Waves splash the deck, and I brace my feet, trying to hold steady as the Ladona leans into the wind, racing its sister schooner, the Stephen Taber, across the choppy waters of Maine’s Penobscot Bay. Other passengers scramble for dry positions, laughing while soaking in the experience of sailing aboard a Maine windjammer.
In an era ruled by technology, wind-jamming is an aberration, an unscripted adventure. Wind and tide set the pace and itinerary; sunrise and sunset schedule the day.
“Penobscot Bay is a national treasure,” says second-generation captain Noah Barnes, who grew up on the Taber and restored the Ladona with Capt. J. R. Braugh. Stretching broadly from Rockport to Bar Harbor, the bay is salted with thousands of rock-girdled, spruce-fringed islands and edged with a handful of granite-tipped fingers. Gulls squeal. Seals frolic. Lobster boats chug. Lighthouses wink. Bell buoys clang.
“Arriving under sail at perfect, uninhabited, unbuilt-up islands or coastal fishing villages, artist communities and gallery towns is hitting the aesthetic jackpot,” Barnes says.
Passenger wind-jamming dates from 1936, when an enterprising sea captain retrofitted an old cargo schooner with bunks and invited paying customers aboard. I booked my adventure through the Maine Windjammer Association, which carries on the tradition.
Its nine members homeport in Rockland or Camden and vary in both size — they take on between 16 and 40 passengers — and amenities. Cruises, offered May into October, range between one and 10 days, with rates beginning around $200 per day. Some windjammers are restored and others are purpose-built; five, including the Taber, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“The Ladona’s a classic thoroughbred with a racing pedigree,” Barnes says. Designed by William Hand and built in 1922 as a private yacht, Ladona won its class in the 1923 Bermuda Cup and served on a Navy submarine patrol before sinking at the dock. Sold as salvage, it was refitted as a fishing dragger, then rebuilt as a sail-training vessel before joining Maine’s windjammer fleet.
When bankruptcy left it rotting at the dock, Barnes and Braugh rescued it, aiming to create the ultimate windjammer experience by marrying Ladona’s rich history, classic lines and speed with contemporary amenities including electrical outlets, USB ports and shared tiled baths with rainwater showers.
I’m sun-drying my hair when the sister schooners anchor for an all-you-can-eat lobster bake and beach barbeque off McGlathery, an undeveloped island with sand pockets scalloping the craggy shoreline. Both cruises have a special wine theme, and while we savor a guided tasting, executive chef Anna Miller lays out an appetizer spread that resembles the small-plates selection at a fine restaurant.
The passengers — a mix of newbies and old salts returning for their umpteenth cruise — sip, nibble, chat and feast. Friendships are sealed over campfire-toasted Nutella waffle s’mores, as the day’s vivid blues cede to smoky pinks chased by fiery golds and reds.
“You know it’s working when people stop referring to their cellphones,” Barnes says. “It’s one thing to remove the ability to connect, another to remove the desire”
Back aboard, I watch the last whisper of light fade, merging sky and sea into inky darkness. One star emerges, then another, and I retire to my cabin, lulled to sleep by the gentle rhythmic slip-slap of soft waves, mentally restored by the sun, sea and dancing with the wind, and eager for the promise of tomorrow.