Capt. Barry King is wrapping up his “welcome aboard” speech in the galley of the schooner Mary Day when he gets around to the question everyone has regarding the trip’s itinerary.
“So where are we going?” he asks rhetorically. “We’re going Camden. Should be there in three days.”
In other words, there is no itinerary. All we know is that our journey will end right back here where it’s starting, in Camden Harbor. Where we go between now and then will mostly depend on the wind and weather.
With no set schedule, no cell phone signal, no noisy motors, what better way to relax than on a Maine windjammer?
On this sunny day in early August, the Mary Day sailed out onto picturesque Penobscot Bay. Behind us, Camden’s busy harbor, white church steeples and rounded mountains created a classic Maine backdrop. Ahead of us was Penobscot Bay, with more than 200 spruce-covered islands, making it one of the state’s finest cruising grounds. With more than 5,000 miles of jagged coastline, you’re never far from a quiet harbor or secluded cove to drop anchor and go ashore.
“The beauty of it to me is every week we can go somewhere we haven’t been before,” King said. “There are always new places to explore.”
Day One started out sunny, but light fog came and went throughout the day. By late afternoon we anchored off an island about 15 miles east of Camden. The all-female crew shuttled passengers ashore in rowboats. After a day of doing not much, other than helping to raise and lower the ship’s massive sails, it was time for an all-you-can-eat lobster bake on the beach.
Most folks turned down the captain’s offers after eating two. David Ernest, a college student from Lynnfield, Mass., managed to polish off four.
After dinner we returned to the schooner and sailed north, arriving at Buck’s Harbor after dark.
The 90-foot Mary Day, which will open its 51st season in late May, is the first schooner in the Maine windjammer fleet to be built specifically to accommodate passengers. Its sleeping cabins are heated and have nine feet of headroom.
Most of the Maine’s windjammers were originally designed for carrying cargo such as lumber and granite. The advent of steam-powered ships and later, the railroad, eventually put them out of the shipping business. The Mary Day is one of 10 windjammers that so far have published schedules of passenger cruises along the Maine coast this summer and early fall; all belong to the Maine Windjammer Association.
We awoke on Day Two in Bucks Harbor to the smell of blueberry pancakes and fresh coffee coming from the galley. Outside, the early-morning fog was as thick as Maine chowder, so, many of the passengers went ashore to the small town of South Brooksville. The locals were celebrating the 60th anniversary of the children’s book, One Morning in Maine , which was set here by the late author and illustrator Robert McCloskey, a summer resident.
By mid-morning the fog had burned off and many of the passengers decided to go swimming, some of the younger passengers climbing out onto the ship’s bowsprit before leaping some 15 feet into the chilly water.
Following a macaroni and cheese lunch that one passenger said was reason enough to book a trip again next year, we headed back out on to the bay. More than a dozen harbor porpoises could be seen surfacing in the calm waters. At another point, we sailed past a rocky ledge occupied by dozens of seals. Uninhabited islands were as numerous as buoys marking lobster traps.
The relatively small size of the schooner cruise tends to create camaraderie among its passengers. Whether it’s the teamwork from helping to raise the ship’s seven sails, or from sharing breakfast in the cozy main saloon, you can’t help but get to know your shipmates. These friendships and the casual atmosphere are among the reasons Donna Archibald, along with her husband and daughter, were marking their sixth cruise with the fleet.
The Archibalds, from Clarks Summit, Pa., have cruised on big ships but prefer the more informal windjammers. On a cruise liner, “you’re not as laid-back as on a schooner. You’re more on the go because you want to get in your day trips to the islands. You don’t really have time to sit back and get to know everyone because they’re all busy doing something else. And there are shows and captain’s dinners, so you have to get dressed up for that,” said Archibald. “Here you kind of roll out of your bunk, spritz your hair, and you’re ready to go.”
Finally, on Day Three, the captain’s prediction proved true. The Mary Day and all aboard returned to Camden Harbor, its majestic sails down and ready for the next scenic trip to nowhere along the Maine coast.