7 things to know before going on a Windjammer cruise

A windjammer cruise around the coast of Maine is the relaxing vacation of your dreams. Pass rocky islands, the azure sky above, sails billowing in the wind and lobsters in melted butter: you could not ask for better. Even if you’ve never been to Maine, you might know that the state is famous for lobster. 90 percent of the US lobster supply comes from Maine. Still, you’d be surprised to learn that before crustacean became an iconic delicacy, lobsters were either fed to prison inmates or crushed and used as fertilizer.

I have traveled to the Pine Tree State before, but have never been on the water. When I was offered the opportunity to sail around the small coves and in Penobscot Bay for four idyllic days, I jumped at the chance. After all, it’s a place with a long the story. Schooners from Maine transported goods along the east coast and to Asia in the 1800s. Lobster and Lighthouses sail the J. & E. Riggin, a historic schooner out of Rockport, Maine was an experience I couldn’t pass up. If you love historic ships and want to experience the romance of sailing along the coast of Maine, here are a few things to know before embarking on a cruise. Windjammer Cruise in Maine.

Note: I was invited to the J. & E. Riggin for the four-day lobster and lighthouse cruise. All opinions are mine.

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1. Windjammers are propelled by sails

Also called tall ships, windbreaker are commercial sailboats with several masts. They have no motors and are propelled by wind and tides. Today, it offers a relaxing boating experience with no real destination. When you sail, you go where the wind takes you around the rocky coast of Maine. If there is no wind (the slump) there is a yawl, a small gasoline-powered boat rigged or towed behind the sailboat for assistance. The sailing boat is used for races towards the shore and when there is no wind. When we hit the doldrums, the Riggin used his 16ft diesel yawl to push the schooner. When the wind was strong, we were sailing at about 9 miles an hour, or 8 knots, which was a pleasure.

The J&E Riggin moored in Rockland, Maine
Jeanine Consoli

2. Many Windjammers are National Historic Landmarks

the Riggin was built in 1927 as an oyster dredger in Delaware Bay. It was built by Charles Riggin in Dorchester, New Jersey and named for his sons Jacob and Edward. the Riggin finished first ahead of all other oyster schooners in the only official race ever held in 1929. She was registered as a National Historic Ship in 1991. There is a plaque on the deck commemorating her status. Most Maine Windjammer Association windjammers are National historic monuments. With the wind in the sails, the Riggin is still so gracious.

Sustainable and ecological sailing, including cups for the entire duration of the navigation
Jeanine Consoli

3. Windjammers are eco-conscious

Sailing is a sustainable way to travel. the Riggin received the Environmental Leadership in Hospitality Award from the State of Maine, the first and only windjammer to receive this honor. Many sustainable practices are in place for sailing. We were asked to select a travel mug, ours to wash and use for the trip. We scraped off our leftovers to compost them after meals. Each passenger washed plates and utensils in dedicated buckets on the deck. Paper plates were used in our beach lobster cooking, but composting was in place, stainless steel utensils were washed, and paper products recycled.

Piloting the Riggin windjammer in Maine
Jeanine Consoli

4. Guests help navigate the schooners

I’ve read that hoisting the sails and sailing the historic schooner is part of the Windjammer cruise experience in Maine. Our initiation began on the first day. The second gave us a lesson on how to help raise the sails and divide the guests into two groups. One group helped increase the throat on one side, and a group helped raise the Peak the other. Our crew shouted “Heave” and we called back “Ho” and as the sails were up the Riggin was in progress. Other passengers volunteered to hoist the anchor (a demanding job). Some of the younger passengers watered the anchor chain or hoisted the American flag. If you don’t want to help it’s up to you, but on a smaller boat it’s everyone on deck. the RigginThe team needed help and the guests rushed to lend their support. Each passenger agreed that he enjoyed this aspect of windjamming. I asked Captain Justin if I could take a turn behind the wheel and was amazed at the power of the schooner. I enjoyed it, and soon many guests led the Riggin.

