CAMDEN, Maine — The schooner Mary Day will have its 50th birthday this year.
The 90-foot-long boat has put more than 150,000 miles under its keel and has carried more than 20,000 guests in its lifetime. But perhaps what’s most special about the Mary Day is that it is the first schooner specifically built to carry passengers.
In the 1800s, Penobscot Bay was full of sailing ships that transported cargo such as sardines and Christmas trees.
“They were the tractor-trailer trucks of the 1800s,” said Mary Day’s owner, Barry King.
Up to 3,000 schooners a year would pass by Owls Head Lighthouse. Now there are 12 schooners docked in Maine, King said.
When the wooden boats were replaced by steam-powered boats, one Camden man looked around at all the obsolete schooners and thought, why not carry vacationers for cruises?
So a new trend of using old cargo boats as cruise ships started.
“The fleet was not well-maintained. They were so old. So Havilah Hawkins [the Mary Day’s first owner] said, ‘let’s do this right. From scratch.’”
He commissioned Mary Day to be built in Bristol, Maine.
“She’s the first commercial sailing vessel built in Maine. That’s the important part of her story,” King said. “That had never happened. Other people just used old cargo ships. This was built for what she does. She was built by people specifically for people. It’s extraordinary.“
For instance, in the main cabin where travelers dine, there is room for three couples to waltz between the fireplace and the tables. On the deck, there is enough room to square dance between the cabin top and the wheel. Also near the wheel is a rocking chair.
“That chair never leaves this boat. It’s the symbol of what this is all about — relaxation. What happens out here transforms people. People leave their desk jobs and come on [the boat] a stressed-out wreck. They leave a rejuvenated, rested human being,” King said.
King, who lives with his wife and three children in Appleton, doesn’t get those same vacations. Captaining and managing the boat doesn’t leave much time or money to travel. But that’s OK. He spends summers in the sun on the Maine coast with his family.
“My kids get a schooner as a playground — how cool is that?”
Coincidentally, the boat and King share a birthday.
“It’s a psychic connection,” he said.
King had grown up sailing — his father sailed yachts — and he was ready to get back to the water after he and his wife finished graduate school. That’s when they bought their first boat, a little outfit that carried six passengers at a time.
It took four years before the small cruise business went under.
King was hired as the first mate, then the relief captain, of Mary Day. In 1998, after King had worked for five years on the boat, it came up for sale and he took over the 30-passenger vessel.
Being the captain of the schooner is how King plans to live the rest of his life. His time will be spent cruising between Bar Harbor and Boothbay on the boat from Memorial Day to Columbus Day.
The boat takes three- to six-day cruises, which cost each passenger between $550 and $975.
The Mary Day sails exclusively in Maine.
“Being in Maine has saved her,” King said. “Mold and rot need heat. This boat is frozen and pickled by saltwater. I’d never take her anywhere else.”
King’s winters will be spent on boat maintenance — Mary Day requires about 4,000 hours of work each winter.
“I don’t know how to do anything else,” he said, laughing as he stood in one of the passenger cabins, surrounded by wood paneling and rope hanging in the bunks.
To celebrate the boat’s 50th summer at sea, King will upload photos, stories and other memorabilia on the boat’s website, schoonermaryday.com. There also will be a birthday party for the boat later this year at Camden’s annual Windjammer Festival.
“You can’t throw a rock in Camden without hitting someone who has had something to do with the windjammer fleet,” King said. “In 50 years this boat has carried more than 20,000 passengers. This boat has touched a lot of lives.”
An early version of this story requires correction. The lighthouse in the photograph was misidentified as Marshall Point Light. It is Robinson Point Light.