The cheers from below fueled my courage. Still, with every step the air currents seemed ever stronger, my knuckles grew ever whiter as my fingers clutched the rigging, and my refrains of ‘Yo Ho Ho’ sang out with ever decreasing bravado. But there was little choice. My ascent was a matter of honor borne out of a cheery time the evening before when I had blithely accepted a challenge to climb the ratlines. After all, how hard could it be? My ancestors had served in the British Royal Navy on craft such as this and surely somewhere, somehow, their salt was in my veins.
In truth, sailing has never been my forte but after a few days on board the Angelique, one of a dozen historic, multi-mast vessels that form The Maine Windjammer Association, it was as if I had been born to feel the wind.
100 years ago schooners raced up and down the Eastern seaboard to get their precious goods to market, and only fell into near oblivion with the advent of faster steamships and trains. Today, these majestic craft are making a comeback, refurbished and steadfast in plying a new styled cargo through the water: passengers.
Although many vessels date back some 80-100 years, the Angelique is one which was purpose built in 1980 for the modern windjamming trade. Based out of picturesque Camden, Maine, she is the only ketch in the Association’s fleet and, fashioned after a sturdy English fishing trawler of the late 1880s, has several other distinguishing features. These include a raised helm, roomy deck space, an on-deck lounge and galley – warm refuge if the wind starts to bite, and 5,296 sq ft of red-hued sails, the result of a time-honoured weather resistant treatment involving tallow, tannic acid and red ochre.
Windjamming is the antithesis of big-box cruises, and offers an intimate experience for sailing enthusiast and neophyte alike. Start by finding a sunny spot and watch the Penobscot Bay shore glide by as a moving tableau of historic lighthouses, whitewashed homes with lobster pots stacked to their roofline, wildlife of nesting puffins, seals, squawking gulls and magnificent rocky outcrops that have made the coastline legendary.
Chances are that at some point you’ll rally to the First Mate’s battle cry, “team work is no work” and will find yourself helping to raise the jib, hoist that rope, splice a line, or furl the sail. Even getting ashore is an involved process, jumping into a skiff, grabbing an oar (unless you take a centre seat) and rowing to a village dock or a granite ledge ornamented with barnacles, mussels and periwinkles. Besides, participation helps work up an appetite for traditional, homestyle cuisine – tasty and always plenty of it, and certainly promotes a great night’s sleep in surprisingly comfortable, albeit tiny, cabins.
Another allure of windjamming is its out-of-the-ordinary shore excursions to islands, coves, and hamlets. Places like Wooden Boat Harbor and its one-of-a-kind boat building school, North Haven where galleries only accept cash or a promise that’ll you’ll send payment later, Pulpit Harbor (aka Calvet Habour from Angela Lansbury’s popular TV series Murder, She Wrote), Cranberry Island which you can traverse in 20 minutes to a beach strewn with white-banded ‘lucky’ stones, and always a special place to view spectacular sunsets against which the entire crew will conjure up a feast of lobster, baked beneath a swaddle of seaweed. As a cruise-ship port, Bar Harbor is an exception but no less delightful. This small urban community bustles with shops and galleries and is a nice change of pace especially if you take time to see some of the older homes that still exude an elegant grandeur of their Rockefeller-era heritage.
Experiencing the romance of a bygone age is really the essence of any windjamming adventure. It invokes a freedom of spirit that dwarfs sailing in any smaller craft and you can’t help but release the everyday. And in doing so your imagination will unfurl into the wind, from where it might even evoke images of pirates climbing the ratlines.
Photos (in the order they appear):
- Mast photo by Chris McBeath
- Angelique photo by Chris McBeath
- Rigging photo by Chris McBeath
- Chris and Bill in the Bowsprit Netting
- Raising the Sails photo by Chris McBeath
- Maine Lighthouse
- Wheel at sunset photo by Chris McBeath
Take a Cape Air flight to Rockport, Maine and pick up a short taxi ride to Camden Harbor. If you’re driving, cars can be left in a secured parking lot. Check out www.sailangelique.com, and www.sailmainecoast.com