|Maine’s Love Boats - The History, Legend and Romance of A Schooner Wedding
by Holly Noonan & Kaley Noonan
By month five, they wanted to get away from it all: the planning, the phone calls, the endless shuffle of invitations. The wind poured across her face as the captain shouted to ready about and all hands prepared to tack. Around them 20 passengers stood under a majestic spread of sails, their feet planted upon the schooner’s broad hardwood decks. Cat’s paws whipped the green-gray water as the schooner cut through powerful waters. It was turning out to be a fine, blue day and none of these passengers, with their cocktails and extra layers of fleece knew what was ahead of them. This wasn’t a three-hour tour. She looked to her fiancé, smiling. It was difficult not to smile with the secret they shared. In less than an hour, the captain would stop off at a deserted island, the crew would break out the treasure chest of champagne, the violinist would come up on deck, and they would be married in front of 20 strangers. On a tiny speck of an island. In the middle of nowhere.
If you are looking for an unrivaled romantic setting for a once in a lifetime wedding, Maine’s schooners should be high on your list. For the spontaneous and highly imaginative couple, there are truly few other options that parallel this experience. Even if you’re not getting married, spending six days or even two hours on one of the passenger schooners that ply the waters off the lace-edged coast can be spectacular way to see Maine. There are a wide variety of opportunities to consider in getting married on the high seas and each comes with the support you need to make it happen.
Traditional, Gourmet, Classy—The Stephen Taber
Schooners are history-come-alive. Take the Stephen Taber, for example, which sails out of Rockland; it’s the oldest documented merchant sailing vessel in continuous service in the United States. Built and launched in 1871 (around the time lobsterman were catching thirty-pound lobsters), it has been working ever since! The current captain of the Stephen Taber first set foot on board when he was six years old. Captain Noah Barnes grew up on the schooner after his parents, Ken and Ellen Barnes, both captains as well, bought the vessel in 1979. Noah became a captain when he was just 18 years old and at 30, he took the business over from his parents who retired three years ago.
With a crew of six, the Taber sails out of Rockland on four- or six-day trips during “the season,” which starts at Memorial Day (late May) and ends Columbus Day (mid-October). Charters and day sails are also available, but plan early while they are drawing up their schedule in the winter. Their sailing area stretches from Frenchman’s Bay in the north to Boothbay in the south and the captain never knows exactly where he’s going when he sets sail. “It depends on the winds and the tides,” says former captain Ellen Barnes. That spontaneity really grabbed two of the passengers one trip, who, once aboard, just knew they wanted to get married during their six-day cruise. They rushed ashore and obtained a marriage license, then sailed until they found just the perfect cove and requested a ceremony.
Captain Ken Barnes plays the bagpipes and has served as officiate and musician at countless weddings and re-affirmation ceremonies on board. Both former captains, Ken and Ellen still participate in weddings today. Having come from a background in design, they lend their flourish to the big day from fresh-picked wildflower arrangements to wedding cakes baked and decorated on board. Cooking in a kitchen that includes the schooner’s woodstove, the ship’s chef presents gourmet full course meals such as New England Broil, salmon with fruit salsa, as well as pies, cakes and breads that are all made from scratch right on board.
Weddings on board this schooner range from a ceremony and honeymoon where a couple sails with 22 strangers, to an all out weeklong wedding party with exclusively family and friends on board. One couple that had a penchant for all things Victorian chartered this Victorian vessel for a day and the bride wore an antique Victorian lace gown for her ceremony in hill-flanked Rockport harbor at sunset.
Perhaps you’re one of those gals who’d like to “kick the tires” of a schooner before you commit to the big day. For the ultimate joyride, you (and your fiancé—or heck—just the girls!) won’t want to miss the Taber’s four-day wine tasting cruise. Each day, new wines are introduced on a country theme allowing you to sample seven French wines followed that evening by a menu of French cuisine. The chef and the wine expert collaborate on the flavorscape (yes that’s a real word) as you enjoy your favorite wine with your meal. Other country themes may include Spain, Australia, Italy, Greece and Chile. This is a fantastic excuse to have a four-day getaway all in the name of ahem, some serious planning.
Things to think about while planning a wedding on the Taber
• Takes 24 overnight passengers and 40 for a day sail
• The standard six-day cruise is $900 per person
• Charter the whole schooner for a day sail for $2,400
• Charter the whole schooner for a 6-day sail for $18,000- $19,000
• All meals are included in the price, excluding alcohol.
