Somewhere, Beyond Casco Bay...
She's in Rockland, waiting to belay. Who, you might ask? The Victory Chimes, of course! A few weeks ago I had the privilege of joining Kristen Vermeulen of Makers of Maine (and now Makers of the USA!) to be a part of the Maine Windjammer Association's Schooner Gam event. Every year, the MWA kicks off their summer cruise season with a gathering of every windjammer in their fleet. Your 4-6 night stay on these beautiful, historic boats includes delicious food, good company and fun events that introduce you to the history of not only the association, but the rich pasts of each and every vessel in the fleet.
Our maiden voyage actually began not on the Victory Chimes, but from Camden on another vessel in the fleet: the Angelique. Although smaller than the windjammer we'd be boarding that evening, this unique ship with her tanbark sails was a beauty all her own. Tanbark sails are red in color, unlike your average white sail, and are quite rare to see these days. In the old days, red sails made it harder to see ships on the horizon and easier to deter pirates. The start of our trip involved getting to know the captain and crew, our fellow passengers from all across the US, and being tantalized by the smell of lunch being prepared in the galley.
This is a food blog, so naturally I have to talk about the meals we enjoyed on our trip. Despite the small galley, we were prepared quite the hearty yet high-quality lunch while we waited to reach our final destination of North Haven. All meals on the boat are family-style, so everything was brought out onto the deck in large portions for the guests to partake in. We enjoyed homemade drop biscuits with jam, fish chowder, arugula salad with mozzarella and walnuts, warm homemade bread, and finally chocolate-cherry cookies for dessert. Simple yet perfect to combat the chilly ocean breeze that rocked our boat during our voyage.
After eating lunch and indulging in a little Frannie nap, we arrived at our destination for the rest of the evening: North Haven. Tucked just north of Vinylhaven, this charming little island's coastline is littered with small cabins and lighthouses that would make any Maine-lover swoon. The guests were once again called upon to help pull the sails down for the night (including Kristen!) Slowly, fellow vessels of the MWA fleet would sail into the cove to join us for the night, fighting the rough winds of the Atlantic to seek out the shelter of our little corner of the island. In total, there are 7 vessels of the 9 member fleet that joined us that evening: American Eagle, Angelique, Heritage, Lewis R. French, Mary Day, Stephen Taber, and Victory Chimes.
Unlike past years, due to COVID, our boats would not be saddling up next to one another to let the passengers explore the different ships. However, there was an alternate activity for guests to partake in that would ultimately be even more exciting. But first...more food! We enjoyed hors d'oeuvre of cheeses, pickled vegetables, and roasted brussel sprouts. (We even shared a glass of whiskey with the captain) It's always easy to overindulge when it comes to charcuterie, but it was worth saving some room for the main event: dinner! Salad and roasted asparagus complimented chicken or tofu on a bed of cheesy polenta and homemade bread.
And to wrap it all up, a scrumptious key lime trifle topped with raspberry compote. We definitely ate well on this trip!
Fueled and ready to go, we dove into the big activity planned for the gam event: a scavenger hunt. But not just any scavenger hunt. Groups of up to 8 passengers from each vessel would board a rowboat and, using a list of clues and riddles, would travel from boat to boat in search of an item emblematic of that ship's history. Whoever collected all of the tchotchkes first would receive the coveted golden oar. (And everyone would partake in celebratory grog!) After a slow start from us and a questionably early launch from the Taber, we were off!
I learned very quickly that I am not the strongest rower and was quickly delegated to the item collector for the group. Though with the help of my fellow guests, we were quick to solve clues and fill our bucket with all sorts of trinkets. (Even though I dropped one in the water and had to ask for another...) I did eventually get my time in the sun as a rower when a woman needed a break, and together we powered our way through the scavenger hunt and ultimately came out in a strong fifth place! Though we didn't win the coveted golden oar, we did enjoy our delicious grog and celebrated our teamwork together.
However, the night was slowly winding down and with the events at an end, it was time for us to leave our newfound family on the Angelique and board the Victory Chimes for the rest of the night. After saying a bittersweet goodbye to our new friends, the captain drove us over to the Chimes in a little motorboat. Despite some initial confusion from the current guests, who had no idea where these two strangers had come from after having traveled with the same group of people over the last four days, we blended in quickly when the band began to play.
Drinks and sea shanties closed out our evening, and it was finally time to go to bed. Built in 1900 in Bethel, Victory Chimes is over 100 years old and is one of the few remaining three-masted schooners in the United States. She is the largest of the MWA fleet at 127 feet long and holds 19 cabins, the main saloon, and a galley. Despite extensive repairs and renovations over the years, she still retains 70% of her original fabric. Sam Sikkema is the current captain, a quiet yet professional young sailor who commands his ship with fervor and expertise.
We spent the night in a 'double-double' bunk cabin, with our own sink and amenities. Being rocked to sleep by the sea and lulled by the white noise of crew members tightening up the ship for the night, you're bound to have one of the most restful nights of sleep you've had in a while. We were so well-rested in fact that we were the last to wake for breakfast! We enjoyed a communal breakfast of eggs, potatoes, meats, and fruits with our fellow guests, who were as perturbed by our presence as they were enamored with the fact that we were locals. Not one person we met on this trip was from Maine, and every single one of them wanted to move here. (Save some houses for the rest of us!)
As we sailed back into the Rockland harbor, watching the endless fog roll by, we reflected on our experience. Most locals may not think to go on a cruise in their home state, much less one they have to drive an hour or two to get to, but we were incredibly lucky to get to share this experience with the guests and crew those few days. You really disconnect from the outside world as the day goes on, becoming embroiled in the group dynamic and meeting interesting new folks while enjoying the scenery that we are endlessly lucky to get to call our home. If you've never been on a windjammer, or just need to remind yourself why this state and its people are so special, I can't recommend a weekend trip aboard one of the Maine Windjammer Association's vessels enough.
Phone: (800) 807-9463