After more than 50 years of windjammer sailing, Doug and Linda Lee retire
You might say Doug Lee was born into the windjamming trade. A tried and true Mainer, he grew up in West Bath, Maine and followed his father to visit rundown windjammers with the dream of one day restoring and owning one. As a young boy on trips to Rockland with his Dad, he spied windjammer wrecks at Snow Marine Basin along with other condemned remnants from renowned windjammer Captain Frank Swift in Camden. Doug’s father dreamed of going headlong into the windjammer business, but instead opted for a career at Bath Iron Works, leaving the dream to his young son, Doug, to pursue for the next 50+ years.
“We’re retiring,” said Doug Lee, “But we’ll always be in this business; it’s part of who we are,” said Doug recently with Linda alongside while sitting on the schooner Heritage, which they designed and built. When asked how they felt about retiring, Doug and Linda answered separately and wistfully both saying, “it’s time”. “I’m going out with a whimper,” said Doug. “In all my 50+ years in the windjammer business I’ve always made money. This year, I’ve lost gobs,” he explained.
Doug’s father’s fascination with windjammers culminated in 1966, when he ventured to Port Norris, NJ and found the Richard Robbins Sr., a 2-masted 1902 former oyster dredge schooner living then on the Maurice River. Doug’s father couldn’t resist this boat, and bought her then brought her to Rockland, Maine for restoration. It could be said that this boat started Doug’s involvement in the windjammer business.
Doug was too young then to serve as captain, so his Dad’s partner, Captain George Allen, helped with the Richard Robbins Sr. restoration and to run schooner trips. George took one look at the dilapidated schooner Richard Robbins Sr. – then in tough shape – and said, “there’s still a lot of good in that old rotten wood!” and went about helping to re-build the boat to carry passengers for multi-day cruises.
Doug Lee says that Captain George Allen really understood the windjamming business, and Doug learned from him that a successful windjammer business is really all about people and providing creature comforts. In fact, the Richard Robbins Sr. was the first windjammer to have sinks in the cabins! Spending countless hours working alongside him, Captain George would regale Doug with innumerable stories that Doug still tells. Anyone who knows Doug knows what a good storyteller he is! Doug credits Captain George with much of his material.
The first time Doug ever captained a windjammer was as a fill-in for Captain David Allen, George’s son. “It was an auspicious beginning,” explained Doug as he described the hurricane, he and his guests rode out on the first night of that cruise in Rockland Harbor.
Doug and Linda met while they were both studying at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. The first year that Linda started sailing was 1967 when she accompanied Doug as his guest on the Richard Robbins Sr. “Much to my mother’s chagrin, I brought Linda aboard when my Dad said I could bring a guest along for a weeklong sail,” explained Doug. That was all it took; Linda was hooked on windjamming! “It was a fun time,” said Linda. “We went back on the same cruise the next year, and while sitting on a rock on McGlathery Island eating lobster, Doug and I spied the Schooner Stephen Taber sailing by. We decided at that moment that owning and sailing a windjammer together was something we could definitely do,” said Linda while smiling at the memory.
Doug and Linda were married in Fairport, NY in 1969, but lived for sailing in Maine. They continued to sail on the Richard Robbins Sr., with Linda bringing her culinary skills to the crew. “Before 1969 everyone thought mixes and canned foods were the way to go on a windjammer, and leftovers were all thrown overboard,” explained Linda. She was among the first to bring scratch cooking to the windjammer galleys, fresh vegetables, baking bread and making soups. The guests raved and a new era in windjammer cooking began.
In 1971, Doug and Linda traveled back to Port Norris, the former home of the Richard Robbins Sr., and this time found and purchased the Isaac H. Evans, a much larger windjammer than the Robbins. They brought the Isaac H. Evans to Maine, hauled her out at the Maine Maritime Museum Shipyard and spent two years totally reframing, replanking and rebuilding her. Twelve double cabins were constructed and new masts and rigging, recut old sails and the newest in high tech equipment – an FM radio was added. On weekends, their good friend and fellow windjammer sailor, John Foss, lent a hand helping to rebuild the Evans.
Doug and Linda were really in the windjamming business now and filled the Isaac Evans for its first 8½ week season in 1973, and then again for the next nine years. Windjammer vacations were growing increasingly popular on the Coast of Maine in the 1970s.
In 1973, Doug and Linda Lee and John Foss rented space and created the North End Shipyard on the Rockland waterfront and started building the marine railway that year. They built an apartment above the shop to live in for several years. Fire destroyed that building in 1991 so they built a new shop building. The North End Shipyard became an essential location for Midcoast windjammers as its marine railway was one of the only in the area designed for hauling larger, heavy windjammers. It still is. The three of them received the U.S.S. Constitution Award for Maritime Preservation in 2015.
In 1978, after six successful years of sailing the Isaac H. Evans and with a growing family Doug and Linda decided it was time for a larger vessel, and they set out to design their own windjammer. They wanted a traditional coasting schooner, with the creature comforts travelers sought. “It wasn’t important to be the fastest vessel in the fleet…although sometimes we still are,” said Doug remembering the year he won the Great Schooner Race recently.
Doug worked with renowned windjammer expert, Havilah Hawkins, who often looked at Doug’s designs and would change them, sometimes much to Doug’s chagrin, yet always making improvements, conceded Doug. Always staying true to the creature comforts, the Heritage was the first schooner to offer fresh hot water showers to guests according to Doug. “This amenity alone filled the vessel in her first year,” said Doug with a smile.
“We wanted to sail with our family,” said Linda, so Doug and Linda designed the Heritage with an aft family cabin. The maiden voyage on the Heritage, their daughter Clara was 2½ years old and daughter Rachel was 4 months old, explained Linda. Like their father, Clara and Rachel were born into windjamming too. The family sailed together until the girls were in college. In fact, Doug and Linda sailed the schooner Heritage for 37 years until retiring in 2020.
It’s with a wistful, yet gratified look in their eye that both Doug and Linda Lee talk about moving on to spend more time on the hobbies they love. Yet, rest assured that they will be watching the comings and goings of the schooner Heritage in seasons to come from their house up the hill from the North End Shipyard. Don’t be surprised when they appear as guests for breakfast on Monday mornings. You can take the windjammer business out of their daily routine, but you can’t take the ways of the windjammer out of their souls.
The Schooner Heritage is part of the Maine Windjammer Association, the largest fleet of working windjammers in America. In fact, Doug and Linda Lee were among original and founding members. Today, the Maine Windjammer Association fleet consists of eight schooners.
American Eagle: 1-800-648-4544
Lewis R. French: 1-800-469-4635
Mary Day: 1-800-992-2218
Victory Chimes: 1-800-745-5651
Top photo: Doug and Linda Lee pose aboard Schooner Heritage, Maine Windjammer Association photo
Second Photo: Doug and Linda aboard Schooner Heritage in June, 2018 on the way back from the annual Windjammer Gam, Maine Windjammer photo
Third photo: Schooner Isaac H. Evans, Fred LeBlanc photo
Fourth photo: Schooner Heritage under sail, George Kovarick photo
Final photo: Great Schooner Race, Fred LeBlanc photo