One could say that the husband and wife co-captains of the J. & E. Riggin windjammer were destined to one day own and command this particular vessel.
Justin Schaefer and Jocelyn Schmidt both grew up on the water. Justin, at just a year and a half old, was introduced to sailing by his captain father. The family would sail their 30-foot fiberglass sailboat along the south shore of Long Island most summers. Justin jokes that his mother wouldn’t allow his father to take Justin on the boat when he was under a year old. To keep the child safe, Justin’s father took a child’s seat that’s typically used on the back of bicycles and bolted it to the sailboat. “So when my father had to go forward or down below, or do any sort of boat handling, he would plop me into the seat and strap me in so he could take care of whatever needed handling,” Justin remembered.
Part 1: Setting Sail
Growing up on a sailboat, Justin said, meant that boating, but most importantly sailing, was an important part of his childhood and teen years. At as young as 4 or 5, he was helping his father with the sailboat. In 2006, when he was 13, Justin’s dad found out about the Maine Windjammer Association, the largest group of windjammers and schooners in the United States. When the literature arrived, his father was drawn in particular to the J. & E. Riggin. “He liked the way she looked, how low and sleek she was. He thought it just looked like a really good sailing boat,” Justin said. His father booked a cabin for a weeklong cruise for the family, and Justin “fell in love with it.”
“I had always been sailing, but this was so much different from what I was used to; fundamentally it’s all the same, but everything was so much bigger. It’s just all block and tackle [a pulley system], manual, no winches [a mechanical tool for controlling sails], gaff rig, wood—it was just fascinating. And the crew to me back then—I just idolized them. They were like these rock star figures, the captains and the crew. And I was drawn to it, captivated, and sucked in by the J. & E. Riggin.” The regal schooner was originally an oyster dredger built in 1927. Rebuilt to accommodate guests in 1977, and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1991, the J. & E. Riggin fits 24 guests and six crew members.
After that first season aboard the schooner, Justin’s family returned the following year and sailed multiple times as guests. Soon, Justin was working as an apprentice on the J. & E. Riggin, then a deckhand, and later as mate. The season he was made mate was also the year he met Jocelyn on the docks. Both were 21, and Jocelyn was working on education boats teaching sailing. She got her start in teaching history onboard sailboats during her college sophomore year, when she studied abroad with a friend. They boarded the boat in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and island-hopped around the Caribbean, where Jocelyn said she studied the history of the islands while sailing for three weeks. She became enamored by the idea of a boat as a teaching environment.
“I had been studying a more traditional education, but I realized that experiential learning was so much more effective for me. Learning on a boat, you can see practically why you need to learn these skills. It becomes so much easier to learn,” she said. In her last two years of college, she focused her studies on the effectiveness of experiential learning. “There’s science behind why the boat works, how the wind moves through the sails, and propels us forward. And there’s math in the navigation. There’s so much math built into navigation. So we were teaching practical math, like applied mathematics through celestial navigation, to high schoolers.”
Justin and Jocelyn developed a friendship, each sailing on different windjammers in the same fleet. They eventually began dating, and in 2017, they had a conversation about how much they both loved windjamming and Maine, but that they wouldn’t be able to own a home on seasonal mates’ salaries. The next step was to get their captain’s licenses. But Jocelyn also considered that “since all of these boats are owner-operated, the next logical step to stay in this industry was to buy a boat. I felt like that was a crazy pipe dream.”
At the time, captains Jon Finger and Anne Mahle had cared for the J. & E. Riggin since 1997, having raised their daughters on the boat. They were ready to retire. Justin and Jocelyn, by then married, knew they wanted a family, and seeing Jon and Anne raise their family on the boat, they knew the J. & E. Riggin would be perfect. “Our story had become so intertwined with this particular vessel that the Riggin had always seemed like the right boat for us,” Jocelyn said. The couple created a plan that took a few years to earn the money to take over the J. & E. Riggin.
2021 was their inaugural season as captains of the J. & E. Riggin. Many guests from previous years returned, as they always have, to cruise coastal Maine “wherever the wind takes us,” Jocelyn said, on multi-day, themed cruises such as a lobster or lighthouse cruise, or interest-based cruises that feature live music, knitting, or photography. Each cruise, no matter the theme, is highlighted by a lobster dinner—with lobsters purchased the morning of, directly from the lobsterman, then baked over an open fire on a deserted island.
How days are spent aboard the schooner changes with the weather. The boat doesn’t have an inboard motor, so it is dependent upon the wind. Windy days offer those onboard a fast pace, waves crashing against the pod boat secured to the side. When the wind is low, it’s a relaxing, sleepy rhythm, with conversation, naps, and porpoise sightings. And when there is rain, the canopy goes up, guests don their rain jackets, enjoy a warm cup of coffee to break the chill, and listen to the patter of the rain.
