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Historic windjammer still sailing as new owners focus on preserving heritage

Josh Jacques and his partner Jessica Kelley bought the 136-year-old windjammer last year together from the owner of the Boothbay Harbor Shipyard.

BOOTHBAY HARBOR, Maine — Captain Josh Jacques spun the ship’s wheel, looked aloft at the mainsail, and called out an order to the crew. Farther toward the bow, they tightened and then secured a line, and the Isaac Evans sailed smoothly ahead.

“She sails great,” Jacques said as he stood at the wheel. “I love her a lot  because she can take any wind.”

Jacques and his partner Jessica Kelley bought the 136-year-old windjammer last year together from the owner of the Boothbay Harbor Shipyard

Jacques comes from a history of sailing — his father was also a schooner captain. Kelley said she had started sailing and working on the tall ships four years ago. 

Preserving this vessel, one of the oldest in Maine’s windjammer fleet, has become their passion.

“There is some original wood on her from 1886. You can’t get that anywhere,” Kelley said, who spends much of her time captaining the business side of the Isaac Evans.

“To be a part of keeping that tradition alive because of sailing, and preservation by operating a vessel like her is what I’m passionate about,” Kelley added.

The Isaac Evans, like nearly all of Maine’s windjammers, was built to carry cargo. But for years the vessel has sailed out of Rockland carrying passengers on multi-day overnight trips. 

For now, she is only doing day-sail cruises. Jacques says maintenance had been reduced under some previous owners, and the ship needs significant work below decks before she can carry overnight passengers again.

But the day-sail trips pay the bills, and the captain says that's the critical part.

“All those people coming from all over the world, it's part of keeping her alive and preserving her for years to come,” Jacques said.

Jacques and Kelley are part of a new generation of young owners and captains who are taking Maine’s windjammer fleet into the future.

They’re also training a new generation of young crew members. The Isaac Evans has several people working the deck. Many of whom this is their first time on a schooner, and their first job under sail.

Even on a two-hour day-sail trip, the crew’s work doesn’t stop. From raising sails to adjusting lines, coming about, changing direction, and many other tasks, the work appears endless.

The work is done under the watchful eye and by the tough hands of crewmate Kate Dingus, who said she has always sailed but fell in love with tall ships four years ago in New Orleans — and ultimately made her way to the Isaac Evans. 

Now, she leads the crew.

“The love for my crew is something I never experienced before. And the love for actually making the boat go, not buttons and stuff. I put the sails up, I put the sail back down," Dingus said.

Passengers on this trip said the experience was great. There was enough wind to move along at a moderate speed, which for a family from Pennsylvania was better than a previous sail on another boat when the wind didn’t blow at all.

“We went out and were dead in the water,” the family said, recalling their previous sailing experience.

When asked about the trip on the Isaac Evans, the family answered with smiles.

“Much better. Beautiful. Nice wind,” they noted.

The passengers all said they were impressed by the work of the crew, and also felt lucky to sail on a piece of floating history. Along with about a half dozen other members of Maine’s windjammer fleet, the Isaac Evans is listed as a National Historic Landmark.

For her owners and crew alike, sailing and caring for the schooner, they say, is a privilege and a responsibility.

“Keep her alive, keep water moving across the keel. Keep people on board and that’s it,” the crew said.

Honoring that history is a big part of Boothbay Harbor’s annual celebration of Windjammer Days.

As the ship was tied up at the dock, Jacques climbed on the rail and thanked the passengers for their part in keeping the Isaac Evans going.

Without you guys … the ship would not be able to sail on, for hopefully another hundred years," Jacques said.

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