What Is A Windjammer Cruise?
When someone said the word 'windjamming' to me I have to admit, I thought of a rastafarian man on the edge of a cliff near the ocean jamming out to Bob Marley while the ocean breezes licked at his open button down shirt and carried the marijuana smoke inland. HOWEVER, that is NOT what windjamming is, in case you had the same mental image as I did. Windjamming, in fact, is in reference to using the wind to power a large sailing ship with several masts, and is used for commercial purposes.
Did you know that you can actually take a sustainable cruise on a sailing ship? Let me explain a little bit more about Windjamming in case this is your first time boarding one of these historic ships that were important in both times of war, smuggling slaves up from the south, as well as the economy of the early United States.
How Is Windjamming Different Than A Regular Cruise Ship?
The crew on a windjamming ship are not like a regular crew, they are a highly trained set of individuals with a particular set of skills. Sometimes you get captains from other ships who are the first mate, other times there are crew from Hawaii that fly into Maine to be on board of one of these historic ships. They spend their days cleaning, polishing, tidying, tying ropes, hoisting anchor, climbing the masts to roll in sails, cooking, and even at times entertaining the guests with activities and/or music.
On a smaller ship with around 20 people, there are about four crew members that include the captain, cook, first mate, second mate, and a deckhand. A larger ship will have more crew for aiding and coordinating the raising and lowering of the sails.
The Captain is obviously the one in charge, but helps chart the waters of the many islands along the coast of Maine. His first mate takes direction from him, they are his eyes and ears on deck and help direct and aid in the running of the ship at the Captain's discretion.
The second mate helps in maintaining the safety of the deck, helps with hoisting of sails and anchor, and at times will aid in the kitchen where necessary. The deckhand is typically a sailing trainee that is responsible for all the 'loose ends', cleaning, scrubbing, polishing, and helping hoist, haul, help, and handle whatever else needs to be done.
Who Are The Staff On A Windjamming Ship And Their Roles?
The crew on a windjamming ship are not like a regular crew, they are a highly trained set of individuals with a particular set of skills. Sometimes you get captains from other ships who are the first mate, other times there are crew from Hawaii that fly into be on board of one of these historic ships. They spend their days cleaning, polishing, tidying, tying ropes, hoisting anchor, climbing the masts to roll in sails, cooking, and even at times entertaining the guests with activities and/or music.
On a smaller ship with around 20 people, there are about four crew member that include the captain, cook, first mate, second mate, and a deckhand. A larger ship will have more crew for aiding and coordinating the raising and lowering of the sails.
The Captain is obviously the one in charge, but helps chart the waters of the many islands along the coast of Maine. His first mate takes direction from him, is his eyes and ears on deck and helps direct and aid in the running of the ship at the Captains discretion.
The second mate help in maintaining the safety of the deck, help with hoisting of sails and anchor, and at times will aid in the kitchen where necessary. The deckhand is typically a sailing trainee that is responsible for all the 'loose ends', cleaning, scrubbing, polishing, and helping hoist, haul, help, and handle whatever else needs to be done.
What Are Advantages Of Windjamming To Modern Cruise Ships?
Commercial sailing ships are a much more organic and raw experience with nature. A lot of times on modern cruise ships you have glass, railings, rules, limitations and often feel like an animal following the herd. Windjammers have ropes for railings, and if you lean far enough, you might be able to touch the water.
There is no fixed seating arrangement, so you can pick a spot anywhere on the ship that is on deck to eat, sleep, wildlife watch or chat with fellow passengers. If you get socially overwhelmed, just jump down into your cabin and let the sway of the ship and the rhythmic lapping of the waves lull you into sleep.
You don't need to dress up on a windjammer trip, or even shower really. While they do have showers you can use, I like to think of it as camping on water. No fancy clothes required, come on deck in your PJ's or sweats (if you're sailing with the MWA Fleet in Maine) and enjoy the meditation in motion in TRUE COMFORT.
If you are a solo traveler, be sure you typically do not have to pay double price on your room to go. It is just as fun, and you can basically hear the people in your area snore anyway, so really....you never feel alone, lol. If you are a light sleeper, be sure to bring ear plugs - my particular windjammer, they did provide the ear plugs for you.
Will it be boring onboard?
There are no big productions on board, so if you aren't comfortable just sitting with your own thoughts, this may not be the trip for you. There are things you can do on board though, so as someone with an extremely short attention span, I never really felt bored.
