Nautical Terminology: Talking Salty

On May 20, 2005, Maine Windjammer Cruises® will officially begin its 70th year of operation out of Camden, Maine.

During the 19th century, tall masts and billowing sails provided adventure and romance, despite the hard work, for those who made their living on the sea. Wind and canvas were all they needed to power their vessels to the far corners of the earth.

By the dawning of the 20th century, the invention of the steam engine began to change the look of commercial shipping. One by one, white sails of commerce disappeared from the horizon only to be replaced with the black smoke of progress.

Naturally, a rivalry developed between the more modern seamen and the old-fashioned sailors. These new-age mariners used the term "windjammer" to describe their counterparts, who fought against the elements, while they effortlessly motored along. Despite the difficulty in competing economically, these windjammer sailors were proud of the fact they used only Mother Nature to maneuver their ships and accepted, with pride, what was intended to be a derogatory name.


During the early 1900s, there were fewer and fewer of these beautiful sailing ships, and they almost became extinct. Capt. Frank Swift, who loved these vessels with sails, got the idea of taking passengers aboard instead of cargo. In 1936, Capt. Swift fit out the stout coasting schooner Mabel to try out his new idea. For $25 a week, including meals, rusticators could explore the coast of Maine, sailing in company with the remaining few commercial cargo schooners. The idea caught on, and his fleet grew. In all, he operated 12 vessels during his 25 years in business. Romance and adventure thus became available to even the traveler of modest means who dreamed of going to sea on a sailing ship. Swift called his business Windjammer Cruises. (See our May 2005 E-Newsletter for a more detailed history.)

A decade later, Mike Burke had a similar idea in the Caribbean, and he also used the name Windjammer Cruises. Eventually, to avoid confusion, Mike added the prefix "barefoot" and became Barefoot Windjammer Cruises®, and Capt. Swift trademarked Maine Windjammer Cruises®


The concept of windjamming has certainly spread, with fleets operating in the Great Lakes, Southern New England and elsewhere; but nowhere has it flourished more than around its birthplace along the cost of Maine. Following in Frank Swift's footsteps, a number of sea captains began offering windjammer cruises of their own in the 1950s and 60s. Many similar companies sprang up in Camden and the surrounding towns: Yankee Schooner Cruises, Maine Coastal Cruises, and others.



A camaraderie existed among the owners, who often got together on Wednesdays for lunch at a local restaurant during the off-season. They usually talked business, and as the fleet grew, they realized they could save money of if they put all their ads together as a block ad. This successful cooperation in the promotion of their businesses expanded, and in 1977 the Maine Windjammer Association was founded for the advancement of the industry. The Captains work together in an Association for public relations, advertisements and other collective interest while maintaining their individually owned businesses. Today there are 14 vessels in the Maine Windjammer Association, 7 of which have been designated National Historic Landmarks, among them are the Grace Bailey and the Mercantile of Capt. Swift's original fleet.

"Things haven't changed much in 70 years," says Capt. Ray. "Our sailing vessels are operated just as they were in Capt. Swift's day and before."

Capt. Ray and Ann Williamson have been proud members of the Maine Windjammer Association since they bought Grace Bailey, Mercantile and Mistress in 1986. They continue to operate their fleet out of Camden, Maine as the original Maine Windjammer Cruises®, offering 5-day, 4-day, 3-day, and weekend trips.