ROCKLAND, Maine — A brisk northeast wind Friday helped propel 16 ships sailing across Penobscot Bay for the 40th anniversary of what organizers bill as the oldest schooner race in North America.
“It was a great day,” said Kip Files, captain of the Victory Chimes, which participated in the Great Schooner Race.
The wind was stronger than forecast, with a steady breeze of 15 knots from the northeast, Files reported. His 127-foot vessel, which was filled to capacity with 44 guests, came in second with a time of four hours 15 minutes.
He said the annual race is a great attraction for passengers, schooner crews and the public.
“Where else in the world can you see a sight like this?” Files said.
The Great Schooner Race started at about 10 a.m. at Gilkey Harbor on Islesboro and ended when the vessels passed the Rockland Breakwater before mooring for the evening in Rockland Harbor.
Meg Maiden, marketing director for the Maine Windjammer Association, said hundreds of spectators were on the breakwater but maybe not as many would have been on a sunny day. She said the raw weather may have kept the number low on the breakwater.
Cars were lining Rockland Harbor Park and other waterfront locations to watch the vessels arrive Friday afternoon.
Maiden pointed out the impact of the schooners to the region. She said 95 percent of the guests aboard the schooners are from out-of-state and spend an additional two to three days in Maine after or before the trip.
She said the dramatic midafternoon arrival at the Breakwater recalls the days when cargo-laden schooners raced to be the first to Rockland 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,” Maiden said.
The Maine Windjammer Association’s Great Schooner Race is known as an extremely informal and friendly competition.
“The captains have often let wind, weather and tide dictate the race start and finish, but recent efforts to make the event more accessible have brought the event back to the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse,” she said.
Many of the participating schooners are National Historic Landmarks, while others were built in the last century specifically for carrying passengers.
“All of them are beautifully maintained maritime treasures,” she said.
An evening ceremony at the Sail, Power and Steam Museum in Rockland for participants was to feature a presentation of awards plus festivities.