Ever in pursuit of pleasure, sailing aficionados could teach the rest of us a lot about kicking back and having a good time. After all, being at leisure on the open sea is all about enjoying the ride and finding a pretty port for pouring cocktails when the hard day's work of running the sails is done.
Though South Florida is typically known as the yachting capital of the world, come summertime, crews make a mass exodus north to coastal Maine, where mild temperatures, a downgraded hurricane threat and the promise of lobster feasts as standard dining procedure are endlessly appealing.
Salty crews and sailors claim you haven't lived until you've experienced New England's eerily beautiful craggy coastline from just offshore -- specifically when bouncing atop the swells aboard a twin-mast windjammer.
On a schooner trip, passengers are part of the balance of the boat, both literally and figuratively. While you're encouraged to help with raising and lowering sails and may even be offered a few thrilling moments at the helm, participation is not usually required of passengers. Still, you'll feel the boat's moods and the effect of the weather on its whipping sails. It's precisely this intimacy that makes a schooner experience so thrilling.
The best season for Maine's offshore sailing runs from mid-May to September, with a few schooners sailing into October to take advantage of the explosion of autumn colors along the shoreline.
These trips are far from mass sailing tourism -- the largest schooners have room for around 60 passengers, with most accommodating around 20 people.
You can get a feel for the lay of the land and the raw power of New England's natural beauty on a day trip. But if time and budget allow, set aside several nights or a week to truly experience life at sea aboard one of Maine's schooners.
Rockport Harbor is a popular departure point, as is the nearby village of Camden. Regardless of where you leave from, most schooner itineraries cover the mid-Maine coast, between Boothbay and Bar Harbor, along the calm waters of Penobscot Bay. Downtime is usually spent anchored near one of the Bay's many islands, sipping wine, tucking into Maine blueberry pancakes and feasting on lobsters.
To whet your appetite for a Maine lobster bake and stiff winds, here's a peek at a few of the glorious windjammers plying Penobscot Bay as part of the Maine Windjammer Association's 12-ship fleet.
Lewis R. French
Built in 1871 and docked in Camden, the L.R. French is another National Historic Landmark-designated Maine schooner and has a capacity of 22 passengers. When you set sail French-style, it's the wind's whim where you'll end up -- there's no inboard engine, and the captain relies entirely on the winds and tides to chart a course. Most trips take in the spectacular views of Acadia National Park and Eggemoggin Reach, as well as hundreds of rocky islands fringing the coastline. And when the sailing's done for the day, you can reclaim your land legs by taking a dinghy ashore wherever you happen to be anchored to explore a lonely island or beach.
If you're sure you like the company you keep and you're after an intimate sailing experience, count yourself among the 6 passengers that can be accommodated in 3 double-berths on the Mistress, a mini version of the grand ships. Part classic schooner and part private yacht, the Mistress seduces with her traditional and contemporary charms. The ship is rigged in the old style, with lanyards and deadeyes, so you get the feeling of Old-World sailing. But there's the peace of mind of an inboard motor and more privacy than is afforded on the larger ships -- all 3 cabins have private heads and showers.
Isaac H. Evans
The first night of your sailing adventure aboard the Isaac H. Evans windjammer is spent safe at harbor in Rockport, allowing time to get your sea legs while getting to know your captain, Brenda Walker, crew and fellow passengers (22 people can be accommodated on the boat). Then it's off on a 3- to 6-day sailing adventure, with landside lobster bakes and beach excursions on the itinerary. This schooner is a particularly good choice for families since kids 6 years and older are welcome on all cruises (a fact that's worth noting, too, if you're seeking a kid-free trip). History buffs will love this bit of trivia -- the Isaac H. Evans was built in 1886 and worked for many years on the Delaware Bay as part of an oyster fleet before retiring to Maine to take up pleasure-cruising. The ship is a designated National Historic Landmark and feels like a floating museum.