When the going gets tough, Maine’s windjammer captains get going
Last winter, Doug and Linda Lee – captains of the Schooner Heritage – were on cloud nine. They had just announced the imminent sale of the windjammer and were excited about their swan song 2020 season. After decades of successful windjamming, Doug and Linda were going to sail off into retirement after a nostolgic final season. Then came March, and the Coronavirus pandemic put the brakes on sailing aboard Schooner Heritage or any other windjammer in Maine this spring, just as summer vacation plans began to formulate among passengers. Joining their fellow captains at the Maine Windjammer Association – America’s largest fleet of working windjammers – Doug and Linda are navigating the COVID-19 hurricane of stormy seas in the challenge of their lifetimes with colleagues who collectively represent centuries of maritime experience. Normally friendly competitors, this stalwart fleet of captains is dedicated to salvaging their sailing season by working together to develop new standards for this unique industry in Maine.
“We’ve weathered economic, political, and challenges before,” said Noah Barnes, captain of the Schooner Stephen Taber, celebrating its 150th birthday next year. “We’re a tough bunch. These windjammers have made it through world wars, flu pandemics, hurricanes, depressions and recessions. We’ve had to re-invent ourselves from cargo ships to passenger carrying windjammers. We will weather this challenge too,” Barnes finished.
“Life’s roughest storms prove the strength of our anchors,” said an unknown author, and this along with pure Yankee ingenuity is driving the Maine Windjammer Association to navigate through rough seas to find a way to sail this summer. On April 28th, Maine Governor, Janet Mills, announced plans to gradually restart the Maine economy. Her staged plan allows boat excursions and charters to sail once again on July 1, but also maintains that those who come aboard must quarantine in Maine for 14-days prior to arrival on the vessel. Since a two-week quarantine in Maine prior to starting their cruise is difficult for nearly everyone planning a windjammer vacation (not to mention just about any other kind of vacation in Maine), the Maine Windjammer Association members received massive cancellations for trips already planned when the Governor’s plan was announced.
The windjammer captains believe that once they leave the dock, their guests are essentially sequestered from spreading germs on land. “Aren’t our trips the ultimate quarantine at sea?” they ask. The problem for windjammers is that they don’t fit nicely into the industry segments being slowly phased back into the tourism economy in Maine. One part lodging, one part restaurant, and one part museum (four of the eight Maine Windjammer Association boats are national historic landmarks; two are the oldest windjammers in America – both turning 150 in 2021), the various re-opening dates, checklists and standards don’t really apply to windjammers. There’s no fleet like the Maine Windjammer Association in Maine nor anywhere else in America. Thus, the captains are taking matters into their own hands and developing programs for thorough pre-screening, onboard safety and cleanliness protocols, and post-trip tracing too, designed to exceed standards and keep passengers safe.
Inspected by the Coast Guard, yet controlled also by tourism orders, the standards for these windjammers are already taken to a higher level. The new normal will take the higher level to an even higher level, as the Maine Windjammer Association captains are dedicated to modern pandemic safety on boats that capture centuries of tradition.
Like other small business owners, each of these windjammer captains offers a fascinating story in itself. Yet knowing there’s more clout in working together, these small Maine businesses are out to salvage their sailing season and provide a safe and enjoyable summer for travelers ready to feel the wind on their brow, knuckle down on lobster on the beach and explore uninhabited islands in the ultimate unplugged and eco-friendly escape this summer.
For more information, visit https://SailMaineCoast.com. Use the Cruise Search Tool on the home page of the Maine Windjammer Association website or visit each of the members of the fleet online to find schedule updates.
Photos above provided by Maine Windjammer Association, Mikael Carstanjen, Wayne Cotterly.