• Both Captains Ken and Noah can act as officiate to marry you (kilts and bagpipes negotiable).
Keep in mind
• Children under 14 years are allowed only on charter trips
• All dietary restrictions can be accommodated on board by the chef
1-800-999-7352 or 207-596-7950
Captain Noah Barnes
Windjammer Wharf P.O. Box 1050 Rockland, Maine 04841
Creative, intimate, fun—the Olad
Up the coast a bit in Camden, a small and meticulously refurbished 1927 wooden yacht called the Olad provides a more intimate experience. This little beauty has a crew of only two, including the captain, and is awash in luminous, burnished hardwoods from all over the world. Captain Aaron Lincoln is a 30-year-old local with all the connections that come with living in a small town for three decades. “I know everyone and his brother,” says Aaron, who is enthusiastic to try anything new if it promises to be fun. From sentimental little details to lavish surprises, Aaron has the network and the attitude to make anything happen.
One couple he hosted had large families who couldn’t agree on the details of their upcoming wedding. The couple had lived together for many years and didn’t want an expensive, traditional event to commemorate what would be a very intimate and sentimental celebration of their union. The bride and groom both told their parents and siblings that they were considering buying a small island in Penobscot Bay, and invited them to join them and their realtor to go take a look at it. Once everyone was aboard the Olad, Aaron motored out to Curtis Island in Camden harbor, right in front of the lighthouse. The realtor, who was in fact, also a priest, then started with “We are gathered together here today…” and the couple sprang a surprise wedding on their immediate family. Captain Aaron loves magical moments like these. After the ceremony, their “reception” was to set sail for two hours around the bay with a catered lunch. And no, they didn’t actually buy an island.
A special touch after an on-board ceremony is for the newly married couple to hoist the sails together as their first act of collaboration and unity. Among life-long boaties in fact, says Aaron, getting married is called “getting spliced,” a term which refers to the couple ceremoniously splicing two colors of rope together during their ceremony.
Things to think about while planning a wedding on the Olad
• Takes 21 passengers for day sails only
• Charter a two-hour sail for $580
• Charter an all day sail for $2,225, half-day for $1,000
• Catering, not included in the price, is take-out from one of the local yum-shops. BYO champagne and beer.
• Small enough venue to bring your families or just a JP and a photographer
• Charter the Olad for your bride’s party and another harbor contender the Lazy Jack for the groom’s party for parallel bachelor/bachelorette parties.
• You’ll need to take an officiate with you—Captain Aaron isn’t the marrying kind. (Ha!)
Keep in mind
• While you can’t sleep overnight on the boat, you can sail somewhere (say, to Stonington,) sleep at an Inn and sail back the next day
• Ask Aaron to take you to East Goose Rock to see the seals or to Mark Island to see the Bald Eagles
Capt. Aaron Lincoln
P.O Box 432 Camden, Me 04843 (207) 236-2323
Large, Splashy and Spanky - The Margaret Todd
Farther north, near Mount Desert Island, an unusual four-masted schooner plies the waters off Bar Harbor. This sprawling schooner, the Margaret Todd, is a replica of a freight schooner of the 19th century and can accommodate up to 150 passengers. This schooner is ideal for large wedding parties of a more traditional nature. While most schooners have three masts, the Margaret Todd has four masts and the “bonus” mast that flies what is called a “Spanker sail.” Love it.
This baby is moored at the pier of the Bar Harbor Inn, which boasts a 120-year history and stunning seaside setting. http://www.barharborinn.com/ This world-class inn is accustomed to hosting large weddings and can streamline the process enormously with their bevy of familiar vendors. It also has an expansive seaside lawn, a gazebo, a 100-year-old manicured shoreline path and a breathtaking view of islands in Frenchman’s Bay, all of which beckon many brides every year.
Captain Steve Pagels most often takes wedding parties out before or after their land-based ceremonies, but has also hosted many weddings on board right at the Pier. The hotel can easily organize catering for a meal at sea after an on-board ceremony.
Most trips are about two hours long and once a day, a National Parks Ranger will come along to narrate the historical sites and natural history of Acadia National Park as you sail alongside it.
Things to think about while planning a wedding on the Margaret Todd
• Takes 150 passengers for day sails only
• Charter a 2- hour sail for $3,500
• Chartering all day is possible, but price depends on season
• Catering is not included in the price
• Need to take an officiate with you.
