ROCKLAND, Maine – Though it’s barely spring, the captains of some of the most revered traditional schooners in America are already plotting strategy for Friday, July 5, when they will take part in the largest annual gathering of historic schooners, the 37th annual Great Schooner Race hosted by the Maine Windjammer Association.
From first-time sailors to old salts, guests are invited to participate in this informal, friendly competition that includes a multi-day “training” cruise to help new crewmembers learn the ropes before the big event.
For windjammer guests, the fun starts on Thursday, July 4, when the captains will conduct friendly maritime competitions off the island of Islesboro, in Gilkey Harbor, as a precursor to the headline event. Independence Day fireworks will cap the evening.
On Friday, July 5, Race day will begin with a captains’ meeting aboard Maine’s largest windjammer: the Victory Chimes. There, they will set the day’s course and classes. And, in one of the most anticipated moments of the summer, at 11 a.m., dozens of schooners will race across Maine’s Penobscot Bay, from Islesboro to the Rockland Breakwater, where their dramatic mid-afternoon arrival will be reminiscent of the days when cargo-laden schooners raced to be the first to port so they might capture the best market prices. A century ago, every schooner trip was a race against time and a captain’s profits depended heavily on his crew’s sailing skills.
Immediately following the race, the entire fleet will anchor in Rockland’s South End where an awards ceremony for participants (including each schooners’ guests) will be held at the Sail, Power and Steam Museum.
For Capt. Brenda Thomas, owner of the 127-year-old Schooner Isaac H. Evans, “[t]he appeal of the Race is getting the boats all together and recreating a scene that people might have seen a hundred years ago. There’s no other place I know of where guests can take part in such an exciting sailing event.”
Aside from the Great Schooner Race, while aboard one of the schooners, guests spend about six hours each day under sail, meandering through the waters of mid-coast Maine, and every afternoon drop anchor in the safe, snug harbor off a quiet fishing village, or at an uninhabited island where they can go ashore and explore. A day of sailing might culminate with a beachside lobster bake, some folk music or storytelling on deck, or a game of Scrabble around the wood stove.
Many of the participating schooners are National Historic Landmarks, while others were built in the last century specifically for the windjamming trade. All of them are beautifully maintained maritime treasures.
Spectators on shore can cheer for their favorite schooner from the Breakwater that marks one end of the finish line. There will also be excursion boats in Rockland offering harbor cruises to catch the finish.
On Saturday and Sunday, July 6 and 7, the members of the Maine Windjammer Association will host Open Schooner Tours at their docks from 2 to 4 p.m. each day. Visitors may stop by for a free deck tour of the Angelique, Lewis R. French and Mary Day in Camden; the Timberwind in Rockport; the American Eagle, Heritage and Isaac H. Evans at Rockland’s North End Shipyard, and the Nathaniel Bowditch and Stephen Taber at Windjammer Wharf on Tillson Avenue in Rockland.
For more information about the Maine Windjammer Association’s 37th annual Great Schooner Race, call 1-800-807-WIND. Details for on-sea and land-based participants are available at www.sailmainecoast.com.