Rockland was very pleasant in the sunshine.
Tarps helped to provide a dry spot during our rainy sail aboard Maine windjammer Schooner Isaac H Evans
We enjoyed meeting our 20 fellow travelers from New York, New Hampshire, Louisiana, Minnesota, and Washington DC. Our passenger list included about a half dozen kids and younger tweens ages 6 to 12, but no teenagers. Given the weather, during the first hours of the trip many of the adults retreated to the very limited space below decks while the kids seems happy watching the action in the rain. Unfortunately, since the Schooner is the real deal, originally built for hauling oysters along the New Jersey and Delaware shoreline, it tended to leak in the rain – resulting in a couple of the very small sleeping rooms getting fairly wet. This in turn made for less than perfect sleeping conditions since the ship doesn’t carry extra bedding. Once you leave dock, whatever is on board is all you have to work with. Leaks got plugged with disposable diapers and duct tape!
Raising the sails on the Schooner Isaac H Evans
Each sleeping room consisted of either a small double mattress platform bed, or two small bunks plus a tiny sink and about 4 square feet of floor space. There is basically no storage room except for small spaces next to the bed. While it was damp but usable for a single overnight our advice to anyone going for multiple nights it to back as lightly as possible. The two heads (aka bathrooms) consist of marine flush toilets that are only accessible via the main deck so bring a flashlight if you might need to visit them at night. One of the heads is also equipped with a hand shower. The crew kept them very clean. There are lights and electricity onboard, including small reading lights in each cabin.
Windswept coast near Rockland ME seen from the deck of the Schooner Isaac H Evans
Our trip lasted just one night, and obviously the conditions were not perfect. The Captain and her crew worked hard to make everyone as comfortable as possible and maintained a positive attitude. For families that like the outdoors, enjoy sharing small spaces with a few dozen “new friends”, and have well behaved kids who can easily entertain themselves, this kind of trip could be relaxing and relatively affordable since almost everything is included except expenses for stops ashore on the longer trips. For others, this kind of vacation might quickly become boring once the novelty wears off or the weather turns cloudy. If you go, definitely bring rain gear, suntan lotion, sunglasses, a hat, a sense of humor and a willingness to be flexible.
In the final analysis, the crew was great and the ship was authentic while the weather and scenery were pure New England. However, we decided we are really landlubbers who enjoy vacations featuring a lot more room and creature comforts than a 19th century sailing vessel can provide.
Disclosure: We paid for this trip ourselves and the crew did not know we would be doing a review