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Updated: February 22, 2021

Couple completes long-planned purchase of historic Rockland schooner

Courtesy / Schooner J.&E. Riggin
Dating back to 1927 and homeported in Rockland, the Schooner J.&E. Riggin is part of the largest fleet of working windjammers in the U.S.

A couple who are both licensed as ship captains are the new owners of a historic passenger schooner in Rockland, and are preparing to set sail this season under COVID-19 guidelines.

Captains Jocelyn Schmidt and Justin Schaefer bought the Schooner J.&E. Riggin, a 120-foot ship built in 1927, from Captains Jon Finger and Annie Mahle for an undisclosed price.

Finger and Mahle are a married couple who owned the boat for more than 20 years. Mahle was the vessel’s cook, has written several cookbooks, and her food and the Riggin have been featured in dozens of national media outlets. 

The vessel was built as an oyster dredger, converted to a passenger schooner in 1977 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1991. Refitted for passenger travel, it takes 24 passengers on multiday sailing vacations departing from Rockland. 

Upon finalizing the purchase, Schaefer and Schmidt joined the Maine Windjammer Association, which represents a membership of passenger schooners sailing from Rockland and Camden. With the Riggin membership, the fleet now numbers nine schooners.

The terms schooner, windjammer and tall ship are used interchangeably and all refer to a traditional sailing ship.

Most of the schooners in the association are National Historic Landmarks. The association is the largest fleet of working windjammers in the U.S.

Membership provides shared resources such as advertising, Schmidt told Mainebiz. The association, whose members operate from late May to mid-October, also sponsors themed events, such as fleet gatherings and races. 

Last summer, all but two of the schooners sat out the season. The schooners Ladona and Stephen Taber set sail in July, following public health guidance.

Last week, the association issued updated COVID-19 requirements for its ships, including pre-screening, sanitation, social distancing and masking procedures.

The Riggin will operate at full capacity, said Schaefer.


Schaefer grew up on the South Shore of Long Island, N.Y. As a boy, he took a week-long sailing trip with his parents on the Riggin through Penobscot Bay. 

“I fell in love with it,” he said. 

He returned to become an apprentice on the same vessel, then moved up to become deckhand and mate. He’s worked on other boats in the fleet, as well as a number of private yachts.

Schmidt grew up in Ohio and attended college to study history and education. In 2012, she traveled to the Caribbean for a study-abroad program that had a history focus and was conducted aboard a boat. 

“I had never been on a boat before,” she said. “I was so taken by the boat as a learning environment.”

In 2015, Schaefer was the mate on the Riggin and Schmidt was a deckhand on another Rockland schooner, the Victory Chimes. The two boats shared the same dock.

“We bumped into each other all the time,” she said of the blossoming relationship.

Courtesy / Schooner J.&E. Riggin
Captains Justin Schaefer and Jocelyn Schmidt took ownership of Schooner J.&E. Riggin  in Rockland. They’re seen here at Owls Head Light, located at the entrance to Rockland Harbor.

By the following year, they both became licensed captains and approached Mahle and Finger about buying the Riggin. Finger and Mahle were coming up on a 20-year target they had set for themselves to move on to other ventures.

“We had already decided we wanted to live in Rockland and the only way to live and work in the windjammer fleet was to become owner-captains,” said Schmidt. “So we talked with them about wanting eventually to take over their business.  We set some financial goals for ourselves.”

Then they moved to Florida to work on private yachts and charter boats as a good way to save money to meet their goals.

“We stayed in contact with them the whole time,” she said. “And when we felt we had saved enough to make a down payment, that’s when we reached back out. It’s been a long process.”

Boat family

The couple was attracted not only to the Riggin but to the business model that Finger and Mahle had established. 

“One of the major appeals of this particular boat and business model is that Justin and I have always wanted to have a family,” Schmidt said. “In his time on the boat, Justin watched Annie and Jon raise their kids on that boat. Their kids were around all the time. That was one of the only boats in the fleet where we saw that happen.”

“We saw that it could be done, that you could raise a family on a schooner,” agreed Schaefer. “Watching Jon and Annie do it with their daughters, and how well they did it — that kind of sealed the deal as far as that was concerned.”

The boat is in great shape and has a loyal following, many of whom are already familiar faces to the new owners, the couple noted.

“We’re very fortunate to be taking over a boat that has such a strong following,” said Schmidt.

Plans are in the works to add new offerings, including a photography cruise to coincide with the association’s parade of sail, a plein air-painting cruise and, long-term, getting a liquor license to do craft cocktail cruises. 

Specialty cruises already in place include knitting retreats, kids and family cruises, and music and dance. The Riggin operates three-, four- and six-day cruises. 

Schaefer will operate the boat while Schmidt handles administration. Applications are open and interviewing is underway for other positions, including cook, galley hand, mate and deckhand. Thanks to the previous owners, vendors and specialty-cruise instructors are already in place for the coming season. Meals are prepared fresh and cooked on the ship’s antique wood stove. 

The couple credits Finger and Mahle for their support throughout the purchase process.

“Our stories were exceptionally intertwined,” Schmidt said of the two couples. “The boat was part of our history, so we wanted to be part of its future.”

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February 23, 2021

My wife and I sailed once with Jon, Annie and crew and so enjoyed our trip with them and the J.&E. Riggin. all the best to them in their new endeavors and fair winds and full sails for Justin & Jocelyn as the Riggin's new owners & captains.

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