June 29, 2020
(5:30 a.m. EDT) -- Small ship overnight cruising, in the form of windjammer sailboats, will be permitted in Maine after July 1, as long as tourists follow the state's strict COVID-19 testing guidelines.
The Maine Windjammer Association, which serves as a marketing clearinghouse for eight independently-run windjammer sailboat cruises, has released guidelines for cruisers who might want to try something much smaller and different this summer.
Hefty State Requirements
The state of Maine has been one of the most cautious in allowing non-residents to enter for tourism, and the regulations surrounding cruising reflect that. All out-of-state visitors must have a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of travel. While the state exempts fellow New England states Vermont and New Hampshire The MWA said some captains might require all passengers to prove they tested negative for COVID-19, regardless of the state.
Maine recommends non-residents take the test and get the results in their home state. If tourists cannot take the test before they leave their state, they must quarantine in Maine for 14 days before staying in a hotel or boarding a windjammer. Maine is also adding 20 "swab and send" testing sites, where anyone can get a test without a doctor note, throughout Maine by July 1. Visitors are required to pay for testing, with results received within 24 to 48 hours.
If travelers can't get tested before they arrive in Maine, they need to quarantine at a friend's house or private property until the results are received and they can board the windjammer. The MWA has partnered with a hotel where guests can stay during their quarantine; however, people waiting test results will not be able to leave their rooms and must eat via room service and takeout.
Once passengers receive the negative result, they will fill out a Certificate of Compliance for Maine Visitors. These documents are required to be kept onboard for 30 days. While your actual test result is not viewed, you might need to show it to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or other health authorities in case of an outbreak; if you don't have it, you'll face a fine or possible jail time.
Health and safety guidelines for the windjammers have been developed with several different government agencies, including the Department of Economic Development, the Department of Marine Resources and the Coast Guard.
Masks must be worn in common areas below deck, when social distancing is not possible. Guests may also need to wear masks when riding in small boats ashore, in the galleys when not eating and when gathering with other passengers on the dock. Crews and captains will also wear masks, when social distancing can't be maintained.
Cleaning protocols have been stepped up throughout the ships -- in the cabins, in shared spaces and in galleys. The heads and showers (many of the Maine fleet have shared bathrooms), as well as railings and stairways, will be cleaned more often during the day. Extra hand washing stations are being added, as well as hand sanitizer. All linens, bedspreads and covers will be laundered and sanitized, with cabins left vacant for a period of time in between cruises to allow for disinfectant to dry, as well as air exchange. Some captains are considering adding ultra-violet light cleaning or ozone generators.
Each boat has developed a plan if a crew or a passenger shows symptoms of COVID-19 while onboard. That person will be immediately quarantined in a cabin set aside for that purpose, and then immediately transported to land for medical care.
Dining will take place on deck more often to encourage social distancing. Served meals will be the norm, rather than passing dishes family-style. Sharing utensils and condiments will be discouraged.
Ports Not Guaranteed
A Maine Windjammer Association cruise has never really been as shore-focused as a regular cruise. Excursions are not provided by the line, and often the itineraries are not really set, in the traditional sense; most people are onboard for the opportunity to sail a historic vessel, helping to run the ship and visiting scenic inlets.
To that end, the Association warns that captains might shy away from coastal towns, and go more often to uninhabited islands to hike and walk around. The line will still hold the traditional lobster bakes.
The eight ships in the Maine Windjammer Association range from 16 to 40 passengers, but not all will sail this summer, the association said. American Eagle has canceled for the season. Schooners Stephen Taber and Ladona will be starting in mid-July, with the other boats in the fleet considering start dates in August and September.
With all the restrictions, why try to sail in Maine this summer?
"All of the comradery, fabulous food, gorgeous scenery, swimming, small boat experiences and starlit nights have not been impacted by the pandemic. Everything you love most about windjammer trips -- from unscripted itineraries to spotting seals, porpoises and the occasional whale will still be part of your trip," the Association said.
"You will still help to raise and lower sails, yawl boats and awnings -- you just may be 6-feet from the next passenger or crew member. Maine windjammers have survived through world wars, flu pandemics, recessions and more. They’ve had to reinvent themselves from cargo to passenger ships. Windjammer captains are a clever and very industrious lot. The Maine Windjammer Association fleet will weather this pandemic and continue to offer one of the most unique unplugged travel experiences available."