Sailing is one of the most relaxing ways to spend a Maine summer weekend: You can lounge – maybe with a glass of wine in hand – on the deck of an old wooden boat, passing island after peaceful island. Perfection. Camden is famous for its fleet of historic wooden schooners, and Portland has several as well. But some of the most stunning views and interesting stories can be found in the little coves dotting Maine’s coastline. Many boats sail daily and tickets are usually less than $50 – heck, some are closer to the $20 mark. Captains will show you seals, haul a lobster trap and cook you dinner, depending on the sail.
Here are eight great day sails, plus a boat cruise, in small coastal communities:
BOAT: Schooner Alert, with captains Bethany and Perry (and sometimes baby Margaret)
HOW MUCH: $40 for the two-hour sail, $60 for the four-hour sail, $100 for a six-hour sail
MORE INFO: seaescapecottages.com or 207-841-9125
Captains Bethany and Perry Davis recently refurbished schooner Alert, a 70-foot, Maine-built wooden tall ship, which they sail out of Bailey Island. The couple are local and know all about the history of the surrounding islands, their residents and the wildlife. You’ll learn about shipwrecks, seals and nautical maps on the cruise, but there’s also lots of time to relax and enjoy whatever beverages you brought in your cooler. The four- and six-hour tours will take you deeper into Casco Bay. Sometimes Bethany and Perry bring along their playful first mate, baby Margaret. This boat has couch-like seats set into it, if you can get there first.
BOAT: Schooner Timberwind with Capt. Lance Meadows
HOW MUCH: $45 for two hours, $55 for a sunset cruise
MORE INFO: mainedaysail.com or 207-619-0654
The schooner Timberwind is starting its first season in Belfast. The 96-footer was built to protect Casco Bay near Portland during World War II, then moved up to Rockport, where it carried passengers for years. Because this is the inaugural year sailing this boat out of Belfast, there’s no hard-and-fast itinerary, but passengers will be sure to see lots of islands, all of Belfast Bay and the coastline of Searsport.
BOAT: A ferry run by Cap’n Fish’s Boat Trips
HOW MUCH: $35 for three hours
MORE INFO: mainepuffin.com
This cruise is out of Boothbay Harbor, about an hour from Portland, and goes to Eastern Egg Rock, a 7-acre island seabird sanctuary where puffins mate. The puffins are adorable and all (if you can see them; they are about the size of a can of soda), but the cruise is the real joy. The upper deck allows you to sunbathe while watching all the lighthouses go by. HGTV lovers will get a kick out of evaluating the large homes along the Boothbay shore before the ship motors out to remote islands, lighthouses and eventually some pretty open water before slowing down and doing a loop of Eastern Egg Rock for the birders. This boat has beer and snacks on board, but it’s cash only.
BOAT: Beal & Bunker Mail Boat
HOW MUCH: $24 for a two-hour trip
MORE INFO: bealandbunker.com or 207-244-3575
This cruise could be a two-hour ride on the fringe of Acadia National Park, or you could turn it into a day trip. Either way, as you leave Northeast Harbor, you’ll get amazing views of the purple cliffs off Bar Harbor and the mountains in the park. Osprey nest nearby, as do eagles. The boat goes to both Little Cranberry and Great Cranberry islands. If you time it well, your $24 round-trip ticket will get you to one island, then the next, then home again. Little Cranberry is quaint and has a museum, restaurant and more. You can walk the entire island in about an hour. You can bring your dog on the mail boat for free, but he must be on a leash.
BOAT: Bufflehead with Capt. Daniel Bennett
HOW MUCH: $35 for one hour, $50 for two hours, $90 for four hours
MORE INFO: sailrockland.com or 207-691-5407
This adorable, 32-foot wooden gaff sloop seats a maximum of six people, which means you’ll have an intimate cruise around Rockland’s harbor. Capt. Daniel is a local character who loves building, traveling, juggling and his young daughter, who is his first mate, so you won’t run out of things to talk about on the deck of Bufflehead, which he rebuilt three years ago. Cruises start at $35 but can be customized for more – think a lobster bake and a stop at Vinalhaven. The day sails will take you past Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse, where you’ll be surrounded by views of Camden Hills, beautiful homes on Owls Head, islands in the distance and the quaint city of Rockland behind you.
BOAT: Morning in Maine, Capt. Bob Pratt
HOW MUCH: $40 for a two-hour sail
MORE INFO: amorninginmaine.com or 207-691-SAIL (7245)
Capt. Bob is a marine biologist. He will point out the osprey nests and tell you the story of each bird on the way out toward Owls Head Lighthouse. The tour closely passes Rockland’s long, granite breakwater and its picturesque lighthouse before going deeper into the bay, where you’ll get sweeping views of the Camden hills and Vinalhaven and North Haven islands. You’re definitely going to want to bring your nice camera. The 55-foot ketch makes for an intimate but comfortable cruise. Go during the Lobster Festival (July 29-Aug. 2) to get a unique view of Rockland with a Ferris wheel in the background.
BOAT: Schooner Heron
HOW MUCH: $50 for the eco-tour or $65 for an island cruise with lunch; dinner sails, $75
MORE INFO: sailheron.com or 207-236-8605
This 65-foot schooner leaves out of magazine-cover-pretty Rockport – a gem of a town so often passed by for its neighbors, Camden and Rockland, which are prominent on Route 1. The schooner Heron will take passengers on a tour of the little harbor, which used to be a shipping hub for limestone and ice. It was also the home of a famous seal, Andre, which you’ll hear all about. Heron offers a lunch tour with a lobster roll, or a dinner cruise with shrimp, lobster bisque and other treats (BYOB).
BOAT: Miss Lizzie or The Mink
HOW MUCH: For a simple boat ride (no disembarking on the island) the cost is $22. If you want to get off the boat and explore the island and catch another boat back to the mainland, it is $39. The ride is 1.5 hours and leaves five times a day. There is also a “Lobster Scenic Cruise” at 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday for $22. No reservations; the boat is first come, first served.
MORE INFO: isleauhaut.com or 207-367-5193
If you haven’t been to Deer Isle and Stonington, they make for an amazing day trip. The mail boat, which looks a lot like a lobster boat, offers five trips a day, which will take you to Isle au Haut – an island that’s half small town, half Acadia National Park. If you get off the boat, the ticket price doubles, but you could hike and get ice cream on the island. If you stay on the boat, it’s a cheap $22 cruise. If you schedule it right, you could go on a lobster boat cruise where your tour guides will talk about the Maine fishery before hauling a few traps. Unfortunately for you, everything they catch will be thrown back in the water.