What happens when a windjammer captain can’t go sailing? Lessons learned from two captains unable to sail this summer
In early March, optimism among the Maine Windjammer Association captains was high. Many boats in the fleet were on their way to a possible record breaking season. Consumer confidence was strong and travelers appetite to get out on the water for the ultimate eco-friendly small boat cruises was peaking. By mid-March, it all came to a screaming halt as the Maine Windjammer Association fleet joined others in learning the meaning of words like Coronavirus, COVID-19 and then grappled with the consequences of a pandemic. Just as they began to contemplate hiring crew and getting ready for spring fit-out and inspections, along came a novel virus that rocked the fleet to its very core, along with travelers throughout the world.
While the Maine Windjammer Association fleet worked closely to develop safety protocols and windjammer cruise guidance for the state officials, each of the captains was personally researching new cleaning and sanitization options, food service procedures, hand sanitizers and new cleaning products, plus the Covid testing options for passengers available in Maine. The fleet worked together to share intel and resources for ways to safely proceed with the season.
Yet in the midst of the first few months of the pandemic, each of the members of the Maine Windjammer Association received massive cancellations for upcoming cruises. Thankfully, many of those guests who cancelled have already re-booked for the 2021 season or are considering it. Yet, April, May and June were bleak months while the state of Maine grounded the fleet, only allowing overnight windjammer cruises to start again in July, 2020. In the end, only the Stephen Taber and Schooner Ladona sailed with limited capacity during summer 2020.
Like many other small business owners throughout the country, the Maine Windjammer captains grappled with multiple issues, mostly surrounding survival into the future. We asked the captains what it was like for them in the early months of the pandemic, and what summer on shore felt like for them.
Perspective from Captain Dennis Gallant and Candace Kuchinski, owners of windjammer Angelique
Of all the conceivable threats that could have shut us down for a season – mechanical reasons, Coast Guard reasons, dockage reasons, etc. – we did not foresee a pandemic as the most likely one. We were stunned that this could happen. In the beginning, there were many kitchen table discussions as the reality of our decision sunk in. It took a pandemic for us to raise our heads, see how connected we are, and make the choice to take care of each other too. A public health crisis is one of those things that is much bigger than any of us individually.
Another lesson we have learned, and it goes along with seeing the grander perspective, is to take every sailing season as a gift and to not take it for granted. Sitting out a season is a reminder that we are fortunate to make a living sailing and stewarding a traditional sailing vessel year after year. Not sailing simply stokes our passion for sailing and sharing our passion with others.
We also learned how beloved the boat is to those who have sailed on her and who watch her from shore. The support we have received in words, care packages, and financially has been humbling and heart-warming. This support buoys us in our resolve to make ends meet and keep up the fight until we are sailing again. We are in it for the long hall.
Perspective from Captain John Foss, owner of Schooner American Eagle
It was my first summer ashore since 1975; I never realized how transforming our cruises on the Maine coast are until I spent the summer looking out at the water instead of sailing. The quiet, the excitement of a good sail, a beautiful harbor, memorable sunrises and sunsets, new friends, old friends, shared experiences on a silent platform to observe and appreciate nature. Welcoming crew and cabins, beautifully kept up national historic landmarks that we can use, understand, work together; relaxing, enjoyable, memorable, fun. Relearning the art of conversation, unplugged, well fed from the first cup of coffee to Downeast fare, lobsters and pie on the beach of a deserted island. I learned that it’s harder to not go at all than it has been leaving the schooner and crew at the end of a sailing adventure. Every day windjamming on the schooner offers the quiet of the morning, and the promise of the day.
The Maine Windjammer Association captains will spend the winter working on additional new ways to keep passengers safe while offering the unmatched eco-friendly and unplugged outdoor experience that travelers will be seeking in the summer of 2021. The captains are talking about increased washing stations and hand sanitizer, augmented cleaning processes throughout the ship and cabins, new on-deck, single-plated meal service and much more.
While the pandemic has added new depth to the already hefty cleaning and safety procedures required by not only the state but the Coast Guard too, what has not changed is the timeless peacefulness that the captains talk about above and missed so much this summer. The wind will still steadily carry these historic vessels to places along the Maine shore that one can’t visit any other way. The sea life and beauty of the Maine Coast will continue to greet passengers every morning and the sunsets at night will bid farewell to another perfect day on the water. No pandemic or new requirements can change the basic foundations of what makes a windjammer cruise the ideal way to dip ones toes back into travel next summer. We look forward to welcoming you on board.
The Maine Windjammer Association fleet’s schedules for 2021 are now published and online with 3- to 10-day sailing adventures that allow visitors to experience an array of Maine’s attractions—from lobster and lighthouses to Acadia National Park and the hundreds of islands that fill Penobscot, and surrounding Bays. To make reservations, contact the vessels directly.
Maine Windjammer Association, America’s largest windjammer fleet
Lewis R. French: 1-800-469-4635
Mary Day: 1-800-992-2218
Victory Chimes: 1-800-745-5651
Captains of Angelique: Dennis & Candace: Courtesy Angelique
Captain John Foss: Credit: Skip Brown
Parade of Sail: Sean Sheppard
Fleet photo at Gam: Fred LeBlanc