PORTLAND, Maine — A 96-year-old wooden schooner built in Freeport sailed home to Maine this week after a long absence.
Scott Reischmann purchased the 53-foot Heart’s Desire from a family in Massachusetts, adding it to his small fleet of historic vessels at the Portland Schooner Co., which offers public sails and private charters on Portland’s waterfront. It arrived in the city on Saturday, joining Reischmann’s other notable vessels: Wendameen, Bagheera and Timberwind.
Together, the four boats represent a significant collection of Maine’s working, publicly accessible, floating maritime history.
“Our brand is: Maine-built, wooden, historic and authentic,” Reischmann said. “We’ll never buy a boat not built in Maine.”
Like Bagheera and Windameen, Heart’s Desire was designed by famed marine architect John Alden. It features Alden’s trademark long bowsprit and dramatic, raked transom.
Alden gained fame in the 1920s and ‘30s when he designed a series of fast, race-winning boats. He died in 1962 but his company survived until 2008.
According to the MIT museum, which houses Alden’s archive, Heart’s Desire was originally built at the T.H. Soule shipyard in Freeport for A.S. Nielson of Marblehead, Massachusetts.
In its long lifetime, the schooner sailed out of Camden as well as New York, New Jersey and the U.S. Virgin Islands. There are gaps in the schooner’s known history but it probably hasn’t been home-ported in Maine since the 1920s.
Most recently, it sailed out of Martha’s Vineyard.
Reischmann wasn’t really looking to add another boat to his company but when Heart’s Desire came up for sale, he couldn’t resist.
“It’s hard to let something like this pass,” he said. “There aren’t many Alden schooners left in the world — and she’s in great shape. She’s strong, a work of art. I could spend hours just looking at her.”
Reischmann doesn’t want to say exactly how much he paid but said it was considerable.
“It’s expensive,” he said. “The price is one thing but the real price is the maintenance.”
It’s not easy to care for an almost century-old boat. Along with the funds, it takes experienced sail makers, deckhands, shipwrights and captains.
Jessica Bucklin is Heart’s Desire’s captain. Bucklin, who brought the boat up from Massachusetts this week, will be living aboard for the season. She said there’s lots of work to be done to get the vessel ready for passengers, including training her crew and sorting out the rigging.
“And maybe some paint, if I can get to it,” Bucklin said, sitting in the cockpit.
Portland Schooner Co’s other vessels are just as historic as its newest addition.
Bagheera, also designed by Alden, was built at the Rice Brothers Shipyard in East Boothbay in 1923. The 72-foot schooner spent many years sailing the Great Lakes where she won the annual Chicago-Mackinac Race several times. Bagheera also crossed the Atlantic Ocean, sailed the Caribbean Sea and cruised to the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific. It came to Portland in 2002, when the Schooner Co. opened on the State Pier.
The 88-foot schooner Wendameen was built in East Boothbay and launched in 1912. It’s also an Alden design. After the 1930s, it spent decades out of the water before being restored at the tail end of the ‘80s.
Timberwind is a 96-foot, two-masted schooner built in 1931 by Victor Cole at Union Wharf in Portland. For nearly four decades — until 1969 — it was named the Portland Pilot and met incoming vessels outside the harbor, guiding them to their berths. It was also briefly commandeered for service by the Coast Guard during World War II.
All three vessels are listed with the National Register of Historic Places.
Cipperly Good, curator at the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport, thinks it makes sense to bring historic wooden boats to Maine since the state still harbors the skilled workforce to take care of them.
“Whereas those skills may have been lost elsewhere,” Good said, pointing out some of the state’s thriving boatbuilding schools in Brooklin, Arundel and Bath.
Good also said that the Heart’s Desire and Windameen are significant because their designs incorporate features inspired by working schooners that fished the Grand Banks. Those old-time boats had to be fast and nimble.
“That’s very much part of our heritage, here in Maine,” she said.
Even the Timberwind, which was a humble pilot boat, had to be fast, Good said. The first pilot boat to reach the incoming ships got the job, back then.
Portland Schooner’s established vessels, Bagheera, Windameen and Timberwind, will continue to offer day sails this season. All three are certified and capable of carrying around 45 passengers. The smaller Heart’s Desire will only carry private charter’s of up to six people.
With the pandemic, Reischmann said, he’s seeing a greater demand for smaller, more exclusive voyages.
Reischmann said historically significant vessels are their own draw and he doesn’t feel the need for any kind of gimmicks to get locals — as well as tourists — aboard. Just existing as floating works of Yankee art is enough.
“Pride, joy, work ethic,” he said, “these boats speak volumes about that.”