Ever dream of sailing on a true Schooner Windjammer sailboat? How about one that first set sail as a cargo vessel over 150 years ago in Maine, USA? The S/V Lewis R. French plied the East Coast, shipping coal, lumber, fish, trees, granite, and so forth until the 1970s when it was massively restored and converted to a passenger-carrying Windjammer. It now has space below for 20 or so passengers and was named a National Historic Landmark in 1992.
Peggy and I saw an opportunity to sail on one of these beautiful boats as part of an East Coast trip where we were planning to attend an early fall wedding in New England. We did some Windjammer research and found the French to be an interesting choice because of its history and size. Being about 100 feet long with a 65 foot deck, having no engine, and being operated with traditional ropes, lines, and people power, we felt we’d get a truer experience to what sailing on a historic schooner would be.
We boarded the French on a Saturday night and set off on a four-day cruise the following morning.
Here she is dock-side being prepped for the cruise in Camden Harbor.
Having no motor she carries or tows a “yawl dinghy” outfitted with an 85 hp Yanmar engine that’s used for guiding her when docking or leaving a dock, and traveling through a crowded anchorage such as Camden Harbor’s.
Here’s a photo of the boat’s cook, and part-time deck hand, operating the yawl-dinghy “Greyhound” as the French was being pushed from the dock through the maze of anchored and moored boats outside the harbor where her sails can be raised to begin sailing. Also shown is a photo of the view from the bow as she is guided through the harbor.
The ship’s cook did not want to be called chef or cook, just O.B.. So, O.B. did wondrous things with preparing three meals a day on the boat’s wood burning stove. His creations for each meal were served buffet style by placing the food and drinks on the mid-deck cabin top. We’d find a spot on deck to sit down and enjoy the meals he prepared.
And so we began leg one as depicted on the map below. All sails were raised and we had the best day of sailing with 15 – 20 kt winds, flat seas and a sunny sky, as we sailed to McGlathery Island, marked (1), where we anchored and spent our first night at sea.
Setting the anchor was not at all like we as “small” boat sailors are used to. The French’s method is to tightly wrap several loops of chain around the windlass gypsy and, when the crew is given the signal, turn the anchor loose and let it drop to the bottom. Becky, the French’s captain, uses about 40 feet of chain in these shallow waters in calm conditions. The chain has links that are very thick and 3-4 inches long, and the primary anchor, she carries two, is an old Navy style weighing about 150 lbs. The backup anchor is a 250 pounder. Weighing the anchor calls for several crew or volunteers to work the windlass. It’s all mechanical – no electric or hydraulic help. The crew inserts a rod into each of the two ends of the windlass and two volunteers grab each rod and proceed to push their rod down and pull it up in a pumping motion to rotate the windlass gypsies. Each push or pull brings up about three links of chain. There’s a volunteer flaking the chain as it comes up, another one spraying water on the anchor rode to clean it as it comes up, and two crew making sure no one hurts themselves. Once the anchor reaches the surface the crew halts the lifting and ties off the anchor with a line. The windlass crew then continues “pumping” until the anchor is ready to be secured on the bow of the boat while Captain Becky sails off the anchor.
Underway, the French provides a steady ride in a brisk wind and moves nicely at 2-3 kts in very light wind. We’d see 5 – 7 kts of boat speed in decent winds.
On Monday morning, after weighing the anchor, we set course for a place called Burnt Island, marked (2) on the map. Captain Becky had decided to go there for a lobster boil lunch (rather than dinner) on the beach because rain had been forecasted for the afternoon and night. We anchored off the beach and came ashore in several trips on “Greyhound” while the crew transported the food and cooking gear to shore using another dinghy. O.B. had plenty of live lobsters for us.
Peggy and I took a little walk on the island while O.B. and crew were cooking our lunch. We had two lobsters each with corn and a salad – a perfect meal sitting on an isolated beach with a gorgeous view of the beach, trees, and the French.
After lunch, the sky darkened and Captain Becky decided to head for Rockport, (3) on the map, where she’d pick up a mooring in preparation for a rainy night. Those of us that wanted to explore Rockport were taken ashore by the “Greyhound”. Rockport is pretty small and no shops were open. Peggy and I had a nice walk enjoying the pretty homes and boats in the harbor. They have a nice library with a public bathroom and we got to chat with a friendly local woman that was delivering several boxes of old books to the library. She lives in Nebraska but has her childhood home here in Rockport. One thing she told us to do is drive up to Mt. Battie for great views of the coast, which we did after our cruise ended.
Captain Becky returned us to the French on “Greyhound”. We were ready for OB’s next dinner creation
We dropped the mooring the following morning and headed upwind to “700 Island”, marked (4) on the map, where we spent a quiet night at anchor. O.B. included that leftover lobster meat in a breakfast frittata and then prepared a great dinner he called “disassembled lasagna”. He and Captain Becky were on another boat that served lasagna and they didn’t want to be accused of copying their menu, or something like that. Anyway, it had all the ingredients needed for lasagna but substituted linguini for the lasagna noodles. It was a big hit with guests and crew.
On Wednesday morning we weighed anchor again and headed for Camden to complete the cruise. Leaving the dock at the start of the cruise was touchy enough with “Greyhound” pushing the French through the harbor but we were in for a surprise coming back in to dock! With “Greyhound” in the water and Captain Becky’s father in a dinghy pushing sideways they swung the French around 180 degrees without hitting any of the surrounding boats as we neared the dock. Then, the crew picked up two lines laying at the bottom of the harbor that were attached somewhere near the dock, one to port and one to starboard, and they pulled the French to the dock stern first to complete the docking. Now that is unique boat handling!
One final note: Once the rain hit on the second day the weather also turned pretty cold and we weren’t quite prepared for that – still it was great fun!