Maritime Explorer: Captain Cameron McLellan
The 61st annual Windjammer Days will take place Sunday, June 25 through Saturday, July 1, 2023. This year the Friends of Windjammer Days is celebrating our rich population of Maritime Explorers. Those featured have traveled extensively on different bodies of waters either for work, pleasure or both.
As a skilled sailor and navigator, Cameron McLellan hails from a family of multi-generations of seafarers. On the paternal side, the McLellans have hundreds of years of fishing in their bones with a few spar markers on the bank of the Kennebec River in the mix. The McLellans fished the Grand Banks, George’s Banks, and the Gulf of Maine several generations back. On the maternal side, the Murphys were full-rigged ship captains. With this heritage and a level of comfort on the sea, there was no question from an early age that Cameron would continue the tradition and make his living on the water.
While successful as a fisherman, Cameron always kept his childhood dream alive. From a young age, he would remind himself “I fish so I can afford to go sailing.” For Cameron, Windjammer Days were better than Christmas. He wanted nothing more than to one day be a captain of an authentic windjammer. Mary Day was his fantasy schooner. But he also loved the Victory Chimes.
At the young age of 16 years old, he bought his first sailing vessel. A 26-foot gaff-rigged sloop from the little Riverside Boat yard in Damariscotta. She was a Herreshoff design built in 1910 of yellow pine. Up to the point, his only sailing experience included ice boating on Adams Pond. Incidentally, Cameron’s father, Myron, built the ice boat from an old swing set. Although she could go rogue at any time, she flew. So, he hopped aboard and headed down the Damariscotta by himself. Cameron has some smooth sailing and terrifying moments but didn’t compare to the squall he encountered between Spruce Point and Squirrel Island. This is when he really learned
to sail! This was baptism by fire, but as he sailed into the harbor, he felt like an old pro.
That summer Cameron was ready and anxious to take on the schooners at Windjammer Days, he sailed 26’ his own gifted-rigged, sloop Harbor Ghost, stealthily alongside the Victory Chimes. Two of her flags hung off the transom, without missing a beat, he slid by and grabbed them both. Later hoisting them up into his rigging with his own flags, he had given the captain of the Victory Chimes a challenge. That night two of the crew of the Victory Chimes came about his boat and took their flags back along with Cameron’s. By the next morning, Cameron’s flag flew high up in the rigging of the Victory Chimes. Captain Giles had one up on him and still does.
Back then he was known for threading a needle between the schooners and other boats in the crowded harbor under full sail. A jug of wine as always visible was towed off his stern. He was truly in his glory.
Over the span of 48 years, Cameron has never held a position on land. In his youth, he fished with his father, Myron, his Uncle Bob, and cousin Richard on the Lucille B. The Lucille B and the McLellan family focused on shrimp and whiting and with prolific success, they branched out and grew which led to adding boats to their fleet. Myron, Cameron’s father had the Barbara L built and his Uncle commissioned the Miss Paula and his cousin Richard took over the Lucile B.
The shrimping was plentiful in the 1970s and the fleet grew larger to include the Sea Bring and the Irene’s Way. His brother-in-law, Cyrus had the Cynthia. The catch was plentiful, but the work was hard, and the McLellan family thrived. Back during that time, the McLellans and their six-vessel fleet fished out of Boothbay Harbor and landed their vast catches at Malpeque for Jimmy Genovese.
In his early 20s, Cameron struck out and partnered with George Whitten to build the Amy W, a 63-foot fishing vessel built by Eddie Gamage of East Boothbay. Once launched, Cameron became her captain. With a growing family, Cameron and his wife were building a home and settling into a fisherman's lifestyle. Although a young captain, Cameron’s skill and experience led to some interesting opportunities. Through one such opportunity, he experienced a tour of Alaska fishing. This was a great adventure, but Maine and his young family called him home.
By 1988, Cameron was ready for a larger vessel and purchased the Crown Royal, an 89-foot Rhode Island-built steel stern trawler. For almost a decade, Cameron and crew fished the Gulf of Maine and George’s Banks on the Crown Royal. Another opportunity emerged in the spring of 1991 as Cameron was invited to the country of Chile to the city of Concepcion to teach the fishermen how to both build flounder nets and how to fish them. In 1995, the National Oceanic Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) offered fishermen a buyback program for groundfish vessels. With the sale of the Crown Royal, Cameron was able to design and build the Adventurer and he captained her for 11 years. In that same year, Cameron bought a larger sailboat. He named the 53-foot traditional coastal schooner after his grandfather Curly- A.E. McLellan. Cameron sold the Adventurer with a solid plan to make sailing his life and income but in 2008, tragedy struck the McLellan family. The youngest McLellan son, Captain Shawn McLellan, passed away and Cameron put his dream on hold and took the helm of Shawn’s vessel, the Elizabeth. This was a challenging year and Cameron recalls; this was the hardest thing he would ever do or will do in his life.
Cameron's luck turned when he came across a 63-foot Chris White custom design catamaran (Concept 63). Heron had been abandoned for eight years and he spent months refitting her and getting her back out on the ocean where she belonged. Cameron single-handedly set sail from Portland, Maine on Heron for the United States Virgin Islands and the Caribbean. By 2011, he had her Coast Guard Inspected and licensed in St. Croix to carry 42 passengers and his charter business began. Since then, Heron has chartered out of Sag Harbor, New York, the Hamptons, USVI, St. Barts, Palm Beach, Charleston, South Carolina, Manhattan, and Newport, Rhode Island. Over the last 14 years, Cameron has made 28 passages from New England to the Caribbean – through the Bermuda Triangle – over 9,000 nautical miles; 16 of them were solo.
Cameron, as a solo sailor, does have a first mate. His sailing companion is Tola, a coconut retriever found in a trash bin on the island of Tortola. She was just hours old, but getting her sea legs didn’t take long. Tola has been the first mate on Heron for two years now. Cameron is living out his dream with a successful sailing charter business all due to his foundational seafaring years, love for sailing, and commitment to life on the sea.