Maine windjammer: no schedule, no stress, lots of scenery

Posted Aug. 21, 2012, at 11:59 a.m.
The schooner Mary Day, right, sails in a schooner race with other members of Maine's windjammer fleet off Rockland, Maine, in July. The 90-foot Mary Day, which is celebrating its 50th season, is the first schooner in the Maine windjammer fleet to be built specifically to accommodate passengers.
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
The schooner Mary Day, right, sails in a schooner race with other members of Maine's windjammer fleet off Rockland, Maine, in July. The 90-foot Mary Day, which is celebrating its 50th season, is the first schooner in the Maine windjammer fleet to be built specifically to accommodate passengers.
Captain Barry King, on the guitar, joins passengers Sarah Washburn, playing violin, and her husband, Ryan Jesperson, during a musical evening aboard the Mary Day off Ilseboro, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Captain Barry King, on the guitar, joins passengers Sarah Washburn, playing violin, and her husband, Ryan Jesperson, during a musical evening aboard the Mary Day off Ilseboro, Maine.
Passenger Paul Ernest of Lynnfield, Mass., left, takes a turn at the helm during a three-day cruise on the schooner Mary Day on Penobscot Bay off Camden, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Passenger Paul Ernest of Lynnfield, Mass., left, takes a turn at the helm during a three-day cruise on the schooner Mary Day on Penobscot Bay off Camden, Maine.
Olivia Trankina of Marietta, Ga., and Liz Archibald of Clarks Summit, Penn., leap from the bowsprit of the schooner Mary Day in Bucks Harbor in South Brooksville, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Olivia Trankina of Marietta, Ga., and Liz Archibald of Clarks Summit, Penn., leap from the bowsprit of the schooner Mary Day in Bucks Harbor in South Brooksville, Maine.
Passengers read, work on crossword puzzles, and just relax on the deck of the schooner Mary Day during a three-day cruise on Penobscot Bay off Camden, Maine
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Passengers read, work on crossword puzzles, and just relax on the deck of the schooner Mary Day during a three-day cruise on Penobscot Bay off Camden, Maine
Kim Trankina of Marietta, Ga., relaxes in the morning sun with coffee and a book aboard the schooner Mary Day. The windjammer anchored for the night in a cove off Isleboro, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Kim Trankina of Marietta, Ga., relaxes in the morning sun with coffee and a book aboard the schooner Mary Day. The windjammer anchored for the night in a cove off Isleboro, Maine.
Captain Barry King mans the helm of the schooner Mary Day on a three-day cruise on Penobscot Bay off Camden, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Captain Barry King mans the helm of the schooner Mary Day on a three-day cruise on Penobscot Bay off Camden, Maine.
Passengers on the Mary Day gather as they pass a rocky ledge occupied by seals in Penobscot Bay off Camden, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Passengers on the Mary Day gather as they pass a rocky ledge occupied by seals in Penobscot Bay off Camden, Maine.
The schooner Mary Day sits at anchor in the morning fog off South Brooksville, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
The schooner Mary Day sits at anchor in the morning fog off South Brooksville, Maine.
Maggy Mulhern, left, and Katharine Mead, prepare a lobster bake for dinner on the shore of a small island in Penobscot Bay Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Maggy Mulhern, left, and Katharine Mead, prepare a lobster bake for dinner on the shore of a small island in Penobscot Bay Maine.
Passengers on the schooner Mary Day, watch the American Eagle sail by on a foggy afternoon on Penobscot Bay off Camden, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Passengers on the schooner Mary Day, watch the American Eagle sail by on a foggy afternoon on Penobscot Bay off Camden, Maine.
Sawyer King, 12, the son of the captain, rides on the bowsprit of the 90-foot passenger schooner Mary Day while sailing on a foggy afternoon in East Penobscot Bay off Little Deer Isle, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Sawyer King, 12, the son of the captain, rides on the bowsprit of the 90-foot passenger schooner Mary Day while sailing on a foggy afternoon in East Penobscot Bay off Little Deer Isle, Maine.
Harbor seals rest on a ledge off  Camden, Maine, in April. On a three-day cruise the Mary Day's passengers saw seals, porpoises and several types of seabirds.
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Harbor seals rest on a ledge off Camden, Maine, in April. On a three-day cruise the Mary Day's passengers saw seals, porpoises and several types of seabirds.
Captain Barry King draws various sailing vessels to help answer a passenger's question during a three-day cruise on Penobscot Bay off Camden, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Captain Barry King draws various sailing vessels to help answer a passenger's question during a three-day cruise on Penobscot Bay off Camden, Maine.

