To really savor the rugged beauty of Maine's coastal scenery, consider a Windjammer Cruise, a seafaring adventure that lasts between three and six nights, departs May thru October, and is a total escape from modern life. Leave your cell phone and laptop behind because mother nature is the star of this show. You’ll be privy to dramatic seascapes as you beachcomb along Maine’s sparsely populated islands and get up-close to whales, porpoises, eagles, and other coastal wildlife. Plus, there’s no better way to partake in a genuine slice of New England’s maritime history.
The Windjammer cruise experience
For starters, Windjammers are eco-friendly vessels that don’t rely on fossil fuels. Treasured by environmentalists, these traditional tall ships are powered by harnessing the force of the wind. If you crave harmony with nature, few experiences are as soul satisfying. The captain and crew take their roles as stewards of the sea seriously and are passionate about preserving the pristine waterways. They strictly adhere to the “leave no trace” code of conduct, leaving each harbor or village cleaner than it was found.
Life on board
Passengers may help the competent crew as much or as little as they please. If there’s a sailor lurking in your soul, let the genie out of the bottle and hoist a sail, take a turn at the wheel, or help navigate. If laying low is more your style, read, sketch, or mingle with friendly fellow passengers as the salty seabreeze carries you away. When darkness falls, the glorious night sky means stargazing is the activity of choice. The rhythms of shipboard life are punctuated by three Downeast-style meals daily, ever-changing scenery, and stops to go ashore and explore the small fishing villages and eye-candy lighthouses that dot the coastline. There’s no set itinerary as the next destination is determined the old-fashioned way, by winds and tide.
Meet The Fleet
Each of the nine windjammers has a distinct personality, while beauty, grace, and speed unify them. They carry between 16-40 guests and 4-10 crew members, and depart from either Rockland or Camden in Maine. Some cater to families while others are better suited to adults only. There are a variety of themed specialty trips that appeal to everyone from birders to beer lovers to yogis. Life on board is about simple pleasures, so leave your designer threads at home. Snug accommodations are rustic yet comfortable. Basic resources such as food and water are precious, so wasting is a big no-no.
Sailing aboard the Stephen Taber
First launched in 1871, the Stephen Taber is the oldest documented sailing vessel in continuous service in the United States and a tribute to 19th century craftsmanship. I chose it for its historic attributes as well as for the sterling reputation of its fun-loving Captain Noah Barnes, his wife and partner Jane Barrett Barnes’ oenophile expertise, and for its widespread culinary notoriety.
Maine’s chilly waters are overflowing with mollusks and crustaceans of every shape and size, making it a paradise for seafood lovers, plus the state’s hyper-local agricultural heritage assures the freshest seasonal produce from sustainable farms and purveyors. The food is prepared on the Stephen Taber’s back-to-basics vintage woodstove, though flavors rival those of the finest restaurant kitchens. The crew is committed to showcasing farm-to-table and boat-to-table products that are sustainable as well as delicious. A hearty breakfast includes an abundance of homespun hot dishes and freshly baked goods, while lunch leans towards full-bodied soups and fresh salads served with hot-from-the-oven bread. Wines are accompanied by a selection of farmhouse cheeses before the mouth-watering evening meal. The culinary climax of each trip is an all-you-can-eat lobster bake on a secluded beach.
A splurge, but worth every penny
Windjammer cruises are an excellent value. The all-inclusive price really does include everything, so except for your crew’s deserving tip at the end of the journey, you may leave your wallet at home. On the Stephen Taber, home-cooked meals, evening wine, a cozy cabin, and the priceless nautical experience can be had for $200 per person, per night. Early birds whobook the Stephen Taber by March 1, 2016 will receive a 5 percent discount off the regular rate. Other schooners offer similar prices and discounts. Cabins are reserved on a first-come, first-served basis, so there’s an added incentive to book early and score a primo berth.