Article from Maine Windjammer Association August 2018 Newsletter ()
June 27, 2013
Windjammer of the Month: American Eagle!

Captain John Foss of the American Eagle, says, “As a kid, I would see these beautiful schooners along the coast and I would think, ‘Who would sail those?’” Little did he know that he would become a captain himself and spend his life at the helm of a Maine windjammer.

But he didn’t get started until an insightful interviewer set him straight. Right after college, Captain John interviewed for a job with a marine insurance company. He says, “It was a great interview, but the fellow who interviewed me said, ‘You don’t really want an office job,’ and I thought, ‘You’re right!’” Instead, he followed his passion for the sea and became an officer in the Coast Guard. Then, three years later in 1973, he bought the schooner Lewis R. French. With his North End Shipyard partners, Doug and Linda Lee, he rebuilt the French and then sold her in spring of 1986 to Captain John’s brother-in-law, Dan Pease, who had been Captain John’s mate.

photo: Meg Maiden
The American Eagle participates in many Maine Windjammer Association events each year.

Though he loved the schooner Lewis R. French, Captain John was looking for a larger vessel. He settled on the American Eagle which is the last fishing schooner built in Gloucester Massachusetts where, until 1930, most fishing schooners had been built. Says Captain John, “Those boats were used hard and they weren’t built for the ages. They couldn’t afford to build them with the finest materials. They were usually used hard and put away dirty. So, the fact that she lasted so long would suggest that she was a good design and she was lucky.”

Over time, Captain John has fully restored her. He says, “What sets her apart is that the Eagle has an inboard engine that allows us to see a bit more of the Gulf of Maine than most of the other windjammers.” Captain John has sailed his lucky guests to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and even to see the Tall Ships in Boston. “Though mid-coast Maine is undoubtedly the best place to go cruising, it’s nice to see other places once in a while.” At 92 feet, with a heating system and running water in each cabin, the Eagle easily accommodates longer voyages for her 26 guests.

courtesy: Captain John Foss
A young John Foss enjoys sailing as a youth.

Beyond his love of sailing, for Captain John, being a windjammer captain gives him a sense of keeping tradition alive. “We’re preserving perishable skills. We are keeping vessels working that have no other economic future. For an older, traditional vessel, being a windjammer is a wonderful way to retire, while still earning her keep. When these windjammers are operated and maintained well, they can outlast all of us.”

Additionally, it’s also the ecological aspects of windjamming that Captain John appreciates. “Windjamming is a very clean industry. We use very few non-renewable resources. Our greatest energy cost is the wood we need for the stove in the galley. This type of tourism is a clean industry.”

photo: Ralph Smith
Captain John Foss has been sailing professionally since graduating from college.

And of course, it’s the guests who make it all worthwhile. He says, “About half have been before and then come again with friends. We get families, singles, people on reunions, co-workers, and last year, we even had a charter of Boy Scouts.” Every year, a cross section of people come to enjoy the windjamming experience aboard the American Eagle ­– usually people who enjoy the outdoors and travelling. “Some of them are expedition yacht sailors or high-end cruise-ship passengers, but they always come back on the schooner and say they prefer the schooner!”

What Captain John knows about his guests is that they bring tremendous resources of life experience and because of that, every windjamming trip is unique. “It’s not a conducted tour. For example, maybe some vacations include a scheduled time to see the seals on Tuesdays at 9…not us. But at some point on every windjammer trip we will see seals in their natural environment and there are all kinds of unscheduled, spontaneous moments on every cruise that are memorable, exciting and fun.”

Visit our website to learn more about Captain John and the American Eagle.

Published by Maine Windjammer Association
Copyright © 2018 Maine Windjammer Association. All rights reserved.
Powered by IMN