Though I am prone to tasting life and adventure others consider crazy and dangerous, climbing nearly a hundred feet up into the windy rigging of a sailing ship at sea had never been in my plans. Nevertheless, even without a safety net or parachute, the breathtaking view of Maine’s Penobscot Bay from the swaying mast of the Angelique is worth the physical effort and risk!
Opportunity is a door I always keep open, and when I was invited to participate in a week-long cruise aboard a 100 foot windjammer through the islands and rugged coast of Maine…I jumped at the chance! The boat is the Angelique that is owned and operated by Captain Mike McHenry and his wife Lynne out of Camden, Maine. This immaculate vessel is just one of more than a dozen historic windjammers who are members of the Maine Windjammers Association. Most of these vessels are schooners that date back as far as the late 1800s, but Angelique is the only ketch and was built in 1980 especially for the modern windjamming trade. Though much larger, she is fashioned after a type of English fishing trawler found in the North Sea during the 1880s. Her sails are notably red in color, which was also common during that period because of the process. They were made from cotton canvas and treated with tallow, tannic acid, and red ocher to make them more resistant to mildew.
Angelique can accommodate 31 passengers and a crew of 7 on voyages lasting more than a week. She is classically exquisite to the eye, and everything onboard her is functionally perfect for sailing through the intricate bays, inlets, and islands of the diverse and beautiful coast of Maine.
Photographers find the passing scenery and the active life aboard a windjammer to be a constantly changing series of unique opportunities. Others discover that the gentle swaying and quietness of a sailing ship at sea can be a respite from the madness of urban life. Therefore, each passenger seems to find his or her own interest that might include reading, knitting, sleeping on deck, taking hundreds of pictures, or becoming part of the working crew pulling lines and setting sails. If one becomes deeply curious about the technical aspects of sailing, Captain McHenry readily explains navigation practices and allows anyone to try a turn at the helm.
Trips on the Angelique always begin in Camden, Maine, which is a quaint New England fishing village that has not been spoiled by the passing of time. This charming town seems to wrap its arms around a protected harbor along Penobscot Bay and has proven to be THE favorite home for many of the old windjammers. Its picturesque waterfront is lined with sailing vessels, eclectic shops, restaurants with a view of the harbor and the rolling brook that pours into the bay, and lush green hills above the village. Therefore, during the afternoon before each trip, windjammer captains encourage visitors to explore Camden before spending their first night aboard ship.
With the morning tide rising and a hearty New England breakfast consumed, the activity of the crew increases tremendously and the anticipation of going to sea permeates the salty air with raw excitement. The Captain barks out commands, and the Angelique slides deftly through the maze of boats towards the open sea and freedom from all the modern madness. The larger sails are hoisted, and the crew clamors through the high rigging to set the jibs for a dash across the openness beyond Camden Harbor and into another time and space. No course is ever pre-planned on a Maine windjammer…only the wind will dictate the exact path for the Angelique to follow and where it will rest at anchor each night. All electronic equipment is totally “verboten” except for dire emergencies, and children under 12 are discouraged…however, some dogs are allowed.
All meals, including breads and desserts, are made onboard from scratch with fresh ingredients that were purchased from local Maine farms. Except for an afternoon snack around 4 pm and morning tea at 7 am, meals are promptly signaled by the ship’s bell at 8 am, 12 noon, and 6 pm. The highlight of each cruise, however, is an evening spent on some uninhabited island where everyone is treated to the unique sights, smells, and sounds of a traditional New England “Down East” lobsterbake! It’s hard to beat the taste of fresh-caught lobster cooked in ocean water with live seaweeds in a gorgeous setting just before a colorful sunset. The festive atmosphere is enlivened by the only jug of wine that is offered during the week of sailing.
A Lighthouse Near Camden HarborTime aboard a Maine windjammer is spent taking in the clean salt air, seeing a kaleidoscope of changing scenery, enjoying the camaraderie of the crew, captain, and other passengers, and discovering the romance of sailing that has been so much a part of American history. I will always remember the legendary lighthouses, the island towns of North Haven, Islesboro, and Bar Harbor, and names like Jericho Bay, Casgo Passage, Frenchman Bay, Cranberry Island, or Calderwood Island. Nevertheless, it is the red sails of the Angelique, the stories of Captain Mike McHenry, and the unforgettable feeling of freedom at sea under huge sails off the rugged coast of Maine that will be forever etched in my memory!