Windjammer cruises in 2021: Smaller cruising offers a safe unplugged vacation at sea

Windjammers at sunsetMany feel that travel will take a long time to return to “normal” or at least pre-pandemic levels. What’s rocked the world of travel more than health concerns is the loss of a sense of security, say many travelers.  Perhaps no industry has felt this more sharply than the cruise industry. Yet avid cruisers are still seeking ways to hit the high seas. 

Enter the Maine Windjammer Association, the largest fleet of historic working windjammers in America.  Many refer to historic windjammers as the “un-cruise”, offering bespoke small boat experiences, minus itineraries, ports of call, and massive buffets yet filled with exploring at sea, wind-driven days, star-lit nights, and entertainment compliments of Mother Nature.  The intimacy of the nine Maine Windjammer Association fleet members translates to a more personalized, diminutive sailing vessel with easy access to conversations with the captains, carefully handcrafted meals, and unique unplugged experiences every three to ten day trip.  Now more than ever, travelers are seeking smaller, safer, more natural experiences filled with nature and exploration.  The more eco-friendly, the better.  Unplugged, wind-driven, unscripted cruising filled with exploring uninhabited islands, fabulous dining on deck, or lobster bakes on the beach are the specialties of the Maine Windjammer Association. 

Two members of the Maine Windjammer fleet tested out the cruising adventures in the 2020 season and it went very well. This year with the travel restrictions opening up, all of the Maine Windjammer Association tall ships will be sailing and offering one-of-a-kind cruises sailing along the coast of Maine. Reservations are booking quickly as the windjammer cruises have become a hot experience that many want to try after being cooped up at home during the pandemic.

American Eagle Under Sail by Fred LeBlancSafety and cleanliness are still the buzzwords in 2021 travel, and many of the stringent practices required by CDC, state of Maine guidelines, and the Coast Guard in place for this year will remain in effect for a long time as safety and sanitization will be priority protocols from here on out. The Maine Windjammer Association members were highly involved in crafting the stringent guidelines for windjammers throughout Maine. Windjammers are required to adhere to the hotel and restaurant checklists in addition to a special checklist for windjammers and then the already rigorous obligations to coast guard licensing. This has taken high standards to an even higher playing ground!

The objective for cruising in 2021 is to not only meet but exceed the myriad of standards for windjammers set forth by the CDC, state of Maine and Coast Guard. Here are some examples of the myriad of new safety protocols being put in place on each of our vessels.

Pre-screening: To safeguard the health of our guests and crew, we ask that all our guests provide us with documentation of either having a completed vaccination or receipt of a recent negative COVID test. Each Windjammer will provide its guests with their specific testing timeframe and documentation details. Maine offers many testing options including swab and send and rapid testing sites as well as the Portland Jetport’s testing site. Our guidelines may differ from the State of Maine’s traveler guidelines, which you can find here.

Masks: The CDC has agreed that while on deck, masks are not required; however, when social distancing is not possible, such as when riding together ashore in small boats, when passing in hatchways, when together down below, the captain may ask that you wear a mask, at his or her discretion. Crew will also be wearing face shields or masks when appropriate. Masks will be available for passengers upon request, and all guests are encouraged to bring their own from home. In addition, gloves will be available upon request. Schooner Stephen Taber on the Bay

Hand hygiene: Multiple hand sanitizing and/or handwashing stations have been added throughout the boats and at the entrance to all common areas. Vessels will have readily available hand sanitizer, cleaning products and spare face coverings on every trip.

Cleaning/sanitization: Below deck common areas, such as heads, galley, companionways (access to accommodations), especially high contact surfaces, will be disinfected thoroughly multiple times throughout the day. Enhanced cabin sanitation between trips will be in place via cleaning and sanitizing (with EPA approved sanitizer) on all hard surfaces after every trip. All linens, bedspreads, and covers will be laundered or sanitized. Following each departure, guest cabins will be left vacant for a period of time to allow for deep cleaning, disinfectant and cleaners to dry, and reasonable air exchange.

Meals: Are will be served with due consideration given to social distancing practices as feasible with first preference shall be given to dining on decks. If meals are served below decks, guests will be seated with consideration to social distancing. Guests and crew must use hand sanitizer and/or wash their hands before entering the dining area before each meal. Meals shall be individually served by crew according to approved practices, limiting serving utensil exposure to as few individuals as possible.

Safety planning: A safety plan and full operational procedures have been designed and posted for each vessel in the event that a passenger exhibits symptoms of COVID-19. Anyone exhibiting signs or symptoms of COVID-19 will be quarantined, and one or more cabins will be kept empty on each trip for such purposes. As soon as is feasible these individuals should be evacuated to the nearest testing and/or medical facility.

Hauling lines on Lewis R French.Now comes the ten million dollar question: Will windjammer cruising still be the same wonderful unplugged and relaxing experience as it always was? No virus or pandemic can jettison the pure joy of sailing aboard a beautifully preserved historic landmark windjammer. The comradery of new friends, fabulous el fresco dining experiences, wine tastings, stunning scenery, and starlit nights have not been impacted by the pandemic.  Everything you love most about windjammer trips – from unscripted itineraries to spotting sea life, porpoises and the occasional whale will still be part of your trip.  You will still help to raise and lower sails, yawl boats, and awnings – you just maybe 3-feet from the next passenger or crew member. Remember, Maine windjammers have survived through world wars, flu pandemics, recessions, and more.  They’ve had to reinvent themselves from cargo to passenger ships.  Windjammer captains are a hard-working and canny group.  They’ve bent over backwards to provide the same fabulous windjammer cruises despite all the limitations of guidelines and travel restrictions.

Those seeking information about cruising onboard any of the Maine Windjammer Association vessels should contact each individual boat for the most up-to-date schedules and policies. Here’s a list of your favorite Maine windjammers.

Maine Windjammer Association, America’s largest windjammer fleet

American Eagle: 1-800-648-4544

Angelique: 1-800-282-9989A view of the raft-up at the Gam

Heritage: 1-800-648-4544

J&E Riggin: 1-800-869-0604

Ladona: 1-800-999-7352

Lewis R. French: 1-800-469-4635

Mary Day: 1-800-992-2218

Stephen Taber: 1-800-999-7352

Victory Chimes: 1-800-745-5651

Photos provided by Fred LeBlanc, Schooner Lewis R. French and Bob Trapani.

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