ROCKLAND/CAMDEN, Maine — The Midcoast windjammer fleet is seeing its greatest change in generations with the ownership of some vessels changing hands, others have been put up for sale, and two others were foreclosed on by their lenders.
Doug and Linda Lee of Rockland, who are the most veteran schooner operators in the region, acknowledged that the state of the windjammer industry is in its greatest flux since they began sailing 45 years ago.
The Lees are beginning their 31st year of being captains and owner of the schooner Heritage.
They have had the 145-foot Heritage up for sale for nearly two years. Doug, 67, and Linda, 66, said they simply wanted to be able to retire after 45 years.
Both said the industry changed dramatically after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. They said many people decided not to fly anymore, which reduced the customer base, and many others simply wanted to stay close to home. And both said they don’t see that the economy has rebounded significantly since the great recession of 2008 that stripped many people of their retirement money.
In addition to the Heritage, the 125-foot schooner American Eagle, which also sails out of the North End Shipyard in Rockland, is for sale. The 172-foot Victory Chimes, which sails out of the O’Hara wharf on Tillson Avenue in Rockland is also on the market. The asking price for the Heritage is $995,000, the American Eagle is on the market for $750,000, and the Victory Chimes $1.2 million.
Each are brokered through David Jones Yacht Brokerage.
These vessels will remain sailing until buyers are found. The Lees said they can see themselves sailing for several more years unless they find a buyer. Doug Lee said there have been a few serious suitors but none have led to a sale.
Two longtime members of the local windjammer fleet, however, will likely be drydocked this summer.
The 82-foot Nathaniel Bowditch was foreclosed on earlier this year when its former owners Owen and Cathleen Dorr were unable to make payments on the $375,000 loan to mortgage holder Thomas Federle. Federle was the sole bidder — $250,000 — at the Feb. 14 auction held by the U.S. Marshal.
The Bowditch was docked this past week in Camden Harbor without her masts, sails or rigging. A telephone message was left with Federle but not returned.
And the status of the 92-foot schooner Timberwind is in limbo after Bar Harbor Bank & Trust filed a foreclosure complaint on May 1 in U.S. District Court in Portland. The vessel is wrapped in plastic and docked in Lermond’s Cove in Rockland. The bank filed its complaint, stating that the owners Robert and Dawn Tassi were in default of a $325,000 loan.
The Timberwind is also on the market through David Jones brokerage for $410,000. The Bowditch is being brokered by the firm for $350,000.
While some of the more veteran windjammer operators are looking to sail into the sunset, a younger generation is on the horizon.
On Friday, the Lees and their young crew were enjoying lunch together at the couple’s home that overlooks North End Shipyard.
Alex Rowe, 22, of Lynchburg, Va., has family in Maine and last summer worked aboard a schooner in Bar Harbor before joining the crew of the Heritage this summer. He said he wants to one day own and operate his own schooner. Daniel Williams, 24, of New Jersey, said he wants to either operate a schooner or build wooden boats. And Alissa Balano of Portland, whose family has a long maritime heritage, said she wants to try out the life.
“I want to find out if the apple falls far from the tree,” Balano said.
One younger couple have fulfilled their dream of owning a schooner.
Dennis Gallant and Candace Kuchinski are the new owners of the 130-foot long windjammer Angelique. Both are old hands in the windjammer community but this is the first windjammer they have owned.
“She’s kind of my first love. She was the first big boat I had worked on,” Gallant said.
Gallant had worked as mate on smaller boats in Camden including the Olad when a friend, who worked on the Angelique as a deckhand, asked Gallant if he could fill in for him while he took a vacation.
“I filled in for my friend, had a great time and really fell in love with the boat. I knew I wanted to be on a bigger boat,” Gallant said.
That fall, he delivered a yacht to Antigua and ran into the first mate of the Angelique who said he was not planning to return to the Camden windjammer. Gallant said he returned to Maine a few days before Christmas in 1995, interviewed with the Angelique’s owner Mike McHenry in January and joined the crew in April 1996.
“We always joked that one day I would buy the boat from him,” Gallant said.
His first stint on the Angelique was for six years. Gallant took a couple years off and then returned for another four years before leaving about six years ago. He spent the next six years serving as a captain for various schooners and yachts.
He met his wife, Candace, during his first stretch on the Angelique when she worked on another vessel. He said the differing schedules made it a challenging relationship at first but that they would get occasional weekends together or would see each other if both vessels moored in the same harbor during their trips.
After 27 years of owning the Angelique, which was built in 1980, McHenry decided last fall that he was ready to sell and asked Gallant and Kuchinski if they were ready.
“The stars were all aligned,” Gallant said.
The sale became official in January.
Gallant said he had tried unsuccessfully to buy other windjammers but is happy he waited for the Angelique.
“I know her better than any boat. I don’t have to worry about figuring things out. I know how to do everything on the boat,” he said.
The Angelique is undergoing what Gallant said is a shave and a haircut. The boat was pulled out of the water this past week for the the bottom to be pressure washed and then painted.
Following the Coast Guard inspection of the hull, which is done every two years, the Angelique will go back in the water. The windhammer will have a crew of seven and will be rounded out when the cook arrives Monday, he said.
The first trip under the ownership of Capt. Gallant will be May 23. The Angelique offers three, four and six-day trips. The windjammer can carry 29 guests.
Another change in the ranks of the local passenger sailing vessels is the schooner Summertime. The 52-foot schooner had been sailing out of Rockland under owner and Capt. Bill Brown who has operated it since it was launched in 1986. Veteran schooner Capt. Ray Williamson — with three windjammers under his command including the flagship 123-foot Grace Bailey — said Brown asked him if he could take over operation of the Summertime this year. Williamson’s daughters will be operating the vessel out of Lincolnville this year, offering day trips and overnight excursions.
Gallant said the windjammer fleet is a small community where everybody knows each other.
“It hurts when something like this happens,” he said of the foreclosures of the Timberwind and Nathaniel Bowditch.
Gallant said that owning and operating a schooner is certainly a lifestyle choice.
“You hope to make enough to live and have a real retirement. But no one is getting rich,” Gallant said.
Veteran schooner owner Williamson echoed those comments.
“We love being on the ocean. That is pretty much why everyone is in the business,” Williamson said.