Around the World: Set Sail on the Historic Sloop Lewis R French
Camden, Maine -- Passengers aboard the tall ship Lewis R. French develop a proprietary attitude toward the historic schooner.
First-time sailors quickly become engaged in life on board. By day two of a six-day sail, they're old hands at hauling and heaving anchor and lines, trimming sails, coming about and doing galley chores such as stoking the ship's wood-burning stove, kneading dough, peeling potatoes, grating carrots and scrubbing pots.
By week's end, they've become dedicated "French-ophiles," joining the ranks of repeat passengers who've been returning year after year to the schooner for their annual sail - 17 years was the record among passengers aboard the French for the sail during the first week in June, and that's longer than the French's current master, Capt. Garth Wells, has been on deck.
Capt. Garth took ownership in 2004, after having served as the French's first mate for five years. At age 31, when he became captain of the French, he was the youngest of the masters of mid-coast Maine's fleet of 14 windjammers - of which, coincidentally, the French, built in 1871, is the oldest and arguably most traditional.
In fact, the French, now celebrating its 150th anniversary, is actually the oldest windjammer in America.
"It's amazing to me that she's more than 100 years older than I am. It's a great honor to own her. I was selected by the previous owner, who was selected by the owner before him. Eventually, I'll choose the next to carry on her tradition," muses Capt. Garth, whose rugged good looks, windblown brown locks, red beard and winsome grin make him ideal casting as a schooner captain. More importantly, his love and respect for the ship are evident in his every word and action.
"When we sail into a sheltering cove, discovering the Stephen Tabor (another schooner, also launced in 1871) at anchor, I feel we've been transported back in time. It could easily be 1880. The schooners look just as they did, outlined against the rocky coastline and uncut forests. It's a rare, marvelous feeling - establishing the relaxed, peaceful atmosphere on board. Time and again, passengers tell me of the great pleasure it brings them."
The Lewis R. French, designated a National Historic Landmark, measures 64 feet on deck. The tallest of her two masts stretches 81 feet skyward. Passengers especially enjoy gasp-worthy moments when she sails beneath bridges connecting mainland and islands - often clearing by inches only.
In addition to her crew of four, including Capt. Garth, she carries 20 passengers, usually ranging in age from teens to seniors, accommodated in 12 cabins (four singles, eight doubles).
Cabins and common areas have electric lights, but there are no in-cabin outlets, no phones, faxes, television, Internet or air conditioning. But there are in cabin USB ports to phone and cameras charged.