After graduating from Amherst College, Meg Maiden moved to the Maine coast where she has been involved with boats ever since, first at WoodenBoat Magazine, followed by 25 years as the Marketing Director for the Maine Windjammer Association. She lives in Blue Hill and gets out on the water every chance she gets.
How does the experience of sailing on a historic schooner give guests a unique perspective on history, people or culture of your region?
Sailing a traditionally-rigged windjammer is an opportunity to step back in time. Everything is done the “old-fashioned” way and guests are encouraged to participate, whether it’s raising or lowering sails, steering, learning how to navigate, anchoring or even hand-cranking ice cream. Crew members sing songs as they raise sail to help guests keep the rhythm as they haul-away. Maritime traditions are honored, like flag raising and lowering, cannon fire, a watch-system for crew, etc. Anchorages tend to be quiet or off the beaten path (Castine, Stonington or an uninhabited island vs. Bar Harbor). For guests who are interested in learning about Maine’s maritime history, the captains are more than happy to share their vast knowledge that ranges from maritime aspects to natural history, astronomy and geology. Story-telling is an important part of every trip, and many of the windjammers have talented crew who share music at night, including sea chanteys. There’s also a strong absence of electronic gadgets (with the exception of Coast Guard required safety features)—guests and crew interact on a very personal level. Camaraderie develops quickly during this shared experience at sea.
How has the experience evolved since its inception?
The first windjammer vacations were offered in Maine in 1936. They took place aboard chartered coasting schooners with hired captains. Accommodations were very simple and amenities were limited. While the concept of enjoying a relaxing sailing vacation along the coast of Maine hasn’t changed in 80 years, there have been many changes that guests have welcomed. Cabins today all have running water, reading lights and cozy bunks and linens. All of the windjammers offer hot showers. Attention to food has never been more important, as evidenced by Maine’s local food movement. Many schooner families work with local farms and hire very talented cooks to oversee their galleys. Today, all of the windjammers in the MWA are owner-operated, which results in a very high guest-satisfaction rate. Another notable difference: most of today’s windjammers periodically offer special “themed” trips like lighthouse cruises, knitting, wine-tasting, seamanship, photography and whale-watching, to name a few.
What is one detail of the experience that may go unnoticed by guests, but which you feel is important?
Since a windjammer sailing vacation is dependent on wind and tide, it would appear to guests that every anchorage is random….you go where the winds blow. Not exactly! The captains put a huge amount of thought into crafting the ideal cruise based on the weather conditions of the week. For instance, they want to have the island lobster bake on an evening with great weather, at low tide, ideally later in the week, someplace near fresh lobster, but not too far from their homeport. They want guests to experience both bustling fishing communities as well as quiet coves away from civilization. They want to take advantage of great sailing breezes that might take them far from their homeport, meaning they’ll have to retrace their steps later in the week. If it’s a themed trip like whale-watching or a special event, then they need to factor in those constraints as well. It’s like a big puzzle, that’s always changing based on the latest forecast. It certainly keeps it interesting, and every cruise is unique!
What do you wish every guest knew as they consider sailing on an historic schooner?
Because some people are unsure about what to expect on a windjammer, they opt for a shorter trip, like a three- or four-day cruise. We’ve found that most guests return to port wishing they had signed up for a longer trip. On a five- or six-day cruise you get to cover more of the coast, totally unwind, experience different types of weather and sailing conditions, get to know your fellow shipmates and crew members more fully and enjoy a few more amazing food. For many of our guests, something magical happens on around Day 3—they have gotten into the rhythm of the ship, they’re relaxed, and not ready to come home!
What is one travel trend that really excites you?
Authenticity! These days, many people want an authentic experience—something that is compatible with the environment and culture of the area, and windjamming is a great fit. There’s nothing “Disney” about the experience—it’s a bit like camping at sea, only with much better food. The sailing is the real deal, with guests getting as actively involved as they like. The anchorages are some of Maine’s most beautiful spots where time seems to stand still. Most of the windjammers are National Historic Landmarks, and the newer vessels are so similar in their design, that you wouldn’t know they were replicas. Some of our windjammers have been around for more than 140 years, basically doing they same thing they were designed to do when they were first launched…earn their keep by carrying cargo under sail.
What sets the historic schooner experience apart from other, similar, sailing opportunities?
Unlike sailing on a yacht or cruise ship, Maine’s historic windjammers are sailed using traditional methods. There are no winches, roller furlers or hydraulics…crew (and guests) provide the brawn to raise the sails and anchor. Guests aren’t coming for luxurious staterooms…they enjoy the simplicity of a cozy cabin or even a night on deck under the stars. There are no real itineraries or schedules to keep on a windjammer…whenever you get “there,” you’re right on time! Windjammer guests share an experience that is relaxing and fun, but they do so in the knowledge that their participation is critical to the survival of this historic fleet—they are keeping a piece of America’s maritime history alive.
What is one insiders tip to getting the most out of an experiential travel vacation?
Pack lightly, but bring plenty of layers/outerwear so you can enjoy being outdoors in all types of weather. It’s exhilarating to be on deck when there’s a strong sailing breeze or even a rain storm, but it helps to have appropriate clothing. Same with footwear…bring a good walking shoe, but also something that can get wet.
What is one strategy that has helped your business to grow?
Our windjammer owners and staff go the extra mile, much to the surprise of many of our guests. They’re not used to picking up the phone and in all likelihood, speaking to the owner/captain of the windjammer if it’s off-season. Birthday cakes magically appear at night based on overheard conversations between guests at breakfast. Food restrictions are met with ease. Crew members take young “salts” under their wing and engage them in hands-on activities like knot typing, bracelet-making and “junior crew” activities. Reservationists help guests plan their whole Maine vacation, giving suggestions for before and after stays in the area. With repeat rates and referrals averaging 50-60 percent, it’s no wonder guests feel they’re part of the windjammer family, and loyalty to “their” windjammer is fierce! This year, we were honored to receive the Maine Governor’s Award for Tourism Excellence for our members/captains’ efforts in going the extra mile in their commitment to guests, crew and the mid-coast community.
What is one personal habit that has helped you to be successful?
As marketing director for the Maine Windjammer Association, one of the fun and most rewarding parts of my job is keeping in touch with our guests, particularly those who are long-time passengers. Whether it’s posting beautiful images of their favorite windjammer on Facebook or sending out a monthly newsletter with the latest scoop on their favorite captain, we have a dedicated and loyal group of guests who can’t get enough of windjamming! They look forward to our annual photo contest, and they especially enjoy the free screensaver we offer featuring all the contest winners. Fortunately we have lots of inspired photographers who provide us with enough images to share on a daily basis so we can keep our fans engaged.
Please share one instance where a guest had a moving or emotional reaction to the experience of sailing on a historic schooner.
There are so many stories! The latest one was last weekend when we had a guest aboard who was a Gold Star Mom who had lost her son in the military. While it had been many years since his passing, her grief was palpable. When Captain Kip Files, owner/master of the three-masted schooner Victory Chimes heard her story before she arrived (through me), he made sure his huge American flag was raised in her honor…one that he had been given from people who served in Desert Storm. The guest was touched beyond words.
Meg’s email: Meg@sailmainecoast.com
Main Windjammer Assn. on Facebook: www.facebook.com/mainewindjammerfleet
Main Windjammer Assn. on Instagram: @mwa_fleet
Main Windjammer Assn. on Twitter: @WindjammerME
Main Windjammer Assn. on Pintrest: www.pinterest.com/windjammermaine/