schooner moves slowly at night under the stars
Ethan Daniels / Shutterstock.com

5. Windjamming is an elegant campsite

If you like camping, you will love the windjamming. I liked the prospect of sleeping on a boat, especially under the stars, and brought a sleeping bag to try it out. the Riggin measures 90 feet long on deck, 120 feet overall and 23 feet wide with a large galley. There are two bathrooms on the deck and one with a shower. It’s a smaller ship and can usually accommodate 24 passengers, but for our sail we had 14. The crew kept it spotless, shining the brass and dabbing the deck. It really is an elegant form of camping because the ship is an antique. The bunks are comfortable and include a small sink and a window. The room is for resting and tidying up, and you are meant to spend your time admiring the beautiful scenery. Relaxing activities such as reading, drawing, crafts, using binoculars to spot ospreys or eagles, or watching the waves for porpoises and seals occupy the day. We saw a lot of wildlife on our trip and the sightings never got old. There is a canvas tarp which provides shade on the deck. He was on his feet most of the day but pulled out at other times for maximum boating pleasure.

A traditional lobster dinner with potatoes and corn
Jeanine Consoli

6. The food is ultra-local

When I say local, I mean freshly plucked lobster from Stoneton, Maine. On the second day, we stopped in the charming coastal town. The passengers got off the boat to explore while the crew bought our dinner for later that evening. Then we sailed to Hell’s Half Acre Island and anchored. Captain Justin used the sailing boat to transport us to the campsite for a generous spread of lobster, corn, potatoes, paella and a traditional fire roasted s’mores dessert. Throughout the trip we were treated to family meals made from scratch, prepared by Chef Mark Godfrey and Sous Chef Kat Highley. Everything is prepared on the Crawford Cottage wood-burning stove in a small kitchen. The ingredients are farm-to-table, including Captain Jocelyn’s garden. The blueberries from Maine were a highlight of our trip, as well as the bespoke oysters from Adam Campbell’s North Haven Oyster Company. Adam came aboard to teach us how to shell and water the fresh, brackish oysters he grows in the salt ponds of North Haven, Maine. The food was delicious, plentiful and there were always extra snacks if needed.

The Riggin is anchored while passengers and crew enjoy a lobster barbecue
Jeanine Consoli

7. Windjammers are owner operated and unique

Even though the boats are owned by a windjammer association, each vessel is operated by its owner. It’s their independent business, and they take pride in making sure you have the best experience possible. To choose the appropriate boat for your vacation, you should review the description of each windjammer and the layout of the cabins. The overall experience is the same; expect a relaxing cruise in and around Maine’s coastal waters. Each cruise serves a cooked lobster on a beach or in the boat’s kitchen. Some cruises offer different options for entertainment, crafts, photography or stargazing. Some are multigenerational or reserved for adults. Also read the biography of each captain. It is important to know who you are sailing with and to feel comfortable with their references. Captains Justin and Jocelyn from Riggin are married with many years of sailing and crewing experience on windjammers and private yachts.

Windjammer Pro Tips

Windjammers offer the option of unplugging and leaving the electronics behind. There is electricity on the schooners and Wi-Fi in the harbor, but cell service is spotty, especially while sailing. It is intended for relaxation.

The bunks are made for sleeping. There isn’t a lot of space to hang out in your room. So socializing, reading, wildlife viewing or taking a nap on the deck is the daily routine.

Wine, beer, and alcohol are not provided, but storage and ice are. Bring yours.

Special diets should be discussed before planning a sail.

People with mobility issues may find it difficult to navigate on a sailboat. Steep ladders and tight spaces make it difficult to get in and out of the sleeping cabins, or get in and out of the boat for excursions. Review the specifications for each windjammer.

Windjammers offer a specific type of experience. Make sure you have reviewed the activities included. For example, active travelers may want to have options for exercise, while other travelers may want more passive activities.

Many cruises sail with the family. You might be interested in a cruise with multigenerational opportunities. Check with the boat of your choice to make sure children are allowed.

Sunny days and smooth sailing require hats, sunglasses and sunscreen. Climate change requires layers that you will peel off and reapply throughout the day. Rainy days and fog are also common.