In Rockland Harbor, off the coast of Maine sits a historic windjammer called the J. & E. Riggin.
The 120-foot schooner was built in 1927 in Dorchester, New Jersey as an oyster dredger by Charles Riggin and is named after Charles Riggin’s sons Jacob and Edward, J. & E. for short.
The Riggin continues the tradition of family with its current owners Captains Annie Mahle, 50, and Jon Finger, 56, who have two children Chloe Finger, 19, and Ella Finger, 16, who work on the ship during the summer.
They have a business aboard the Riggin that offers eco-friendly sailing vacations with meals prepared by Mahle and her crew. Though there might be a destination in mind, the ship relies on the wind, tides, and weather to determine destinations and possible itineraries.
The Riggin’s sailing season is from late May to the beginning of October. From November through April crew works on projects on the ship.
Mahle and Finger met in 1989 while working aboard a different ship and married in 1993.
Finger has a Master of Sail 500-ton license and served in the U.S. Coast Guard.
Mahle, originally from Farmington Hills, Michigan, graduated from Michigan State University (MSU) with a degree in psychology.
“I knew I had to go on and get an advanced degree, and I was fine with that, at least until I got to my senior year,” said Mahle. “I realized I can’t make myself take any of the tests, look at any of the schools—I just couldn’t make myself do it.”
She decided to take a year away from school.
“I thought alright, I’m going to travel. I’m going to sail, and I’m not calling home for money,” said Mahle.
A friend of hers mentioned that her parents own a schooner in Maine and when Mahle called the owner said Mahle could have a job if she could begin work the day after graduation.
She began work on the Stephen Taber, where Mahle met Finger, and the ship docks next to the J. & E. Riggin in Rockland Harbor, Maine.
Mahle is not only a captain and a mother, but also a professional cook and a published author.
After graduating from MSU, Mahle studied at the Culinary Institute of America, and trained for three years under Swiss Chef Hans Bucher.
She has published three cookbooks At Home, At Sea: Recipes from the Maine Windjammer J&E Riggin, and Sugar & Salt: A Year At Home and At Sea, which is split into two books.
Aboard the schooner Mahle provides meals for the guests, and cooks with a wood burning stove while at sea for up to 30 people.
The menu is seasonal and tailored to what is brought from Mahle’s garden. She strives to use as many fresh and local ingredients in her cooking as possible.
Mahle said the weather is an element in not only how it affects the boat but also how it affects her cooking and the heat of the stove.
But she said that an advantage of cooking with a wood-burning stove is the enhanced flavor, primarily using mixed hardwoods. Mahle gets up at 4:30 a.m. every day the schooner is sailing so she can light the stove at 5 a.m.
Breakfast is served at 8 a.m., lunch at noon, and dinner around 6 p.m.
Mahle said Finger had wanted to own a schooner since he was 16 years old, but she wasn’t entirely on board with the idea.
“It’s a lot of work, there’s a lot of capital investment, and I didn’t know whether we’d be able to do a family and own a schooner well,” said Mahle. “Turns out it’s the same wherever you go. Raising a family is raising a family. Where you raise your family is less important than how you raise your family.”
She said they came to an agreement.
“First, if either one of us feels like the business is affecting our family adversely, then we get to cry uncle and we’re done, that’s it,” said Mahle. “The second one was that he gets to pick the first 20 years, I get to pick the 20 years, what it is we are doing for work.”
In 1998 the couple bought the J. & E. Riggin from the previous owner Dave Allen who had converted the ship to accommodate passengers in 1977 for a total of 24 passengers and six crew.
“We chose the Riggin first because she had a wood stove and she didn’t have an inboard engine and she was, from our perspective, the right size. We just liked the look of her,” said Mahle.
Mahle said Finger was walking down the dock one day and Allen was changing the oil and the oil was just dripping down Allen’s elbows when he called to Finger grumpily, “You want to buy a schooner?” and when Finger responded yes Allen said, “Let’s go to breakfast.”
“I knew the business, but owning the business—you have to wear a lot of different hats, but you get to choose the hats that you wear,” said Mahle. “There are some hats that you might not be as good at as others but you get to get good at a lot of stuff.”
The Riggin has no electricity while it is away from the dock. The ship’s power is battery operated for lights in the cabins and bathrooms, called the “head” on a ship as a nod to the old days when the toilet was located at the front, or the head of the ship. During the evening, the crew put out lanterns on deck so guests can safely find their way around the deck after it gets dark.
The ship also has a water tank that is warmed by the wood-fire stove so guests may take a shower after the water has been warmed from cooking breakfast.