CAMDEN, Maine — Capt. Barry King is wrapping up his “welcome aboard” speech in the galley of the schooner Mary Day when he gets around to the question everyone has regarding the trip’s itinerary.

“So where are we going?” he asks rhetorically. “We’re going to Camden. Should be there in three days.”

In other words, there is no itinerary. All we know is that our journey will end right back here where it’s starting, in Camden Harbor. Where we go between now and then will mostly depend on the wind and weather.

With no set schedule, no cell phone signal, no noisy motors, what better way to relax than on a Maine windjammer?

On this sunny day in early August, the Mary Day sailed out onto picturesque Penobscot Bay. Behind us, Camden’s busy harbor, white church steeples and rounded mountains created a classic Maine backdrop. Ahead of us was Penobscot Bay, with more than 200 spruce-covered islands, making it one of the state’s finest cruising grounds. With more than 5,000 miles of jagged coastline, you’re never far from a quiet harbor or secluded cove to drop anchor and go ashore.

“The beauty of it to me is every week we can go somewhere we haven’t been before,” said King. “There are always new places to explore.”

Day One started out sunny, but light fog came and went throughout the day. By late afternoon we anchored off an island about 15 miles east of Camden. The all-female crew shuttled passengers ashore in rowboats. After a day of doing not much, other than helping to raise and lower the ship’s massive sails, it was time for an all-you-can-eat lobster bake on the beach.

Most folks turned down the captain’s offers after eating two. David Ernest, a college student from Lynnfield, Mass., managed to polish off four.

After dinner we returned to the schooner and sailed north, arriving at Buck’s Harbor after dark.

The 90-foot Mary Day, which is celebrating its 50th season, is the first schooner in the Maine windjammer fleet to be built specifically to accommodate passengers. Its sleeping cabins are heated and have nine feet of headroom.

Most of the Maine’s windjammers were originally designed for carrying cargo such as lumber and granite. The advent of steam-powered ships and later, the railroad, eventually put them out of the shipping business. The Mary Day is one of 13 windjammers offering passenger cruises along the Maine coast in summer and early fall; all belong to the Maine Windjammer Association.

We awoke on Day Two in Bucks Harbor to the smell of blueberry pancakes and fresh coffee coming from the galley. Outside, the early-morning fog was as thick as Maine chowder, so, many of the passengers went ashore to the small town of South Brooksville. The locals were gearing up to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the children’s book, “One Morning in Maine,” which was set here by the late author and illustrator Robert McCloskey, a summer resident.

By mid-morning the fog had burned off and many of the passengers decided to go swimming, some of the younger passengers climbing out onto the ship’s bowsprit before leaping some 15 feet into the chilly water.

Following a macaroni and cheese lunch that one passenger said was reason enough to book a trip again next year, we headed back out on to the bay. More than a dozen harbor porpoises could be seen surfacing in the calm waters. At another point, we sailed past a rocky ledge occupied by dozens of seals. Uninhabited islands were as numerous as buoys marking lobster traps.

The relatively small size of the schooner cruise tends to create camaraderie among its passengers. Whether it’s the teamwork from helping to raise the ship’s seven sails, or from sharing breakfast in the cozy main saloon, you can’t help but get to know your shipmates. These friendships and the casual atmosphere are among the reasons Donna Archibald, along with her husband and daughter, were marking their sixth cruise with the fleet.

The Archibalds, from Clarks Summit, Pa., have cruised on big ships but prefer the more informal windjammers. On a cruise liner, “you’re not as laid-back as on a schooner. You’re more on the go because you want to get in your day trips to the islands. You don’t really have time to sit back and get to know everyone because they’re all busy doing something else. And there are shows and captain’s dinners, so you have to get dressed up for that,” said Archibald. “Here you kind of roll out of your bunk, spritz your hair, and you’re ready to go.”

Finally, on Day Three, the captain’s prediction proved true. The Mary Day and all aboard returned to Camden Harbor, its majestic sails down and ready for the next scenic trip to nowhere along the Maine coast.

If You Go …

Mary Day: Based in Camden, Maine; 800-992-2218. Remaining cruises for the season through Sept. 27 range from $625 to $950 per person depending on departure date and length of cruise (three, four or six days).

Maine Windjammers: Cruises offered through late September and early October on 13 windjammers belonging to Maine Windjammer Association.

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