ROCKLAND – A very unique marine business on the coast of Maine is owning and operating a windjammer. There are numerous sailing vessels along the coast who do day sails, from Friendship sloops all the way up to a four-masted schooner. For the serious customer, who really wants to experience life on a coastal schooner, you need to spend several days and nights and there are several schooners that offer this opportunity. One of the most noted on the coast has been the schooner HERITAGE, owned by Captains Doug and Linda Lee of Rockland. She was designed by Capt. Doug Lee and Havilah Hawkins and built at the Northend Shipyard in Rockland in 1982-83.
A number of years ago Capts. Doug and Linda Lee decided that it was time to put HERITAGE up for sale and retire. She had an excellent following and was in meticulously condition, but there was no one willing to step up and take over the business. Understandable, as it takes a very special person to buy a wooded schooner, get her ready for the season and then sail three and half months non-stop. Then, when the sailing season is over get the boat ready for the winter and may be a major project to make sure you stay ahead of any problem. Another factor is keeping the number of people sailing on every trip high enough so that it is profitable. In this changing world that might be a challenge.
After ten years on the market, two people, Sean Grimes and Ben Welzenbach, have stepped forward and purchased HERITAGE. Both have sailed on board for the past seven years, love the schooner and knew exactly what was involved to make it work.
Sean added, “I worked at a restaurant, the Common Man Restaurant in New Hampshire. A co-worker and I were on the back line prepping and he, just in conversation, said, ‘Well, what did you do before you got here?’ He said, ‘I worked on schooners.’ I said, ‘What in God’s name is a schooner?’ He showed me a picture, I said, ‘That is cool.’ The next summer he came back up here and needed a ride to Rockport. I gave him a ride and hung out with the crew and the next season I was up here on HERITAGE. I just thought it was so cool, the galley everything made out of wood. Just the old-time simplicity of it all, warm and inviting.
“When I got hired on HERITAGE,” continued Sean, “I was hired to work in the galley as well as work on deck. All of our crew members cross-train back and forth. I pretty much kicked Linda out of the galley and said, ‘I am the cook now.’ I had the experience and she loved it as she got to be up on deck more.”
Sean grew up in Merrimac, New Hampshire and during his freshman year in high school he started working in restaurants. During the summers, when he was younger, he would go to his step-father’s in Florida. His step father ran a charter deep-sea fishing business in the Gulf of Mexico, which is where he developed a love for the ocean. He added, “I was the kind of kid that was running out in the ocean and coming out with a robe of seaweed and all the other kids would gathering around while I was pulling out creatures from under rocks and stuff. It was always really in my blood, but as far as actually sailing…HERITAGE was my first experience and I just loved it.”
If you have never sailed a schooner there is a lot to learn and Sean said, “I was happy with my teachers, Doug and Linda. They have just so much experience under their belt, never mind designing and building the vessel. I don’t know if anybody can have as much love for the history as Doug does. It is something that interests me and I try to learn more and more as it is something that I would like to keep alive, but it is certainly a learning curve.”
Learning all about sailing a windjammer and then the history of schooners and Penobscot Bay takes a vast amount of time. It might have been a little easier years ago as there were still people around who had sailed the old schooners and knew their history and Capts. Doug and Linda Lee gained a lot of knowledge from them.
Ben learned about the schooners through his family when he came as a passenger. He grew up in the Chicago area near Lake Michigan, but not with boats. There are sailing vessels on the Great Lakes, but nothing like a windjammer. Early on Ben was involved with photography and music. His father was a photographer and covered the motor racing scene all over the country. Ben worked with his father beginning when he made him a fake pass at 12 years old passing him off as 16. His real claim to fame was when he got a photograph of Danica Patrick.
Ben added, “I came out as a passenger on HERITAGE and it just seemed like a good fit. That trip I just kind of observed and learned as much as I could about it and decided that winter that I wanted to give it a shot. I sent them an email and got hired. My first year the whole crew was green. I came out in April and was able to do the outfitting. Through that whole process they decided I was going to be mate and that is what I have been doing for the past seven years.”
Ben is responsible for running the crew. “On deck if a snap decision needs to be made not by the captain, I’d be that level of command,” explained Ben. “Just keeping operations running smoothly as you learn more and more throughout the years and that takes more off the captain’s plate.”
When both Ben and Sean arrived on HERITAGE she was already for sale. They said, “It was always something that we both kind of looked at each other and said, ‘We would like to do this,’ but figuring out how to do it was the real question. There was so much money involved never mind just purchasing the vessel, the maintenance and getting started. It really came down to this final year and we figured out how we were going to get the money together and then Doug said, ‘You know it’s something we would really like you to take over and we would like you to think about it.’ We pretty much looked at him and said, ‘Doug we have had plenty of time to think about this, let’s do it.’ It wasn’t spur of the moment, it was years of us looking at each other and saying, ‘Hey, this is something we should do.’”
Capts. Doug and Linda Lee and made the decision that 2020 was going to be their last year. Unfortunately, Covid hit and the season came to an abrupt end before it even got started. However, they are booked for a handful of trips this year. Ben and Sean said, “We put them on some of the more challenging ones, logistically or sailing wise, just to kind of have that backup support. So, they will be joining us to see familiar passengers again and be out there and offer their stories.”
Past passengers are thrilled that Ben and Sean have taken over HERITAGE. Having sailed on her for seven years they have built up a relationship with many of them. Many of them are seriously looking to come sailing this season. “They are looking for a vacation that they can do that is not around the crowded tourist areas,” said Ben, “Where they can be outside. There are thousands of islands out there where we can go ashore to explore and have our lobster bakes. I have sailed up and down this coast and there is nothing like mid-coast Maine. We go as far down as Boothbay for the Windjammer Days and even that can get a little rough and a little exciting, but it is a fun trip and we all love it.”
They sent out an announcement to past guests and they were encouraged by the response. Many of whom signed right up.
HERITAGE is part of the Maine Windjammer Association, which consists of the schooners AMERICAN EAGLE, ANGELIQUE, J. & E. RIGGIN; LADONA, LEWIS R. FRENCH; MARY DAY; STEPHEN TABOR and VICTORY CHIMES. Ben and Sean feel that the Association is strong and the good way to promote the industry.
So, if you are interested in getting away this summer sail on HERITAGE. Guaranteed to be a memorable time sailing amongst the islands of Penobscot Bay.