Guests who are sailing for the first time get the opportunity to help set sail each morning. Guests can also relax on the wooden ship during the day while sighting lighthouses and marine wildlife; dining on chef-created meals that are locally sourced—often from the captains’ gardens and beehives; and then snuggling under warm blankets to watch the stars, before finally heading below to the sleeping quarters to be gently rocked to sleep as the boat anchors near an island for the night.
Part 2: Fine Dining on a Schooner
It’s 4 a.m. as chef Mark Godfrey pulls himself up from his bunk aboard the J. & E. Riggin windjammer. He steps carefully down the stairs into the tiny galley that consists of a seating area and a small workspace, the centerpiece of which is a wood-burning stove where he will cook three meals that include dessert, made-from-scratch breads and pastries, and afternoon appetizers each day. The galley air is stiff with the smell of wood and smoke from the previous day’s meals as Godfrey starts the fire and puts on the morning coffee.
Godfrey is a young and passionate chef. He relishes choosing the ingredients for his menus, using what’s in season—often, what’s growing in Justin and Jocelyn’s garden. Preparing for one cruise in July 2021, Godfrey eyed some baby grapes, still tiny and sour, and picked them to include in the menu. Although young (at just 25 years old), he is experienced, particularly in working to create gourmet meals aboard the J. & E. Riggin. For five years, he worked with the previous captains, learning favored recipes and techniques for cooking in the small space, and with a wood stove.
What started as a two-week unpaid apprentice position in 2016 led to taking over cooking when the mess cook left the job just three days into his apprenticeship. The captains asked him to stay on for the rest of the season. “So two weeks turned into three months,” Godfrey said, “And of course I said yes, because I’m addicted at that point. I love it.” Originally from El Paso, Texas, Godfrey moved to Maine for his apprenticeship on the boat.
There aren’t any days off while Godfrey is cooking for guests on cruises. And the days are long. His menus are a combination of some bread and dessert recipes from the previous captain, but he also enjoys the creativity of implementing his personal recipes. Once a favorite is established, such as the crisp and smoky gluten-free pizza crust he bakes in the wood-burning stove, he rotates these proven recipes on each cruise. He says that since about 60 percent of guests are return visitors, they look forward to tasting his trademark recipes time and again.
First-time guests are surprised by the fine dining scenario in such a rugged environment—meals are served no matter the weather, so often the chef makes last-minute adjustments to accommodate rain or high winds. “The J. & E. Riggin is known for having the best food out of the fleet of schooners, and I wanted to keep that going; I wanted to keep the level of food as high as I possibly could.” The windjammer had won accolades from local magazines for being a top food and travel experience.
Godfrey explores his half-Mexican heritage and other cultures through his meals. Sometimes, he’ll bake overnight Texas briskets, “like they do in Austin,” he says, and then serve the tender meat on homemade tortillas he learned to make from the Mexican side of his family. Another day may bring his personal take on Korean bibimbap using local ingredients. They’re always well received by guests. He adds, “I mean pork belly is kind of hard to dislike. Right?” Another favorite is shakshuka, a Mediterranean and Middle East dish of tomatoes simmered in vegetables and topped with an egg. Godfrey puts his spin on the dish, providing a variety of toppings such as sprouts, avocado, pickled onions, raw vegetables, an apple chutney, and more, that guests can add as desired. Just like how he discovered and then incorporated the baby grapes into his menu, Godfrey says it’s easy to source locally in Maine because “there’s so much good produce.” A lot of his inspiration comes from the people—captains and crew—who grow food.
Even though the air may be brisk on the ship, inside the galley, it’s always warm and smoky from the stove. In addition to the cramped, tiny prep space, cooking on a wood-burning stove presents its own challenges. “No, it’s not easy,” Godfrey says. “It gets really hot and uncomfortable in that small space sometimes. I think the key is organization, and one big asset I have is the experience of learning from somebody who’d been doing it for 20-plus years. And having a frame of reference to go off of was very important.” There isn’t a temperature gauge, and Godfrey says cooking becomes more of a “feeling.” He says, “You have to move food around a lot quicker. I have to constantly be checking my oven, and then the firebox; I have to continually move the wood to get the temperature that I need to get airflow. The quality of the wood is a big deal, too.” Godfrey sources the wood locally from a supplier in Maine. Even though the wood stove adds a burden to cooking, Godfrey says that the flavor it imparts is worth it. “You taste the smoke, you taste the wood, … it definitely enhances the flavors.”
Serving from-scratch meals throughout the day involves organization and teamwork, Godfrey says. And long days. After rising at 4 a.m. to start the stove, he works until 8 p.m. or so—sometimes catching an afternoon nap in between lunch and dinner service. When he is done with the day, he goes straight to bed—ready to start again the next morning, full of passion for serving local flavors on a working ship.This article was originally published in American Essence magazine.