A controversial second life for a voyaging schooner

Though the age of sail is long behind us, numerous schooners and tall ships continue to sail the world, keeping history alive. The benefits of these magnificent vessels are as multifaceted as the ships themselves. Some are original relics bringing history to life for all those aboard, others are modern adaptations providing education and adventure on trips to the far reaches of the globe. For the many that have sailed on these treasured vessels, there is a lasting impact and a nostalgic urge to preserve their legacy.

Aloft on another historic schooner, Bowdoin

Aloft on another historic schooner, Bowdoin.

Keeping a traditional schooner in operating condition is an expensive task and often strains the viability of the managing organization. Every year numerous vessels fall in and out of ownership, fighting to sail on for another year. In recent years, a slow economy seems to have taken a larger toll on the fleet. One such casualty was the Ocean Classroom Foundation which operated for years out of Boothbay, ME. OCF owned three schooners, Westward, Harvey Gamage, and Spirit of Massachusetts, all of which have transferred to new owners.

Westward can still be seen on the Fore River in Portland in front of the new Portland Yacht Services facility where it has sat for over a year. The Harvey Gamage underwent a major refit over the winter and undertook a new program sailing to Cuba. The success of the program has received mixed reviews at best and the future of the schooner seems questionable.

[Tweet “I’d rather see a vessel maintained and afloat than rotting and alone at a forgotten dock”]

Spirit of Massachusetts, however, seems to have secured a stable and loving home in the form of a new floating restaurant in Kennebunk. This news has enthusiasts divided as to the fate of the notable ship. Some say it is a shame to see a voyaging schooner tied to a dock, never again to sail freely on the ocean. Others argue that a second life for the schooner will provide access to its history and beauty for years to come. I am somewhere in the middle of the debate. I think that the best thing for a schooner, such as the Spirit of Massachusetts, is to keep her sailing. However, after the viability of continued voyaging has been exhausted, I’d rather see a vessel maintained and afloat than rotting and alone at a forgotten dock.

Tall Ships Portland 2015 gave thousands access  variety of traditional sailing vessels.

Tall Ships Portland 2015 gave thousands access variety of traditional sailing vessels.

Having recently opened, The Spirit of Massachusetts Restaurant looks to have taken great care to preserve the authenticity of the schooner. The interior has been fashioned to provide a unique dining room that won’t let you forget you are aboard. On deck a tent-like superstructure has been constructed, somewhat distracting from the ship’s graceful profile, but creating a unique bar with a view. I look forward to visiting, sampling from the enticing menu, and remembering days past when I’ve seen her reaching across the bay. While I never had the pleasure of sailing aboard, I have many dear friends that have been positively influenced by their time aboard, both as crew and as students.

My time aboard traditional vessels has largely shaped the trajectory of my life.

My time aboard traditional vessels largely shaped the trajectory of my life.


As the legacy of the Spirit of Massachusetts carries on, we can only hope that the success of the restaurant will be reflected in ongoing maintenance and a preservation of her legacy. To the many that hoped to see her sail again, I encourage you to visit. The success of the schooner’s preservation depends on the success of the restaurant, and the success of the restaurant depends on patrons like us.

May the Spirit of Massachusetts continue to educate and inspire all of those aboard in her new life.

Matt Garand

About Matt Garand

Lifelong Mainer, and professional mariner, Matt Garand is the creator of A Life Aboard, a look at year-round living on a sailboat in Maine. Matt and his wife, Skye, live aboard in South Portland and use every available chance to throw off the lines and explore the coast.