Schooners are sailing vessels with two or more masts and gaff rigged sails set fore and aft. That means there's a boom attached to the top edge of the sails, which run parallel to the ship's keel, rather than across it. Schooners designed both for speed and maneuverability and to be sailed by smaller crews than square-rigged vessels.
In the centuries before steam engines, schooners were workhorses of the Western Atlantic. Some were designed primarily to sail the open sea. Others, so-called coasting schooners, were built with broader hulls that could carry heavier loads along the shallow, shifting waters of the coastal shelf and rocky shoreline.
As little as a century ago, thousands of coasting schooners still shuttled every conceivable kind of cargo up and down America's eastern seaboard, racing each other to get goods and passengers to port first. Although sailing schooners survived the development of power vessels, they could not compete with the coming of railroads and highways. By the mid-1930s, schooners were on the verge of extinction.
Then Frank Swift, an artist from rural Maine, got the idea of offering schooner voyages to "rusticators," folks who wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of the life on land. Buying an decrepit hull, he had it fitted out with simple accommodations and began offering guests a week's escape sailing among the thousands of tiny islands and inlets of mid-coast Maine.
That was the birth of the "windjammer" vacation. The term once used derisively by steamboat captains now refers to any large sailing vessel that carries guests on overnight voyages.
Other captains eventually bought up old schooners that had survived and offering windjammer cruises along Maine's coast. In 1977, their owners formed the Maine Windjammer Association, which now represents 13 vessels operating out of the harbors of Rockland, Rockport and Camden, Maine.
Of the ten old work schooners re-fitted to accommodate passengers, seven have been declared National Historic Landmarks. Since 1962, three other schooners have been constructed specially for windjamming, the Heritage being the newest.