Find­ing sanc­tu­ary from mod­ern world with the Maine Wind­jam­mer fleet


As­so­ciate Ed­i­tor Ly­dia Mul­lan takes a step back in time while vis­it­ing Maine’s wind­jam­mer fleet

Iar­rived in Rock­land, Maine, on an early af­ter­noon in July with a back­pack, my cam­era and lit­tle else. Though trav­el­ing to an un­fa­mil­iar place to race with a crew of strangers has been a com­mon theme in my sail­ing ca­reer, I had no idea what to ex­pect from the mas­sive wood and steel wind­jam­mers tak­ing part in the 42nd An­nual Great Schooner Race. Fiber­glass is more my scene.

For­tu­nately, I wasn’t left to fig­ure it out on my own. Marti Mayne, the af­fa­ble and deeply knowl­edge­able events man­ager for the Maine Wind­jam­mer As­so­ci­a­tion greeted me as soon as I’d stepped out of my car and led me down to a lob­ster boat cap­tained by Mike McHenry. McHenry also hap­pens to be the for­mer owner of the wind­jam­mer An­gelique— the boat that was my des­ti­na­tion that evening. Be­tween the two of them, I had more in­for­ma­tion than I could ab­sorb about the steel-hulled ketch and the Great Schooner Race in which she would be com­pet­ing the fol­low­ing day.

The whole way to Isles­bor­ough, I kept an eye on the hori­zon and was oc­ca­sion­ally re­warded with a glimpse of sails be­tween is­lands or through the light fog. When we ar­rived, sev­eral boats were al­ready in the process of an­chor­ing and sev­eral more were ap­proach­ing. We cir­cled them, get­ting a close look at the metic­u­lously main­tained hulls and acres of sails col­laps­ing down­ward to be flaked for the night. Marti promised me I’d rec­og­nize An­gelique the in­stant I saw her by her tan­bark sails. Sure enough, a spread of dark red can­vas soon ap­peared through the mist and an­chored along with the rest of the fleet. An­gelique’s gaff ketch rig, glossy green hull and dis­tinc­tive sails were breath­tak­ing.

I was wel­comed aboard by Cap­tain Den­nis Gal­lant, an ami­able gen­tle­man with a seem­ingly in­fi­nite num­ber of sto­ries and fun facts from his years with the fleet. He, in turn, in­tro­duced me to my bunk­mate, Meg, who showed me to our cabin. By the time the tour was over, it was din­ner­time. One of the women on the boat would later tell me that time didn’t ex­ist on An­gelique. “The only mea­sure of time we’re in­ter­ested in is when they’re go­ing to call for a meal,” She laughed, and it’s true. An­gelique has ex­cel­lent cooks and among the pas­sangers the food ri­vals the sail­ing and the lo­cales in pop­u­lar­ity. Ev­ery meal was even served with a vege­tar­ian and gluten-free op­tion per the spe­cific needs of the guests on board.

Over din­ner, I met the other pas­sen­gers. They were largely of re­tire­ment age, but ranged in sail­ing ex­pe­ri­ence from hav­ing owned their own boats to be­ing ab­so­lute be­gin­ners. They came from as close as neigh­bor­ing towns in Maine to as far away as Mary­land. Some came with their spouses, some with grand­chil­dren, oth­ers came alone. To my sur­prise, one com­mon thread in their sto­ries was that they were al­most all re­peat vis­i­tors— a tes­ta­ment to the ex­pe­ri­ence that is tall- ship sail­ing.

On the eve of the Great Schooner Re­gatta, the fleet holds a smaller but per­haps more beloved race in dinghies. Den­nis read the sim­ple but quirky rules aloud from a pa­per scroll. No cap­tain of a wind­jam­mer was to be in­volved in any ca­pac­ity (af­ter the rules were read). There were two classes, sail­ing and row­ing. The course con­sisted of a cir­cle around the an­chored fleet. Cos­tumes were rec­om­mended. All pro­jec­tiles must be biodegrad­able. And def­i­nitely, ab­so­lutely no nu­dity was al­lowed. Den- nis’ de­liv­ery had ev­ery­one laugh­ing by the time he ceded con­trol of the op­er­a­tion to his first mate.

Our crew chose to dress in a salty ver­sion of busi­ness ca­sual, com­plete with neck­ties and ID badges, which they re­ferred to as “ketch pro­fes­sional.” ( An­gelique is the only ketch in the fleet of schooners.) Ev­ery­one helped lower the dinghies and we climbed down, armed with oars and two bags of marsh­mal­lows. The race it­self ended up be­ing equal parts row­ing and food fight. By the end it seemed ev­ery­one was an old friend or—oc­ca­sion­ally—old ri­val.

By the time we re­turned to An­gelique, still comb­ing soggy bis­cuit chunks from our hair, twi­light was fall­ing and I be­gan to get a sense of what life aboard ship was usu­ally like (the dinghy race’s an­tics are not the norm for this fleet) with pas­sen­gers scat­tered about the deck chat­ting in hushed tones or curled up with books. On one of the schooners, some­one was play­ing a fid­dle. Not a sin­gle dig­i­tal screen lit up the night.