I can sit on a ship and watch the waves for hours, ask a crew member to teach you how to tie knots, take LOTS of photos, share deep personal triumphs and losses with fellow passengers and leave with a whole new set of friends.
Our windjammer had a stand up paddle board. We joined the windjammer festival which included a scavenger hunt that required us to row the small boat to all the ships for the clues. They had a small library downstairs, as well as board games in the galley (the kitchen area).
If you want to take a dip in the ocean you are more than welcome to. Depending on the time of year it feels a bit like a polar plunge in summer.
If all this fails, then there is plenty of wildlife to spot along the coast of Maine throughout the year. We saw lots of birds, fish, and seals.
Sailing with the Maine Windjammer Association, they also encourage participants to bring their own instruments on board to share in songs and sometimes dancing.
They do have a 'quiet hour' after 9pm (at least on our ship) just asking people to be respectful of other people on the ship because our ship is made of wood and sound travels really well on the water and on board. Yet they set the mood with gas burning lanterns that looked antique, and you were allowed to sleep on deck under the stars whispering stories about the day or other travels you have taken with your fellow passengers.
Can Anyone Go Windjamming?
The long of the short answer is unfortunately no, however, it does depend on the ship and the captain's preference. Some ships are older than others, smaller quarters, and the ship has more keel (tilt). There are so many moving parts to sailing that it could be quite dangerous to bring children younger than 13-15 years old that would follow instructions given by the captain.
Another concern I had was those with poor equilibrium, or who are unsteady on their feet. If you suffer from frequent dizziness, frequent tripping or falls then I would advise you to elect for a cruise experience that can accommodate that. A windjammer tilts quite a bit, it is completely wind driven, and is hard to do an about face with the ship. They tow a small motor driven boat for rescues should someone go overboard, and have everyone participate in a drill of 'man overboard' - so everyone knows what to do should someone go overboard.
For those who have trouble with steep stairs, knee or joint issues, be advised that you do have to descend steep stairs that are more like a ladder for many ships (at least in our fleet). They do have ships in the MWA Fleet that have cabins on the main deck, but you would need to call their main office to inquire about which ships are available for that type of accomodation.
For those who are curvy and killin it, be advised that the bathrooms are like what you would find in an RV and the doors into the rooms can be a bit snug to fit through. You also need to be able to climb up a rope ladder with wooden steps into the boat from the smaller motor boat and oar boats when you do shore excursions but there are people both above and below you to help. You do have the option to stay on the ship the whole time as well, if you only want to get on and off the ship via steady stairs.
Is The Cost Of Windjamming Worth It?
My opinion, I would go Windjamming again in a HEARTBEAT! I love camping, I love being on the water, I love nature and meeting people while traveling on a more personal level and THIS ticks all those boxes.
The cost can vary from ship to ship in the Maine Windjammer Fleet, as well as the length of time of your particular cruise contributes to the cost as well. The cost for a 4-5 day trip from Camden Maine was around $875 for a single person, this includes all meals, all excursions, a lobster bake, activities and festival with other ships, and a single cabin. You can also bring your own food if you have specialty needs (able to accommodate gluten free, vegetarian, and I am allergic to bell peppers so they excluded those as well).
If you fly into Portland, make sure to fly in a day or two before your cruise so you can catch a bus with Concord Coach Lines from Portland to Camden that leaves around 1:30pm EST. This is the only bus that you can take to get there. You can also take a private car transport with Sterling Elite that is reasonable and often cheaper than a rental car. If you choose to rent a car and spend some time in Acadia or other areas along the coast of Maine you will DEFINITELY need to rent a vehicle because Uber and Lyft do not yet service this area. Once you arrive in Camden, there are places you can park - just be sure you double check with the Captain, the correct area to park before leaving it for four days to ensure it isn’t towed or ticketed.
I will be continuing a series of articles and videos about my time with the Maine Windjammer Association to give you a better idea on what to expect on board a windjammer ship, what to pack for a windjammer cruise, and the delicious FOOD our chef whipped up for us - so be sure to sign up for the monthly emails, so you won't miss a thing!
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My name is Janiel, I specialize in solo female travel, cultural connections, sustainable adventures, food and history to help make your travel experiences fun, meaningful, and delicious. My experience in travel, and my personal story have allowed me to get published in Fodor's Travel, Atlas Obscura, Metro.co.uk, Trip Advisor, and multiple Podcast interviews. You can find me on pretty much every social media channel YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, TikTok. To read more about me and my story click here. If you are a brand and would like to work with me, click here.