For many couples planning a wedding along Maine’s coast, the idea of being married by a sea captain holds a certain nostalgic appeal. We happen to know local seafarer who’s keeping the tradition alive and well.
Captain Ken Barnes is a master mariner and notary public who’s been officiating weddings for more than 30 years, both on land and at sea. He and his wife, Ellen, a captain herself, own the Captain Lindsey House Inn, a historic, nine-bedroom bed & breakfast located in nearby Rockland. World travelers and collectors, the couple operated the famed Schooner Stephen Taber for 25 years before taking over the B&B, earning a reputation for the warm hospitality that attracted coverage from national news outlets.
Captain Ken Barnes shares with us his background, his advice for planning your ceremony, and the secret to his marriage of more than 40 years.
Please tell us a bit about your background as a master mariner.
CAPTAIN KEN BARNES: I began sailing years before coming to Maine in 1976. That was the year my wife and I discovered there were historic schooners still operating on the coast of Maine. We moved here from North Carolina to buy the historic Schooner Stephen Taber and never looked back.
My sailing experience over the years has included yacht deliveries to the West Indies, racing in the North Sea, various vessels along the Eastern Seaboard and Gulf of Mexico, tugboats involved with ship docking and undocking, island ferries in midcoast Maine, and for 25 years master of the Stephen Taber, America’s oldest documented pure sail merchant vessel in continuous service since 1871.
Where is the Stephen Taber today? Does the boat host wedding ceremonies?
CAPTAIN KEN BARNES: My son, Noah, took over as her master seven years ago and is continuing the tradition. The Taber is occasionally the scene of a wedding during one of their cruises, however, normally it would be as a day sail during a weekend of standard turn-around between cruises. The Taber can accommodate 48 guests for such a day sail as a wedding venue. Interested parties can contact them directly at https://www.stephentaber.com
You’ve been marrying couples for more than 30 years. How did you get started?
CAPTAIN KEN BARNES: Time does fly when you are having fun. I suppose I began because people kept asking me. It is a rather long-held romantic notion to be married by a sea captain and where better than along the coast of the beautiful state of Maine. My main goal is to provide a couple with a ceremony that reflects what they are about. I think we have all attended weddings that left you wondering at the end what it was all about other than some impersonal formal pronouncement. I know from my own comfortable and loving marriage of many years what is important and I try to impart those thoughts with those I meet.
Please tell us about a memorable ceremony you’ve officiated.
CAPTAIN KEN BARNES: Years ago on the eve of one of our weeklong cruises, I was approached by one of our male passengers, who asked me if I was able to perform a marriage ceremony during the cruise. I said that I could. He said, “Great, I’ll have to ask her and get back to you.” The next morning at breakfast he said, “She said yes, I guess we’re on.”
Before departure, the two of them went to the town office and obtained their license, bought rings from a local jeweler, a nice dress for her and a suit for him. During the cruise, word leaked out that there was to be a wedding that Friday evening at anchor. Gradually during the course of the cruise, the ship’s company took it upon themselves to pick up items such as crepe paper streamers, balloons, cards and much bubbly. My wife baked a three-tiered cake that somehow became decorated.
Friday evening came, and after anchoring and getting the vessel secured and canopies set, a very touching wedding took place with two lovely people sharing their moment with twenty-seven good friends they had met only days before. The core of a lasting marriage was there, only the dressing was a bit more basic.
Can you offer some tips for couples about planning their ceremonies, or writing their vows?
CAPTAIN KEN BARNES: A ceremony comes from the heart and as such should speak to you. The same applies to any personal vows. I like to use even-handed vows that are mutual and reflect respect and support and sharing and encouragement and above all, a deep and abiding friendship. This is in great contrast to the old-style “You will love and obey.” To this end, I like to meet with couples in person or, at the very least, speak at length by phone to gain the insights I need to craft their ceremony.
You’ve been married for several decades. Any advice for those just about to embark on married life?
CAPTAIN KEN BARNES: I married my best friend. I had worked professionally with Ellen and we respected one another and enjoyed each other’s company. Whenever I had an idea, insight, or for that matter anything on my mind that I needed to share or bounce off someone, she would be that person. Getting married seemed like the obvious extension of the very right relationship. That feeling has never changed. I look for that basic friendship in those I come across and fully believe that it is THE key to a lasting and meaningful marriage.