CAMDEN, Maine — “Camden Rocks” was the message spelled out Saturday morning in brightly colored pennants adorning the Rockland-based Schooner Nathaniel Bowditch.
The Bowditch and 14 other members of the midcoast fleet gathered over the weekend to celebrate the Camden Windjammer Festival — and according to passenger Sherry Smith of Dallas, Texas, Camden might rock, but so does sailing off the coast of Maine.
“It was fun, and this weather’s been perfect,” Smith said. “And the parade of sail was fun. We were learning the different flags, and what they stand for. It’s one big community.”
Those words sound like music to the ears of the organizers of this year’s festival, who began work in June to make sure the popular Labor Day weekend event would run this year.
“I’m very pleased,” said Dan Bookham, executive director of the Camden-Rockport-Lincolnville Chamber of Commerce, which coordinated this year’s organization efforts. “This is how I hoped it would turn out. It’s very mellow, but there’s a lot going on.”
The harbor bristled with the masts of the 15 schooners and nine other historic boats, according to Camden Harbormaster Steve Pixley. Throngs of spectators watched Friday afternoon’s parade of sail into the harbor and the fireworks later that night — which were spectacular, but possibly overshadowed by the huge silver moon that hung low in the sky, some people said.
“I had a hard time figuring out what was more beautiful,” said Lynn Travis of Lincolnville, who cooked on the Mattie — now the Grace Bailey — and the Lewis R. French in the early 1980s. “I adore the boats. I love to see them in the harbor, and it brings back wonderful, fond memories.”
History was a watchword for this year’s festival, as Camden and boatbuilding go way back, Bookham noted. By the mid-19th century, Camden was home to six shipyards and launched more than 10 vessels each year. Some traveled the world through overseas trade, while others hauled goods up and down the Eastern Seaboard. As shipping by sail became less important, the shipbuilding industry fell off, but in the 1930s, many of the windjammers began taking paying passengers around Penobscot Bay.
“Windjammers are as iconic to Maine as lobsters and lighthouses,” said John Viehman, publisher of Down East magazine, which was a major sponsor for the festival. “And they are absolutely synonymous with everything we believe in at Down East.”
Many of the town’s businesses had photos in their windows showing what the buildings looked like during the heyday of sail, and the festival arranged a historic walking tour for interested participants. The goal was also to get attendees off the public landing and into town, Bookham said.
Marty El Hajj, the grocery manager of French & Brawn Marketplace, said that the efforts seemed to be working.
“It’s been busy this weekend, and [the festival] has increased foot traffic a little bit,” he said.
But Betsy Rich, who was clerking at the Cappy’s Chowderhouse Bakery, said she thinks that attendance is lower this year than in the past.
“There’s been fewer people in general all summer,” she said. “But there’s good people turned out. Nice tourists, and the fleet is home to a wonderful group of people.”
The festival runs through Sunday. For information, visit the Web site www.camdenwindjammerfestival.com.