Young sailor standing on netting on side of ship to help raise the sail.

Setting the Sails for the Sea

I have always tasted the side of life and adventure that others consider crazy and dangerous. Nevertheless climbing nearly a hundred feet up into the windy rigging of a sailing ship at sea had never been in my plans. Even without a safety net or parachute, the breathtaking view of Maine’s Penobscot Bay from the swaying mast of a windjammer was worth the physical effort and risk.

Opportunity is a door I have always kept open, and when I was invited to participate in a week-long cruise aboard a 100-foot windjammer through the islands and rugged coast of Maine … I jumped at the chance! The boat was an immaculate vessel and just one of more than a dozen historic windjammers who are members of the Maine Windjammers Association. Most of these vessels are schooners that date back as far as the late 1800s.

Photographers find the passing scenery and the active life aboard a windjammer to be a constantly changing series of unique opportunities. Others discover that the gentle swaying and quietness of a sailing ship at sea can be a respite from the madness of urban life. Therefore, each passenger seems to find his or her own interest that might include reading, knitting, sleeping on deck, taking hundreds of pictures or becoming part of the working crew pulling lines and setting sails.

View of Camden Harbor, with many sailboats, water, and tree-lined shores.

Camden Harbor

The home harbor of Camden, Maine is a quaint New England fishing village that has not been spoiled by the passing of time. This charming town seems to wrap its arms around a protected harbor along Penobscot Bay and has proven to be THE favorite home for many of the old windjammers. Its picturesque waterfront is lined with sailing vessels, eclectic shops, restaurants with a view of the harbor and the rolling brook that pours into the bay from lush green hills above the village.

With a morning tide rising and a hearty New England breakfast consumed, the crew raises the sails of the windjammer and makes a dash across the openness beyond Camden Harbor and into another time and space. No course is ever pre-planned on a Maine windjammer … only the wind dictates the exact path and where it will rest at anchor each night.

All meals, including breads and desserts, are made onboard from scratch with fresh ingredients that were purchased from local Maine farms. Except for an afternoon snack around 4 p.m. and morning tea at 7 a.m., meals are promptly signaled by the ship’s bell at 8, noon, and 6. The highlight of each cruise, however, is an evening spent on some uninhabited island where everyone is treated to the unique sights, smells and sounds of a traditional New England “Down East” lobsterbake! It’s hard to beat the taste of fresh-caught lobster cooked in ocean water with live seaweeds in a gorgeous setting just before a colorful sunset. The festive atmosphere is enlivened by the only jug of wine that is offered during the week of sailing.

Time aboard a Maine windjammer is spent taking in the clean salt air, seeing a kaleidoscope of changing scenery, enjoying the camaraderie of the crew, captain and other passengers, and discovering the romance of sailing that has been so much a part of American history. I will always remember the legendary lighthouses, the island towns of North Haven, Islesboro and Bar Harbor, and names like Jericho Bay, Casgo Passage, Frenchman Bay, Cranberry Island or Calderwood Island. Nevertheless, it is the sails, the stories of the sea and New England Coast and the unforgettable feeling of freedom at sea under huge sails off the rugged coast of Maine that will be etched in my memory!

To view more of Bill Vanderford’s photos of the coast of Maine – click video.

For more info: Maine Windjammer Association,, 1-800-807-9463.

Photos: by Bill Vanderford