Before there were super-highways or even country roads, cargo trade was dominated by the great schooners ferrying supplies up and down the east coast. By all accounts, the first schooner appeared around 1700, off the coast of Gloucester, Massachusetts. A common-day analogy would probably define them as the tractor-trailer rigs of the modern day transportation industry. Thousands of schooners graced the eastern seaboard but eventually went out of favor with the introduction of roads and byways, and motorized vehicles to move supplies. Many went into disrepair or were simply abandoned at port, taken back by the sea. The few that survived were thankfully nurtured back to life in the form of dedicated passenger/hospitality trade vessels.
We have always enjoyed our annual trek up the Maine coast after Labor Day. While everyone was returning south after the weekend of the 'unofficial' end of summer, we ventured northeast to enjoy the last days of summer and lesser crowds along the Maine coast. Boothbay, Rockport, Belfast and Bass Harbor were often stops, with a more recent side trip via Cat Ferry over to Nova Scotia to the east. Truth be told, I really wanted to see Oak Island. I hope they finally find some treasure buried in the money pit. I fell in love with Nova Scotia, especially the small fishing town of Lunenburg which is a designated a "UNESCO" World Heritage Site.
Our travels eventually took us to Camden, and the beautiful harbor that the town is built around. While in town that trip, we took an evening sail aboard one of the many schooners and upon return to port, saw one the best sunsets we have seen since being back in New England. The sky exploded with color as we gracefully slipped back into the harbor that night.
While in town we picked up one of the local magazines and noticed an ad for the Maine Windjammers Association (MWA - www.sailmainecoast.com) Annual Photo contest. Having just sailed on one of their boats, I decided to send along an image that was eventually chosen for their annual competition - sweet!
Based on that entry I struck up a conversation with the MWA organization (thank you Marti and Alisa) which brings me to our story line. We communicated throughout the long winter months and by early spring, the MWA was kind enough to extend the opportunity to shoot from the decks of one of their Schooners for the 43 Annual Running of the 'Great Schooner Race' held on Penobscot Bay over the 4th of July weekend! Below is a shot of the fireworks over the harbor on the 4th.
Our morning started out by catching the ferry at 8 am from Lincolnville (just up the coast from Camden) over to Islesboro Island, where the fleet moored the night before in a protected cove on the east side for the start of the race. Once ashore, we transferred to a small boat named the 'Retreiver', skippered by 'Captain Mike'. A short 5 minute ride out to the center of the fleet, we made our way to the starboard side (that's the right side for land lubbers). We transferred our gear and made our way up the ladder. It was a bit sketchy at first, but Lee did a great job of climbing aboard as the deck hands lifted my photo gear aboard. Once aboard, we were quickly greeted by deck hands and passengers who were on day 4 of their 5 day sail and were excited to have some new folks to talk to, especially since we were part of the photo pool for the event.
Victory Chimes - The Queen of the Windjammers Fleet
Wow - what a vessel! Built in 1900, she is a 3-masted schooner that sits 130' in length, and weighs in at a healthy 200 tons. She carries a crew of 9 and has berthing space for 41 passengers. This is not a small sailing vessel and takes quite a bit of wind to make her sail. The course went south from Islesboro Island, past Camden with the finish line at Rockland Harbor Breakwater Light. The breakwater and lighthouse sit 4000' into the harbor (you can walk the top of the breakwater to the lighthouse) and is located right behind the Samoset Resort and Golf Club ( www.samosetresort.com
). This, too, is a picturesque location.
The race began at 10:45 am with an estimated finish around 2:00-3:00 pm, wind and weather dependent. By the time we crossed the starting line the winds were, shall we say, on the non-existent side. We moved with the tide for a good 90 minutes. Many schooners were in the same situation and basically lingered at full sail waiting for winds to pick up - and did they! Unfortunately, winds came up from the SE which was a direct headwind. Being such a large vessel, it took multiple tacks, or direction changes, to get us moving on course. Boats this large don't exactly start or stop quickly and the crew was constantly working the sails to keep us pointed toward the finish line. The smaller boats could be seen off the bow well ahead of us and 'nicely making way' as Crosby, Stills and Nash often sang.
Our 3-4 hour sail turned into an 8 hour sail with very long runs made to the east to take advantage of the winds. After many tacks, we finally made it to the Rockland Harbor finish line as the winner in the 3-masted schooner class! Ok - we were the only 3-masted schooner but that did not quash the enthusiasm of the crew and passengers!
Once the anchors and sails were dropped, Captain Sam had his crew make ready the ladder and skiff. After the crew and passengers wished us well, we made our way over the starboard side, back down the ladder and into shore - our own personal escort. Captain Sam below aboard the Enoch on our way to shore.
I often scratch my head and wonder how this all happens to us but someone once reminded me, “You get in life what you have courage to ask for” - that's good enough for me.