ROCKLAND — By late July, the Maine schooner fleet is usually running all out, with a dozen or so boats busy carrying passengers on sailing adventures through Penobscot Bay and farther east from homeports in Camden, Rockport and Rockland. The season usually gets under way in June, but the coronavirus pandemic has changed all that.
This year, it was mid-July before most boats started sailing. It wasn’t until July 1 that Governor Janet Mills allowed overnight windjammer cruises in Maine to reopen. While waiting for the go-ahead, members of the Rockland-based Maine Windjammer Association and sailing cruise operators in Camden and Hancock County worked with the Department of Marine Resources to establish guidance principles for a safe sailing environment.
To sail in 2020, schooners offering overnight trips have to meet COVID-19 safety guidelines for lodging establishments, restaurants and windjammers as well as the normal Coast Guard licensing requirements. To date, just two of the eight members of the Maine Windjammer Association fleet have opted to sail, and the “Green Boat” fleet in Camden has tied up most of its fleet and is offering only short day trips on one of its smaller schooners.
Two boats, the Stephen Taber and the Ladona, are still offering overnight sailing adventures, but it hasn’t been easy.
Captain Noah Barnes of the schooner Stephen Taber says that the guidelines ensure that passengers will be safe.
“We’ve taken it one step further than the already stringent protocols and are asking every guest who comes sailing with us to attest to a negative COVID-19 test,” Barnes said in a statement released by the Maine Windjammer Association. “In addition, stringent sanitization and cleaning, social distancing and safety protocols will be in place for those sailing this summer.”
Ladona was scheduled to open its season last Saturday, July 18. The Stephen Taber’s first trip is scheduled for July 23.
“We’ve had some huge hurdles to overcome in order to leave the dock this week,” J.R. Braugh, captain of the schooner Ladona, said last week.
According to the Maine Windjammer Association, six member boats in the fleet have opted to cancel trips this season and are looking toward 2021. Missing from local waters this year will be the schooners American Eagle, Angelique, Heritage, Lewis R. French, Mary Day and Victory Chimes.
Also missing will be several schooners that sail under the Maine Windjammer Cruises flag. Both the Grace Bailey and the Mercantile — members of the “Green Boat Fleet” — will be tied up for the season, as will be the pinky schooner Summertime. The six-passenger schooner Mistress will sail overnight cruises and will offer short lunch and dinner cruises when she’s in port.
Closer to home, the Downeast Windjammer Cruises company continues to offer regularly scheduled excursion sails from Bar Harbor aboard the four-masted schooner Margaret Todd and the more traditional Bailey Louise Todd.
Sail Acadia continues to offer its popular morning, afternoon and sunset Friendship sloop trips. The Alice E, launched in 1899 and believed to be the oldest Friendship sloop still sailing, sails from Dysart’s Great Harbor Marina in Southwest Harbor. The somewhat younger Linda sails from Northeast Harbor.
Correction: An earlier version of this article contained an error. The schooner Mistress is offering overnight cruises.