You might already have this journey on your travel bucketlist and if you don’t – I hope you add Sailing the coast of Maine to it after reading!
The first time Aaron and I spent the summer together in Maine, we were strolling the harbor and walked along a large windjammer, both in awe of it’s size and beauty. We briefly threw around the idea of how fun it would be to sail along the coast in one of them for a week or so. We’ve always tossed around the idea of sailing the world together but baby steps, baby steps.
Fast forward three years and a lot of day sails later, this spring we made plans to finally go out for a multiple-day sail. We got in touch with the Maine Windjammer Association and quickly found availability on the Schooner Stephen Taber. Which happens to be the oldest documented sailing vessel in continuous service in the United States and is a national historic landmark. The sailboat is 148 yrs old and absolutely beautiful.
WHAT TO EXPECT SAILING THE COAST OF MAINE:
- Adventure travel, no frills or ‘entertainment’ planned, just simply a naturally amazing experience
- An awesome crew of people who make you feel at home
- Scrumptious, rich, hearty food
- Unique, special views of untouched Maine coastline
- One hell of a good time
Walking on board was like being welcomed into a warm hug. With the lovely carpet rolled out, fresh flowers in numerous places and smiling crew. Little did I know, I would quickly attach to each person who worked on the Stephen Taber, each with their own story and reason for leaving shore behind to explore the seas.
In Captain Noah’s introduction to the vessel and our weekend, he made it clear that our route and ‘itinerary’ were undecided; that the winds and the tides would dictate what the next few days brought us. “This is adventure travel,” he stated as he explained there is no engine on board and that we are really sailing. I loved his bluntness and honesty.
We were about to embark on the shortest trip they offer which is a three day sail. Next time we board the Stephen Taber, I would like it to be for their six day trip. We loved it that much.
Captain Noah Barnes was the hero in this story, sharp, charming and a hell of a sailor. Before the Schooner Stephen Taber was his boat, it belonged to his parents. He has been sailing on this boat since he was seven years old and is now passing down the tradition to his phenomenal son Oscar.
One of the many things I loved about sailing the coast of Maine was that the food was locally sourced and absolutely delicious. Chef Ean was hilarious as he was talented and was more than accommodating to my odd ‘mostly-plant-based, but also pescatarian’ requests! Feel free to specify dietary restrictions beforehand, he’s more than happy to accommodate.
We spent the first night in the harbor. After the brief orientation and taste testing of some local Fiore balsamic and vinegars, we were given the evening to spend as we wished. Aaron and I beelined it for PRIMO, of course. I would give you my recommendations for what to order but in all honesty, anything you order will be spectacular so order what calls to you. We returned to the boat late in the evening and headed to bed in anticipation for the journey to come.
The first morning was gorgeous with blue skies until we hit fog just off shore. I didn’t know where we were headed yet and didn’t feel a pressing need to ask so I pulled on a sweater and cozied up on deck with a book I had found in ‘the library’ on board. ‘Ruby Red Heart in a Deep Blue Sea’ it was called. A captivating yet sad story and I was consumed. Before I knew it, lunch was being brought up from the galley and it smelled divine. Caramelized onions, asian pears and gooey white cheese squished between two pieces of fresh bread accompanied the delicious tomato soup and a heaping salad. It was presented as “just some grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup” …. yet tasted like heaven. (Even this lactose intolerant gal was thrilled! Yes, I chose to indulge because sometimes part of travel is indulging and living.) I would come to find out that nothing was ever “just …..” with Chef Ean. He’s a genius in the kitchen.
Our first stop was Hen Island, we had arrived in late afternoon. We were offered paddleboards to ride, Oscar offered up boat rides and we were also welcomed to explore the island. We made trips to the shore in the dingy and the crew prepared for the lobster bake we were about to have. I reluctantly took a dip with Aaron – “refreshing!” as he always says. We made some whiskey gingers with some local ingredients – Split Rock Distillery Bourbon and Maine Root Ginger Beer. Delicious.
Schooner Stephen Taber had an assortment of fruits, cheeses, crackers and other samplings for appetizers. Along with both red and white wine and house made sangria. I swear the attention to detail was one of the reasons I loved the experience so much. While we all chatted and swapped stories, the crew was setting up a traditional lobster bake. They stacked seaweed and lobsters, covering it with another heaping over seaweed, then lit a fire below. They also had fresh corn and sriracha marinated chicken. A whole spread and a bunch of happy humans!
Last (but certainly not least) thing to note about the lobster bake was the s’mores. These weren’t just any s’mores! These were Pizzelle S’mores. Pizzelles are traditional Italian waffle cookies and are to die for. Now imagine all the s’more goodness being swaddled in the tender warmth of a pizzelle…I bet you’re drooling now, as am I! Noah funneled pizzelle dough into a cast iron press and cooked them fresh over the fire while we warmed our marshmallows and quickly assembled them. Oohey-gooey goodness.
This is the kind of experience I dreamed about when I first stepped foot in Maine about ten years ago.
The next morning, the water was glassy and still. Aaron had gotten up to watch sunrise but I opted for the comfort of bed and woke up when I smelled coffee. We stayed put in the cove we had anchored at for the morning – some folks paddle boarding, swimming and jumping off the boat – while breakfast was being prepared. When I jumped in, the water was just as chilly as it was the night before but invigorating when you got out, as the waters of Maine always are. From Hen Island, we made our way around the island of Vinalhaven. Oddly enough, I had never been to Vinalhaven before so I was eager to stop here and explore a bit. We had lunch on the boat and then anchored in the harbor so we could enjoy the island and walk around for a while. Aaron and I walked the main street, peering into beautiful shops and the restaurant Salt (which I’ve been wanting to visit for dinner) and stopped at the ice cream shop. I definitely want to come back and hike around sometime soon!
From our anchor at Vinalhaven, we made our way through ‘The Reach,’ a narrow channel towards the Hurricane Sound. It was fun talking with Noah and Oscar about our destined route, discussing their favorite islands and many of their adventures in the Penobscot Bay. Noah says he has been doing this for over three decades and has yet to repeat the same route twice. I find that incredible and exciting.
As we made our way through the channel, we passed peninsulas and islands covered in tall evergreens, we saw cliff jumping spots and other schooners – it was quintessential Maine. Striking and understated at the same time. Oh, how I love this place.
Noah was brave enough to let me steer and ‘sail’ the vessel for a bit, quenching my thirst for a taste of what it felt like. Like I said at the beginning, it’s a great dream of mine to sail across the world so I was excited and scared like hell. Half the time I was in command, we talked about the book he recommended to learn the fundamentals of sailing and then in a flash, he was gone, tending to something at the bow. I felt his trust but was also terrified to somehow damage the boat – but this is exactly what he refrenced that first night: adventure travel. He wants every person on board to have a true, honest experience and sometimes that means you get to steer, or help pull sails or get as involved as you would like. I love that the Schooner Stephen Taber invites people in like that.
We found a spot called Long Cove to anchor for the night. Arriving just as the light was golden and dreamy, we relaxed, cracked a few beers and jumped in. Chef Ian and his crew were preparing something that smelled divine and there was such a calm energy being nestled by a few different islands. Oscar had pulled his boat down, which was a small wooden sailboat that he and his father built this past fall, and was giving guests little sails around the cove. “Of course!,” we both agreed when he asked us. We were overjoyed for him to show us his passion. When we needed to turn, he would say “Duck!” and we would oblige. I asked Oscar as many questions as I could because I found this little nine year old so fascinating, kind and precocious. He’s what I want my children to be like. We had such a fun time with him!
Before the sun sank below the horizon, we enjoyed a lovely charcuterie spread, and a lovely selection of wine with our dinner. Then came the flourless chocolate torte – come on. I had to pieces and practically wept! To top it off, the sunset was glorious. I took it in with my eyes, not my lens so you’ll have to just go out and experience it for yourself.
We ended the evening being serenaded by practically the entire crew, who took turns playing the guitar and singing. With my glass of red in hand, I looked at Aaron thinking ‘is this real?’
If I were to describe our experience on the Schooner Stephen Taber in one word, it would be:
That might seem like an extreme word choice but in those short three days, my desire to learn to sail grew quickly and shortly. I was dizzy watching the crew hard at work sailing this almost 150 year old vessel out amongst the 2200 something islands in the Penobscot Bay, without a concrete destination in mind. We were at the leisure of the tides and the wind which was exquisite and exhilarating. I am so incredibly thankful to have had this experience. We saw parts of Maine that many haven’t, we played a role in many things that I’ve wanted to do for years, dove into the ocean in secluded coves, ate some of the best food I’ve had and met amazing people. What’s better than that in life?
WHAT TO PACK SAILING THE COAST OF MAINE:
- Layers – During the summer when sailing the coast of Maine, you’ll never go wrong with layers! I brought a couple of t-shirts + sweaters and dressed according to the weather. Here are a few of the pieces I was wearing:
- Swimsuit – Definitely plan on jumping in! It’s part of the Maine experience.
- Tevas/Chacos or Tennis Shoes – They recommended wearing closed toe shoes but I don’t own any so I brought my chacos and was fine! Here are the ones I wore:
- Rain Gear – Better safe than sorry! The worst is getting wet and not being able to dry your clothing.
- Ocean-Safe Sunscreen – Read more about what I mean by that + why it matters HERE.
- A hat and sunglasses
- Non-toxic insect repellent
- Camera – you’re going to want it because it’s GORGEOUS!
Taking words from their greeting email: Life aboard the Stephen Taber is relaxed, informal and casual. You will be spending most of your time in jeans, shorts, or bathing suit. My kind of vacation!
If you want more ideas of how to authentically experience Maine during your travels, take a look at my Maine archives.