CAMDEN, Maine — Each year in Camden, the harbor fills with old, wind-propelled ships, just as it was at the turn of the last century.
But through the forest of masts and rope that sprouted on the wharfs for the 2022 Windjammer Festival, a special guest came in to dock.
A man with a microphone directed the attention of the families gathered on the shore, as a 128-foot three-masted schooner glided into view.
She is the Victory Chimes, and this was her swan song.
Built in 1900, the rare Chesapeake ram schooner used to carry lumber along the Atlantic coast. She’s carried people since the 40s.
Though she was built in Delaware, she endeared herself to Maine so much that she was chosen to be minted on the state quarter in 2003, pictured out to sea, sails unfurled, with Pemaquid Point Lighthouse beaming in the foreground.
It might be the only immortality she’ll know.
Owner and captain Sam Sikkema had been at the helm since 2018. COVID-19 canceled an entire sailing year, meaning no new revenue for the now 35-year-old to put into maintenance.
He announced he planned to retire the ship in October, citing said maintenance needs being subject to upcoming Coast Guard compliance requirements, as well as the Chimes’ home port in Rockland no longer taking her in for a winter dry dock.
“The writing’s on the wall at this point; we can’t sustain it,” he said, standing at the ship’s restored helm.
Sikkema will instead pull her out of the water in Mystic, Connecticut come October unless someone wants to buy the registered historic landmark. The asking price will be well north of half-a-million dollars.
“It’s a punch in the gut, but it’s also– I feel grateful that we get the chance to do it gracefully,” he smiled. No one is ripping the ship from him, he continued, and he’ll be able to give her a proper send off.
For the rest of September, guests will sail around Maine, experiencing history one last time.
Kelly Page, with the Maine Maritime Museum, has been keeping the memory of old ships alive for years. Maybe we should feel lucky, Page said. The Chimes wasn’t supposed to last nearly this long.
“Vessels like the Victory Chimes, which were built to be working merchant vessels, they were meant to only last [a short while]. On average, a wooden sailing vessel lasted 13 years,” she explained “So, this is an extraordinary life.”
An extraordinary life that could be revived again. Sikkema waits for a buyer to come forward with the passion and pocketbook to bring the Chimes back out to sea.
For now, its guests and crew will soak up every moment.