I’ve wanted to sail on a historic schooner since I was a child. Back then, I read the Pippi Longstocking series about the spunky girl who boarded her uncle’s boat with her pet monkey and set off for exotic lands. I’d dream of sailing away and scrambling up the mast, using binoculars to see all the sights, feeling the wind in my hair and the freedom of the open water. Those stories gave me the desire to travel the world.
When offered the chance to go aboard the J & E Riggin, a designated National Historic Landmark, for 4 idyllic days sailing from Rockland, along the rocky coastline of Maine, I jumped at the chance. What attracted me to windjamming is that it’s eco-friendly. The Riggin received the Environmental Leadership in Hospitality award from the state of Maine. It’s the first and only windjammer to be given the honor. It’s an intimate sailing experience, hosting just 24 passengers or less for trips. I also liked the lack of a specific itinerary. We would sail according to the whim of the wind, anchor in secluded coves each night, and meals would include Maine’s legendary lobster. What else could anyone want? I learned so much more.
The J&E Riggin invited me for a Lobster and Lighthouse tour, but all opinions are my own.
Windjammers Offer The Chance To Sail The Boat
There are nine member boats in the Maine Windjammer Association that carry 14 to 28 guests plus crew. Each schooner offers the opportunity to assist in the sail; it’s part of windjamming. The Riggin had 14 guests for my sail, including a few children. We raised or furled the sails, hauled the anchor, helped coil the ropes, and the kids handled small jobs. I asked to steer the ship, and even some of the older kids sailed, which was thrilling. The Riggin crew asked for volunteers daily but were fine if one or two passengers opted out. It was fun to help, but I was surprised to discover that it might not be the right choice for everyone. Choose the schooner and sail that’s right for you. Read the description and FAQ section or have a conversation with the captain before booking. Being hands-on attracted me to windjamming, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
A Crew Member Stays Up All Night On Watch
The bathrooms or “heads” were on the top deck, and the cabins or berths were below. Kerosene lanterns illuminated the deck in the evenings, and their soft glow lit the way for passengers. I thought they were so pretty until I was drifting to sleep one night and suddenly wondered “what if they were knocked over?” I asked about this the following day and found out that the crew takes shifts called a “watch.” Someone is awake all night standing guard until the chef wakes up to make all the bread and breakfast items at four in the morning. It’s a law if you are docked overnight with sleeping passengers. I was glad I asked and this made me feel safe.
Windjamming Is Like Camping On The Water
Windjammers have different configurations and accommodations. Berths are for sleeping and big enough to store gear and get rest. While the bedding and mattresses are comfortable and cabins are clean, there’s little room for hanging out. Historic boats are retrofitted, and rooms are close to each other. I was surprised to hear conversations or sounds next door. Think of it as sleeping in a tent or having a tent adjacent to others in a campground. Showers are available but not when sailing. If you are okay with that, you’ll enjoy windjamming. Some boats encourage bringing a sleeping bag aboard to lay on deck to view the sky on clear evenings. This option makes for a remarkable stargazing opportunity if you’re game. You may not get a lot of sleep, but it’s worth it as we saw the Milky Way. Besides, during the day, on deck is where it’s at, and napping there is never frowned upon.
Meals Are Prepared Daily On A Woodburning Stove
The windjammers sailing out of Maine have farms and local purveyors at their disposal. We were treated to sweet local blueberries, produce, cheeses, chowder with local cod, and local shellfish like lobsters and oysters on our cruise. All the bread, pasta, and baked goods were made from scratch daily from the galley kitchen by the talented Chef Mark Godfrey and his sous chef, Katrina Highley. The chefs had experience cooking on the woodburning Crawford Cottage cookstove, and each meal was incredible. I didn’t expect that. I noticed gluten-free options and fruit and vegetables served during the sail. If you have a specific dietary need, consult with the captain before sailing to ensure your allergy or concern is considered and accommodated. A peanut allergy was taken seriously on my sail, so peanut products weren’t served.
It’s An Opportunity To Relax And Unwind
I sailed for 3 days with one offshore excursion to a charming coastal town and enjoyed a delicious lobster bake on a rocky beach later that evening. That was a highlight. The other days were spent sailing under gorgeous sunny skies. We had gusty winds one day and enjoyed an exhilarating sail around Penobscot Bay. Most of the time, we watched the waves for marine life. We were lucky to see porpoises frolic, while overhead, eagles, and ospreys fly by, and seagulls were everywhere in Stonington, Maine harbor. On many occasions, we spied seals bobbing around near the boat and called out in excitement as the sight never got old. We engaged in lively conversations with everyone and snapped tons of photos. Passengers read, crafted, napped, or played cards, but mostly gazed out over the water.
Windjamming is a relaxing vacation meant for unwinding. We savored views of lighthouses, small rocky islands populated with pine trees, and soaked up some sunshine. The rowboat was at our disposal if we wanted to get some exercise, and one young family among us took it out twice. If you’re adventurous, you can jump in the water as one passenger did. However, with the water temperature around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, I opted to skip it. We enjoyed the rhythm of the days, but as we sailed back to Rockport, I was rested and ready to return to my routine. If you seek relaxation and sailing with the wind, this is the vacation for you. Sometimes, slowing down is more challenging than you realize, but it’s the recharge you need.
Want to take more of an active role in your vacation? Sailing on a small vessel is the answer: