Windjammers cruise Maine's scenic coast

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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.

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The Mary Day (right) sails in a schooner race off Rockland against other members of Maine's windjammer fleet. The Mary Day is celebrating its 50th season of carrying passengers off coastal Maine. Heated sleeping cabins have 9 feet of headroom.  ROBERT F. BUKATY/ASSOCIATED PRESS
ROBERT F. BUKATY/ASSOCIATED PRESS
The Mary Day (right) sails in a schooner race off Rockland against other members of Maine's windjammer fleet. The Mary Day is celebrating its 50th season of carrying passengers off coastal Maine. Heated sleeping cabins have 9 feet of headroom.

“So where are we going?” he asks rhetorically. “We’re going 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 cellphone 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 (8,000 kilometers) 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 (24 kilometers) 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 (27-meter) 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 9 feet (3 meters) 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 (5 meters) 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.

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; www.schoonermaryday.com or (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, www.sailmainecoast.com.


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