Captain John Foss has been sailing the Maine Coast since he was little. He has skippered his own windjammer since 1976. He and his crew work year round keeping the American Eagle in top shape. At the North End Shipyard which he has co-owned since 1973 with two other schooner captains, perishable skills and techniques are preserved and used regularly. He holds a 1,600 ton auxiliary sail oceans license. A cruise with Captain Foss is a short course in the history and dynamics of schooners, fishing, and the Gulf of Maine and of the literature of the Sea. His humor and enthusiasm radiates; he is someone who loves his job and shares his experiences with others.
How do the sailing experiences you offer on the Schooner American Eagle give guests a unique perspective on the history, people or culture of your region?
The American Eagle has worked New England waters for over 80 years; I’ve only been doing it for about fifty, so I still have a lot to learn. Guests on board find a platform of opportunity to observe nature, be it flora, fauna, the natural world around us and how we have figured out how to use those resources without destroying them. Sailing a working national historic landmark is as much fun as it is educational. And the food is great!
How have the experiences that you offer evolved since their inception?
We’ve changed a lot about windjamming as we all have become more sensitive to what’s important in an outdoor experience. A few more creature comforts, yes; but a deeper understanding of our sense of place without stepping up the pace: unplugged yet tuned in, relaxing yet exhilarating, reviving the art of conversation clear of electronic distractions. Time to read a book, follow a bald eagle’s path across the sky, be spellbound by a whale’s curiosity and proximity.
What is one detail of sailing on the Schooner American Eagle that may go unnoticed by guests, but which you feel is important?
As the Newfoundland song goes, “I’se the by that builds the boat and I’se the by that sails her”. When guests ask me a question or wants me to explain something they are asking the owner, the captain, the restorer, the designer, the ship carpenter, the person who found the trees to rebuild her as well as planted the apple trees that made last night’s apple pie. I’ve gotten to know the American Eagle well and defend her from unreasonable modernity when a safer simpler system works better.
What do you wish every guest knew as they consider a cruise on the Schooner American Eagle?
A cruise aboard is the real deal. Better than a museum, we use this 120 ton artifact to earn here upkeep and serve to explain history in a dynamic and tranformative way. Not to forget the fun part.
What is one travel trend that really excites you?
The internet has led to a better informed guest who can easily research our cruising area before signing up and showing up. That makes it easier to get into the depths of what we’re looking at and what’s important about the Maine Coast as seen from the right side.
What sets a cruise on the Schooner American Eagle apart from other sailing options?
Well, it’s less stressful than chartering and a lot less expensive than keeping your own 92 foot wooden schooner. As an off shore model built originally to work offshore New England waters year round, she’s a good sea boat with very good safety and weathering ability. She was the last fishing schooner built in Gloucester, Massachusetts, last in a continuum spanning centuries. There’s got to be some cumulative knowledge in her design and construction, her ability as a sea boat, and admittedly as an auxiliary vessel. Having an engine, while historically correct, is a considerable advantage in longer cruises around the Gulf of Maine, whether for whalewatching or participating in tall ship events.
What is one insiders tip to getting the most out of an experiential travel vacation?
Approach the adventure with a sense of curiosity and engage your fellow travelers to enrich the experience.
What is one strategy that has helped your business to grow?
Consider your customers as guests, listen to them, anticipate their concerns, under promise and over deliver. Half of our guests have been aboard before and have high expectations for the experience, whether the crew, the sailing, the quiet, professional, informal manner of the vessel in her adventures.
What is one personal habit that has helped you to be successful?
Successful? Good memory for people, stories, and vessels. Genuinely like people.