• There are 4 marine heads (toilets) on board
Keep in mind
• Wheelchairs can be accommodated as long as they aren’t motorized
• Children and dogs are welcome
Margaret Todd Capt. Steven F. Pagels
P.O. Box 28 Cherryfield, Maine 04622
Summer: (207)288-4585 and (207)288-2373
Romantic, Symbolic and Flexible – The Nathanial Bowditch
If you have any doubt that a trip on a schooner can be a life-altering experience, just ask Cathie Dorr of the Nathanial Bowditch. In 1998, she came to Maine for a sailing vacation with her family. The schooner they chose was out for its maiden voyage and Owen Dorr—a lifetime sailor-- was crewing as a favor to the captain. When Cathie and Owen met, they knew quickly that they had potential and they discussed a possible common future on only their second date.
One year later, Owen’s father, a minister, married Owen and Cathie by tying their hands together with a piece of rope hitched with a sailor’s knot. Cathie and her husband Captain Owen now host passengers on their own schooner, and she recalls how symbolic a ship wedding can be. “On a boat, things are polished wood and brass and they’re beautiful, but absolutely everything is useful; it’s not for show. There is no façade,” said Cathie.
When Captain Owen now marries couples on the Nathanial Bowditch, he carries on the tradition of tying couples together and makes sure to use a bowline knot. “This is the first knot a sailor learns,” Cathie explains, “They are taught to tie it quickly so that in case they are thrown overboard, they tie a bowline around their waists. It’s a lifeline.”
Weddings aboard the Nathanial Bowditch can be made to order --to some degree. One couple asked Cathie and Owen if they could charter the whole Rockland-based schooner for just one night. They came up with a package that includes a sail to an island (either a private island or one of the many Maine Island Trail Islands http://www.mita.org/trailflash.html in their sailing area,) a ceremony, a lobster bake on the beach, overnight accommodations for up to 24 people and a sail home after breakfast the next day for $3,700. If your idea fits in with their schedule, or you book early enough (late fall) they can work with you.
You don’t have to charter the whole schooner to get the wedding you want, nor do you have to go the elaborate, traditional route. The crew hosted one wedding that comprised 11 people out of their 24 guests. This couple wanted a casual affair, as it was the third marriage for each. They moored at a deserted island and had a party on the beach ‘til the wee hours. For the ceremony, the bride and groom got decked out in bride and groom t-shirts.
One restriction hard to work around is the 14-and-up age limit on most schooners unless you charter the whole boat. To accommodate everyone, the Bowditch also offers three-day kids’ and family trips and anyone over five years old is welcome to join. For anyone who is blending families, this could be an event you’d never forget. Captain Owen and Cathie Dorr now have two young sons who occasionally join them for a day on the leg home back from a schooner trip where little Spencer Dorr, 3 1/2, can often be seen with his pirate action figures, sitting in the life raft, looking through a paper towel tube at the horizon.
If you have aspiring young sailors in your life, also ask the Dorrs about their three-day Sailing Training Trips for kids nine-years-old and up. The kids become crew and learn navigation, knot tying, lines and galley work. Maybe someday your kids will own their own schooner and take you on trips for free!
Things to think about while planning a wedding on the Bowditch
• Takes 24 overnight and 49 day sail passengers
• Charter a four-hour sail for $2,000 (includes a chowder meal)
• Charter an overnight sail with a lobster bake for $3,700
• Sail your party on a two-day trip for $350 per person
• Sail your party on a six-day trip for $850 per person
• All meals are included in the price, but excludes alcohol.
• Captain Owen can marry you on board
Keep in mind
• Menus are negotiable on charter trips
• Three-day and four-day trips are also available
Capt. Owen & Cathie Dorr
4 Gay Place Rockland, ME 04841
207-596-0401 Toll-free 800-288-4098
From the traditional to the wild, a schooner wedding is a unique Maine adventure to kick off your lives together. The benefits are innumerable, the simplicity, romance and spontaneity are compelling. The vast, open space, the wind and the sound of plunging water all thrill your senses, heightening the excitement of an event that will change the course of your life. When you throw your lot in with the elements, however, you might get sunshine and wildlife, or you might get clouds and squalls. It might be challenging to follow the captain’s perspective and see beauty in all of it, but the hosts always try to make it fun even if it’s raining. They usually string tarps across the decks, and may serve hot drinks and break out the board games. The rain always ends and the sun always eventually comes out again. If you can roll with it all and be flexible, it bodes well for married life. Bon voyage!