Make It a Week of Windjammers
After the festival, Penobscot Bay’s two maritime museums round out the salty experience for visitors.
- By: Joshua F. Moore
Image Courtesy Penobscot Marine Museum
So many ropes (note: they call them “lines” aboard ships), so little time. Gazing at the schooners in Camden Harbor, it can be dizzying to try and make sense of all the halyards and sheets on each of the ships. Luckily, a trip to a maritime museum is the perfect way to untangle what you saw during the Camden Windjammer Festival, and Penobscot Bay boasts two fine such museums. Each is well worth a stop as you peruse the coast.
Penobscot Marine Museum
5 Church St., Searsport. $8 adults, open Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday 12-5 p.m. 207-548-2529, penobscotmarinemuseum.org
Maine’s oldest maritime museum might also be its most overlooked gem, a surprise considering the Penobscot Marine Museum’s thirteen-building campus sits right on U.S. Route 1 in Searsport. But a stop here should be on every schooner bum’s itinerary, as this three-acre campus offers the most in-depth look into the history of ships, shipbuilding, and maritime industries on Penobscot Bay. Practically as soon as you purchase your admission ticket in the brick Whitcomb-Pendleton Block you’re presented with "The Art of the Boat" exhibit, a presentation of paintings, photographs, and models that proves the maritime industry is alive and well in coastal Maine.
From there, wandering through buildings such as the Fowler-True-Ross House and Barn will get you up-close-and-personal with the ships that have been the workhorses of Penobscot Bay for centuries. But what makes the Penobscot Marine Museum extra special is the presentation of historic photographs along with each exhibit, as archivist Kevin Johnson has drawn on the museum’s more than 100,000 black-and-white images to bring to life the artifacts resting before you. For the younger set, plenty of exhibits feature “Please Do Touch” signs, as the staff works hard to make sure that children get a chance to experience as much of life under sail as possible. (The outdoor “Yard in the Yard” sailing ship demonstration, which allows kids to set a full square sail, is always a favorite.)
Nearby, the exposed beams of the old town hall (it also once served as Searsport’s jail, long before it was donated to become the museum) tell practically as much of a story as the fishermen’s exhibit housed here. Even the windows of the Searsport Congregational Church in the center of the campus have their own story — but you’ll just have to stop by to find out what it is!
Sail, Power & Steam Museum
75 Mechanic St., Rockland. $5 donation, open Wednesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Sunday 1-4 p.m. 207-701-7627, sailpowerandsteammuseum.org
You can be forgiven for not having visited Captain Jim Sharp’s new Sail, Power & Steam Museum yet, but not for long. Sharp, who has owned or captained several of the historic windjammers in New England (most notably Adventure, which sailed out of Camden for twenty-five years), has amassed an impressive collection of machinery, ship models, and photography related to Penobscot Bay. He opened his new maritime museum on the site of the former Snow Shipyard in Rockland in 2010, and this summer the facility is finally up to full-speed. As unique in its staff as its exhibits, it is certain to become a must-visit spot on Maine’s maritime heritage tour.
More than half a dozen rooms each offer a look at a particular facet of life on the coast, whether it’s the lime industry, fishing, or navigation. Remnants of Adventure (currently undergoing a lengthy restoration in Gloucester, Massachusetts) and other local schooners such as Stephen Taber are sprinkled throughout the museum. If you’re lucky enough to get Sharp as your tour guide, you will do well to get him talking about these vessels and the others he’s had a role in preserving. Take the Bowdoin, now an official tall ship of the state of Maine and used by the Maine Maritime Museum — Sharp has an exhibit that explains how he rescued the arctic-exploration schooner after it fell on hard times in the 1960s.
True to its name, Sharp’s museum also highlights his fascination with antique engines, from the early Evinrude outboards to the steam donkey engines he’s restored and now is more than happy to fire up for visitors. Finally, Sharp’s collection of historic photographs is one of the most unheralded in the state, right down to a series that depicts the framing, planking, and rigging of the last schooner built at the Snow Shipyard. This vessel, a four-master, would eventually be scrapped in 1926 before it ever hit the water because no buyer could be found for it — a dramatic demonstration that the Age of Sail had, at last, come to an end.
- By: Joshua F. Moore