Two 150-Year-Old Maine Windjammers, Two Claims to Being the Country’s Oldest

And both of these beautiful historic schooners are right.

Photo courtesy of the Lewis R. French and Stephen Taber
By Will Grunewald

Anyone who wants to sail aboard the country’s oldest windjammer had better parse some semantics before booking. The Rockland-based Stephen Taber advertises as “the oldest documented sailing vessel in continuous service in the United States.” Meanwhile, the Lewis R. French, which sails from Camden, claims the mantle of “oldest commercial sailing vessel in the United States.” What’s the difference? Well, the French was undisputedly completed a few months earlier, but the Taber’s case isn’t bunk. It has operated under sail for the past century and a half, while the French was stripped of its masts in the 1920s and given an engine instead, not restored to its wind-powered ways until some 50 years later. All in all, both are, beyond a doubt, very old — and either is lovely for skimming across Penobscot Bay on breezy summer days.

Lewis R. French

Built: South Bristol, Maine
Launched: April 1871
Namesake: local shopkeeper
Length: 65 feet
Original use: coastal New England trade

Stephen Taber

Built: Glenwood Landing, New York
Launched: October 1871
Namesake: New York lawyer and politician
Length: 115 feet
Original use: carrying freight in New York Harbor


Down East magazine, June 2021