The new owners of the historic Rockland-based schooner J. & E. Riggin are looking forward to their first season of taking passengers around the Midcoast on their own vessel.

But Capts. Justin Schaefer and Jocelyn Schmidt — who took ownership of the 120-foot long Maine schooner Feb. 5. — are no strangers to the local windjammer fleet or the Riggin.

Schaefer first stepped aboard the Riggin as a 13-year-old passenger when his parents booked a trip 15 years ago. A native of the south shore of Long Island, Schaefer said he had been on dinghies and 30-to-40-foot yachts but there was something different when he went aboard the Riggin.

"When I stepped on the Riggin, it was such a culture shock. It was new and incredible," he said.

He said the captains were larger than life figures. The scenery, food and experiences were something that stuck with him.

He returned as a passenger in subsequent summers and then joined the crew. He has served in every role aboard the Riggin except as cook.

"What was appealing was the incredible community of captains and crews. They care about these boats," he said.

Schmidt's journey to the Riggin was different. She grew up in Ohio, nowhere near a body of water.

In college, a friend convinced her to take a trip abroad as part of her studies. A history and education major, Schmidt spent time in 2012 aboard a wooden schooner, island hopping in the Caribbean.

"I've never experienced learning in such an experiential way," she said.

For her, the schooner community drew her to Rockland.

"There are so many like-minded people who work to preserve the history," she said.

She was working aboard the Victory Chimes, which shares a docking facility with the Riggin in Lermond's Cove in Rockland. The couple met in 2015 while working on the schooners.

After their engagement, they moved to Florida to work on yachts, all the while dreaming of moving back to Maine to buy a windjammer of their own.

The J. & E. Riggin was owned and operated since January 1998 by Capts. Jon Finger and Annie Mahle of Rockland. Finger and Mahle met aboard the schooner Stephen Taber when he was mate and she was the mess cook. Capt. Ken Barnes who owned the Taber at that time performed their wedding ceremony.

"Annie and I are incredibly proud and blessed to have been the stewards of the Riggin for so many years," Capt. Finger said.

"The opportunity to pass the baton of stewardship to another couple who would take her forward into the future is exactly what every Maine windjammer owner dreams of. These National Historic vessels are our American history and that we could be a small part of helping her move forward into the future is a gift."

Schaefer said “we feel privileged to take ownership of this historic ship and carry on Jon and Annie’s legacy of offering authentic and memorable sailing experiences.“

The Riggin was built as an oyster dredger in 1927 at Stowaman's Shipyard in Dorchester, New Jersey for Capt. Charles Riggin and named for his sons Jacob and Edward. Capt. Dave and Sue Allen of Rockland bought the schooner in 1977 and converted her into a passenger sailing vessel.

The ship was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1991.

The Riggin can carry 24 passengers.

The new owners said they had no hesitation buying a passenger schooner in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"No one is traveling abroad. People are looking for experiences outside," Schaefer said. "A schooner offers an adventure outside in the fresh air."

He said each cabin has its own ventilation.

Adhering to COVID-19 guidelines this summer, the Riggin will offer three, four and six-day eco-friendly sailing vacations from Rockland Harbor.

Schooners have long been an important economic engine, bringing in thousands of visitors each year to Rockland and Camden. A study in 2003 found four schooners who were docking at Lermond's Cove generated an annual economic impact of $1 million.

This was the second change of ownership in the past several months of a Rockland-based schooner.

Captains Doug and Linda Lee of Rockland sold the schooner Heritage last September to long-time crew members Ben Welzenbach and Sean Grimes, both licensed windjammer captains and fellow mates aboard the Schooner Heritage for the past seven years.