“It is with a heavy heart and the utmost regard for health and safety that we have made the difficult decision to cancel Windjammer Days 2020. This pandemic has brought to light all that we at Friends of Windjammers are grateful for: long held traditions, seafaring history, the art of boat building, the passion of sailing captains, the dedication of amazing volunteers, a town full of hospitality and caring people, and the sweet joy of nostalgia. We look forward to Windjammer Days 2021 and relishing in all that makes this festival the treasured event that it is. Till then, we hope you and your loved ones stay safe and healthy. We will all get through this together.” – Friends of Windjammer Days website
“The chips just kept falling,” said Pete Ripley, president of the Friends of Windjammer Days board of directors. “It was a very difficult decision, but we had to make the call.”
That call, canceling the 58th annual Boothbay Harbor Windjammer Days, came April 29, the day after Gov. Janet Mills announced Maine’s four-stage reopening plan. The clincher: Gatherings had to be limited to under 50 people.
At the April Friends of WJD meeting, it was decided the chairs of the different events would discuss whether or not scaled-down versions of their events would be possible.
Right off, they knew the street parade wouldn’t be happening. And, Ripley noted, “We knew we couldn’t control the crowds. We were hoping for groups of under 200 people. We thought three events – the Blessing of the Fleet, the Antique Boat Parade, Rock Skipping, and maybe the Tug Across the Harbor – could still be done. Spectators are usually spread out over different locations.”
Behind the scenes, other chips were falling. The ban on travel between countries caused the Tall Ship Fair Jeanne, whose homeport is in Canada, to cancel its participation.
The Oliver Hazard Perry is de-rigged for winter and requires a large group of volunteers to perform the re-rigging, working very close together. The Perry is owned by the State of Rhode Island where similar COVID-19 group restrictions are in place. So, Ripley said, “That wasn’t happening.”
There were several events scheduled aboard the Perry, including a family movie night with the film shown on one of the sails.
“Mark (Gimbel) spent a lot of time getting the Tall Ships here this year,” said Ripley. “Fortunately the Tall Ships are on board for 2021.”
So is Boothbay Harbor’s Eastwind - on board for 2021. Said Capt. Tom Smith, “Pete Ripley emailed us. It is disappointing we must cancel Windjammer Days, but understandable.”
“It was a hard decision. But, the ships aren’t going to be sailing now until July so that kind of took care of that too,” Ripley said. “We’re all (WJ captains) good friends at this point. This is John Foss’ (American Eagle) 50th season ... it’s hard to see how they are going to suffer this year.”
Before the governor’s announcement, the Friends’ reservations were building. “Being a family festival you want it to be safe and friendly. If we moved forward and someone did get sick … we didn’t want to risk that – or ruining the reputation of the Festival,” Ripley said.
Founded by Captains David and Marion Dash in 1962, Windjammer Days has grown from a day-long celebration of sailing ships and the region’s rich maritime history to two days, then four days and now, since the Friends have been at the helm beginning in 2013, one entire week. And it will return in 2021: June 27 through July 3.
“I think it will be a very good year next year ... and we’ll be celebrating the Bicentennial a year later like everyone else!” Ripley said.
Keep up with all things Windjammer Days at www.boothbayharborwindjammerdays.org and check out Friends of WIndjammer Days on Facebook.