Sailing the Maine coast over the 4th of July. It sounds like something only old-moneyed Easterners or year-round New Englanders do. When I would tell people I was doing it, confused responses ranged from “Do you know somebody with a sailboat?” to “How are you going to do that?”

Practically, Maine has been a summer escape for Americans in pretty much all of the 200 years since becoming a state, and sailing boats have been taking visitors on pleasure trips up the coast since at least the late 19th century. However, it still feels like a regional secret.


And how does one go about finding a boat to sail on? That’s where the Maine Windjammer Association (MWA) comes in handy. The boats are individually owned and operated, but the MWA takes the lead on marketing the overall experience, which is a similar standard on each of the vessels.

Each boat runs overnight sailings from late May through October. The sailings follow the wind and tides, so each voyage is a little bit different, decided by the captain based on daily conditions. Each boat (they’re not ships, which must have three masts, at least one square-rigged) offers cozy but comfortable berths, cooked-onboard meals and at least one lobster bake.

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Honestly, they had me at lobster bake.

My schedule worked out so that I was able to sail on a July 4th sailing of the Windjammer Angelique—perhaps the most distinctive windjammer in the MWA fleet. While the other vessels have white sails, the Angelique’s sails are a deep burgundy. It’s a throwback to the North Sea fishing vessels of the 1880s, which had sails treated with tallow, tannic acid and red ocher to combat mildew.

Purpose-built in 1980 to carry passengers on overnight pleasure excursions, Angelique is a Penobscot Bay icon that can carry a passenger complement of 29 and a crew of seven, but on my sailing, there were just 22 passengers booked. In my double cabin belowdecks, there were two stacked bunks with sheets, pillows and a cozy blanket, a small skylight and just enough room for two people to stand when not occupying the bunks. There’s also a freshwater sink and a USB charging port. Passengers who need regular outlets for CPAPs or other devices can make advance arrangements.

The bunks are down a ladder from the deck and are separated in three clusters around different ladders, each surrounding a private head, or bathroom, which also has a hot freshwater shower (the showerhead is a nozzle similar to what one might find on a kitchen sink, to conserve water supplies). There are also single and triple cabins available, and some of the double cabins have a double bed instead of bunks.

The Angelique spends the first night in her berth in Camden, so guests can explore the town, have dinner and pick up any last-minute items. It’s a good idea to stock up before embarkation, as with un-predetermined itineraries, there may or may not be another chance. Guests can also get acclimated to the vessel a bit that first night before they have the wind and the waves added to the mix.

Once the lines (“ropes” to landlubbers) are cast off and Angelique is underway, she remains the star of the show for the guests. The novelty of sailing—particularly onboard a vessel of this size—is the main attraction for virtually all onboard. Days are spent underway in Penobscot Bay, taking in the surrounding scenery at a leisurely pace. Guests can help raise sail (or watch, as I did), chat to fellow passengers and crew or find a cozy spot on the deck, in the deck house or below, perhaps with a board game or a novel from the boat’s supply.

The first morning, I happened upon a crewmember in the deck house working on a particularly intricate sailors’ knot.

“It’s decorative—called a carrick mat” she explained, “Or you can use it to hit people.” She gave a wry smile and turned the page in her book of knots to show a sailor being flogged. “Nowadays we use it to secure two ropes together with an easy release.” Later, I noticed the toilet roll in the head was secured to the wall using a carrick mat.

The atmosphere onboard is an experience with few equals. There’s a conviviality inherent in sharing a small space with strangers who become familiar with an almost lightning quickness. The sea air has a curious quality of being both invigorating and exhausting at once, and perhaps also the world’s greatest appetite stimulant—even with scant hours between the lavish repasts that seemed to stream forth from the Angelique’s galley, each meal seemed to set upon an eager diner.

Perhaps that’s why the days spent aboard are punctuated by plenty of good food. There’s always coffee, decaf and tea or hot water available on deck or in the deck house. In the early mornings, the kitchen turns out a fresh breakfast bread for early risers, then breakfast can be eggs, pancakes, oatmeal or whatever has been planned, served family-style.

Lunches are often soups and salads with more fresh-baked breads. Evenings kick off with nibbles (think charcuterie, cheese, or fresh-made flatbreads with dips), followed by dinners of roasts or pastas in the below-deck dining room, followed by a fresh pot of coffee and desserts on deck.

The highlight of every trip is the lobster bake, either on a secluded beach or a “steel island” (onboard) lobster bake if the landside options are scarce. Our lobster bake was at a small public beach on Burnt Island, near North Haven.

The lobsters, which have been carted along, alternately in a cooler rigged with a hose to circulate through fresh seawater, or in a box lowered into the sea itself when the Angelique is at anchor, are actually steamed. The crew builds a fire and places an iron tub filled with seawater on top which is brought to a boil, and the lobsters are tossed in and covered with sea kelp. When they’re at their bright red finality, they’re poured atop the bed of sea kelp, right on the beach, and diners can help themselves.

Lobster detractors can have a burger or hot dog if they wish, and there’s also a bit of wine on hand. The evening closes out with s’mores and a rowboat back to the Angelique, which has been providing the scenic backdrop for the festivities, anchored just yards away in the channel.

On our trip, we spent the first “sea” night anchored in Buck’s Harbor and rowed ashore the following morning to stretch our legs and visit the local market. The night after the lobster bake was spent anchored off North Haven, and after a third day of sailing, we anchored off Ilesboro and happened upon an evening firework display for the holiday.

While underway, when not eating, raising sail or bundled in the warmth of the deckhouse when the weather got damp, many passengers passed the time on deck chatting to Captain Dennis Gallant, who’s been sailing onboard Angelique for decades—first as a mate, and more recently as Captain-Owner.

“It’s a full-time, year-round job,” he explains. Gallant, who has also worked as a boat-builder and knows every inch of the Angelique, spends the off-season overseeing touchups, repairs and replacements of vital equipment. “I didn’t buy a boat, I bought a corporation,” he says. Stewarding that legacy and the people who depend on the corporation for their livelihoods—not just the crew but the local support services he patronizes is what drew him to it.

When not chatting about Angelique, Captain Dennis and the rest of the crew have plenty of other observations (and nautical puns) to share—whether about the finer details of sailing (they’ll happily point out their position and intended track on a chart for guests) or local legend. There are periodic interjections courtesy of the area’s natural trappings—a crewmember points out a cluster of seals sunning on a shoal, or someone spots a porpoise in the distance.

I found myself not quite ready to disembark, and my time on the Angelique has stayed with me. My mind wanders off, and I find myself transported to the cozy deckhouse with the gentle pitch of the deck as it navigates the sea, already plotting my next escape.

The Details

There are eight overnight sailing vessels bookable via the Maine Windjammer Association. The Angelique also has a dedicated website.

Most vessels have a minimum age, ranging from 10 to 16.

Sailings depart from Camden or Rockland, Maine. The nearest airport is the Knox County Regional Airport.

Gratuities are at guest discretion, but it’s customary to tip in the neighborhood of 5-10 percent of the fare to the first mate, who pools and distributes tips. Individual vessels may suggest different amounts.

Hats, sunscreen, a windbreaker, sweater, treaded shoes, a rain coat or poncho and earplugs (sound carries below deck) are essential packing items, but stowage space can be limited, so pack efficiently. I found a backpack indispensable for toting personal items up and down ladders to berths and rowboats (the crew handles larger luggage).

Popular summer dates can book quickly.

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