It was, per­haps, the sin­gle most peace­ful place I’ve ever been.

As peo­ple started head­ing to bed, Den­nis dis­ap­peared from one of the small groups on deck and re­turned a few min­utes later with a flash­light. He handed it to me, hav­ing no­ticed that I was squint­ing and hold­ing my jour­nal about six inches from the tip of my nose as I at­tempted to fin­ish an en­try that read: “At first glance, it could be 1850—an evening frozen in time. Few peo­ple re­main on deck now, sil­hou­et­ted against the last blush of or­ange to the west. It’s just 2130 but out here you live by the sun, I guess. I’m go­ing to walk about the ship a bit be­fore I turn in for the night. When I wake up, it’ll surely be 2018 again, but I just want to stay here for a few more mo­ments.”

That night I slept un­easily, prob­a­bly be­cause I was in an un­fa­mil­iar place and shar­ing a cabin with a stranger (a very friendly one, but a stranger none­the­less). Wide awake at 0300, I went top­side to en­joy the cold morn­ing air and was vis­ited briefly by Den­nis who joined me on deck to in­form me that I was over an hour too early to see the sun­rise. He squinted over the stern. We’d swung around dur­ing the night and the dark shape of the schooner Her­itage loomed un­ex­pect­edly close by. Den­nis took stock of the sit­u­a­tion, deemed it all fine and re­turned to bed. I waited for the sun­rise.

The first item on the official agenda that day was a cap­tain’s meet­ing aboard Vic­tory Chimes. Den­nis is charis­matic on his own, but when all the wind­jam­mer cap­tains get to­gether, they’re a force to be reck­oned with. The meet­ing was more laugh­ing than talk­ing, though there were also the more se­ri­ous mat­ters of fleet dis­tri­bu­tion, course and in­clement weather to dis­cuss. Even­tu­ally, it was de­cided that the start would be post­poned un­til the rain cleared and the wind calmed. How­ever, back on An­gelique, nei­ther the pas­sen­gers nor they crew seemed to mind the de­lay. In­stead, they set­tled in for an­other cozy, peace­ful stretch of drink­ing tea, read­ing, knit­ting and pluck­ing away at the gui­tar.

Fi­nally, when the rain had slowed to a driz­zle, we got un­der­way. Pas­sen­ger par­tic­i­pa­tion is strongly en­cour­aged aboard all the wind­jam­mers, and nearly ev­ery­one on An­gelique lent a hand in hoist­ing the sails. As we ap­proached the start, the en­tire fleet of schooners cir­cled, proudly dis­play­ing their grace­ful lines as pas­sen­gers snapped pho­tos. In fact, this would be the clos­est view we would have of the other boats and for good rea­son—they have an un­der­stand­ably wide turn­ing ra­dius and any eva­sive ma­neu­vers must be made well in ad­vance.

In other ways, how­ever, An­gelique was just like ev­ery other boat I’ve ever raced on—the con­stant chat­ter about who’s likely to be over the line; the nar­rowed eyes track­ing the com­pe­ti­tion to con­firm that, though they had bet­ter boat­speed, we could point higher; the frus­trated groans as the wind filled in from the other side of the course, the one we hadn’t picked. It all felt so fa­mil­iar de­spite the mas­sive scale. Within an hour, the fleet had scat­tered un­til the other schooners were specks on the hori­zon, but Den­nis kept tabs on them like it was an Opti race.

Be­cause of the length of the course and sep­a­ra­tion of the fleet, most of the pas­sen­gers en­joyed the day the same as they would have if it had been any other point-to-point sail. And when we fin­ished an unim­pres­sive third in our class, Den­nis was the only one who seemed dis­ap­pointed. As far as ev­ery­one else was con­cerned, we’d just en­joyed an­other lovely day on the wa­ter and that was that.

As we crossed the fin­ish at the Rock­land Break­wa­ter Light­house, how­ever, I also found my­self hav­ing to con­tend with a feel­ing of dis­ap­point­ment of an en­tirely dif­fer­ent sort—the re­sult of the knowl­edge that once an­chored, I’d be headed back ashore and on my way home. I was sud­denly, in­ex­pli­ca­bly sad know­ing I would have to leave the sanc­tu­ary of that wind­jam­mer and re­turn to the world of emails and news feeds. As I bid my new friends farewell and climbed down into the dinghy, I al­ready missed An­gelique’s time­less­ness. s

De­spite the bad weather, the boat’s crew and pas­sen­gers ready the boat to sail (above); Her­itage takes a vic­tory lap af­ter win­ning the Cutty Sark Award Tro­phy

The din­gies gather round for their own race (above); the storm pro­vided some down­time for the An­gelique’s crew (be­low)

The fleet cre­ates an im­pres­sive sil­hou­ette against the sun­rise over Isles­bor­ough

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