2006 - MWC Celebrates 70th - Williamsons 20 yrs as Owners

It's the good fortune of all who enjoy windjammer sailing vacations that Captain Frank Swift, the founder of our company, turned the skills he learned sailing to Hong Kong, Hawaii, and the Philippines toward making good use of old cargo ships here in Maine.

Maine Windjammer Cruises Founder Frank Swift
Captain Frank Swift

Captain Swift, a native of upper New York State, is often referred to as an artist, and in fact he was a silversmith and oil painter, but that wasn't the part of his background that made him a good fit as a windjammer captain. His interest in the sea began when he was a boy spending hours poking through an old sea chest that had belonged to his great-uncle, a harpooner aboard whalers in the1840s.

In his late teens, Swift became a cadet aboard the Newport, a training ship of the New York Nautical School (now SUNY Maritime College). Built in 1895, the vessel carried both a steam engine and sails and had seen service in Cuba during the Spanish American War.

Swift next served aboard the S.S. Elkton that carried cargo to Hong Kong, Hawaii, and the Philippines. In 1926 Swift declined an offer to become bosun, feeling that he was too young and inexperienced for the job, and left the boat. That was a fortunate decision since all hands were lost on the Elkton the next year during a typhoon when she was carrying sugar and cocoanut oil on a trip between Iloilo in the Philippines and New York.

When the Great Depression hit our country in 1929, Swift had a hands-on skill to fall back on. His father had been a tinsmith near Albany, N.Y., and as a teenager, Swift learned silversmithing and jewelry-making at an artist's colony. He made his first Maine connection working as a counselor and painting scenery for the theater at a summer camp in the northwest part of the state. Later Eleanor Roosevelt, the future first lady, hired him to work at Val-Kill, her retreat from the family's adjacent property and large home at Hyde Park, N.Y. There he also used his artist's eye to make reproductions of antique pewter and jewelry.

As the economy began to pick up, Swift worked a coaster carrying coal from New York City to the Canadian border. With winter coming, the crew was let go, and he made his way to Orland, Maine, about 40 miles northeast of Camden. During his trip, he noticed derelict coasting schooners in the harbors and had the vision to see that instead of being scuttled, they could be used to carry passengers. Though they weren't fast enough to compete with steamships for cargo, they would be perfect to carry vacationers.

Maine Windjammer Cruises First Schooner, Mable
Schooner Mabel

With the help of Captain Parker Hall of Stockton Springs, Swift chartered the 54-foot schooner Mabel for the summer of 1935. Built in Milbridge in 1881, she would be captained by Captain William Shepard of Deer Isle; his wife would serve as cook, and Camden would be her home port. Swift spruced her up, building removable cabins, a galley, and head. At the end of summer, he would again be able to carry cargo belowdecks if necessary. He then added another leased vessel, the Lydia M. Webster.

Captain Swift founded Maine Windjammer Cruises in 1936 and bought the Annie F. Kimball outright. Built in Boothbay in 1886, she was 65 feet long and lying on the beach at Great Wass Island. He worked hard and long to get her in shape to sail to Sandy Point on the Penobscot River so she could be grounded out. Carpenters and assistants then set her right to carry 10 passengers on windjammer sailing vacations. Other boats followed, some too far gone when bought to last for long.

Other ships in the fleet included the Clinton; Eva S. Cullison; Enterprise; Yankee; Lillian; Lois M. Candage, originally Lizzie and Annie; Mattie, originally Grace Bailey; and Mercantile.

The Lois M. Candage was in a class by herself. Built in Gouldsboro in 1884 as the Lizzie and Annie, she had been renamed for a daughter of Captain Candage after a complete rebuild in Blue Hill in 1912. Swift captained her for about seven years, considering her to be one of the best-built vessels in the fleet at that time.

Captain Swift chartered the Mattie in 1939 and 1940, then purchased her outright.

Read more in the April 2006 MWC Enewsletter, text by Barbara Hatch.