“Some people I think look at what we do here and feel that we live without,” said Mahle. “And I don’t feel that way, I don’t feel that I have less here. I’m not waiting to get back home so that finally I can x, y, z. Some people will say, ‘Finally you get to sleep in your own bed,’–I do sleep in my own bed. I have two beds. I don’t pine for one over the other, I like them both. They’re both cozy, I’m next to my husband in both places. As a matter of fact, when I’m home, what I pine for are sunsets where I can see everything. The whole, 360 degree sunsets, which I cannot see at home, or just the feeling of living outside. That’s what I miss more than anything else.”
Amy Wilke, 29, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, works as a deckhand on the Riggin.
She learned about the Riggin from a blog post and it instantly sparked her interest.
“The article made sailing the Maine coast sound incredible and immediately I wanted to go,” said Wilke. “The guy I was dating at the time didn’t want to come with me and forbade me from going alone.”
Wilke said that when the relationship ended a year later, she booked a six-day trip for August 2015 aboard the Riggin.
“It was the first time I had ever stepped foot on a sailboat and it was one of the most incredible weeks of my life. I was heartbroken when I got home and ran a google search for tall ships closer to home so that I could become more involved,” said Wilke.
Wilke returned to the Riggin for additional trips and through that got to know Mahle and Finger.
Wilke still lives in Wisconsin and works full-time as an electric distribution control operator. She uses her time off and vacation time to work on the schooner.
“One of the hardest things to adjust to as a crew member is lack of privacy,” said Wilke. “We have our own spaces but sometimes other people (crew) need to get in those spaces because it may be where something important is stored. We were very fortunate to all get along easily which makes any adjustment process easier.”
Mahle and Finger’s children grew up on the ship and around the business.
“Being a parent is crazy, and amazing, and when you add your kids in a workplace environment- there’s always a high concern on our part about the level of professionalism,” said Mahle. “We created a family atmosphere here, so our kids grew up around crew members and guests who gave them so much. It’s just rich. Rich and amazing.”
“Every year was a different challenge,” said Mahle. “We’d see behaviors and we’d think, oh gosh how’s that going to go on the boat, what are we going to do, and what are our strategies about how to deal with that. But what we tried to do was strike a balance between what the boat needed in terms of while being a family friendly environment not being completely kid focused. It’s not about the kids, it’s about our guests who are coming to stay with us.”’
Though they still managed to get into trouble every once in a while, as children do.
“There’s a lot of eyeballs on them, so they couldn’t be naughty all that often. If one of them were here I think they’d say I got really good at whisper yelling or “the look” where they talk about this laser look that I give them,” said Mahle. “Then I would whisper in their ear and try to have this conversation that was quiet and private so that they had some choice in the matter and some ability to talk about their emotions while not making whatever was going on for them public.”
Mahle attributes the business as a part of what helped shaped them as individuals.
“As they’ve gotten older, they have a really good sense of people now. They’re comfortable around adults and both of them, as I’ve witnessed anyway, have a really clear sense of self,” said Mahle. “The other thing that we’ve taught them is, I hope, because we have so many people around there’s lots of different opinions, and walks of life, and ways of making a living and just because someone else does that, thinks that, says that, and lives that way-is just interesting, speaks about them.”
Eventually Mahle and Finger started having a family friend come stay with Chloe and Ella while their parents were sailing with guests.
“When they got a little older and school got more important they decided it’s really crazy to go from the boat, to home, to friends and repeat. It’s like going from two different divorced households but never knowing where your stuff is at all. There’s three different places your stuff could be and it never felt like it was in the right place for them.”
The couple’s oldest daughter Chloe attends Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania and is pursuing a degree in Environmental Science and Biology though she said that she would also love to run a boat.
Chloe said she thinks her parents would love to see her or her sister Ella take over the ship, but currently the J. & E. Riggin is up for sale.
“They have always made it very clear to us that our level of involvement with the boat and the business is completely up to us,” said Chloe. “They always say that they chose to do this and there is no pressure on either Ella or I to make the same choice.”
“I think I am in complete denial that the Riggin will eventually be sold because that boat is such an integral part of who I am and who I want to be,” said Chloe. “I know my parents will find really good people to take over her care and continue to steward her in the way that we have.”
Chloe said she hopes that if the Riggin does get sold that she hopes it stays in Maine and continues to sail.
“These old boats need to keep going to stay alive so they don’t get converted into a dockside restaurant or something like that,” said Chloe. “They were built to sail and that what they do best. We are keeping a piece of history alive by continuing to work her.”