and raised in Maine (one of only two captains in the fleet
that are!), my family can claim no ancestral "salts" that I know of. I
was born in Farmington, but I'm not telling what year! I didn't grow up
sailing but I did grow up around water. My grandparents had a house on
a lake and I spent almost every weekend there during the summer as a
kid swimming, fishing, water skiing, and *gasp* power boating. My
family moved to southern Maine near the coast when I was 5 years old
and then mid-coast Maine when I was 9 and I have been here ever since.
I've had many articles written about me over the years and one quote
that hits home the most for me is "...
when you talk to Brenda about sailing, it's obvious that she was born
to be a windjammer captain." I would never have guessed when I was 18
that that was my career path!
I didn't complete a college education, but I do have lots of credits in accounting, economics, and banking law. I worked for almost 6 years at a local bank before I discovered sailing. While bookkeeping on the side for the schooner Wendameen, I had the opportunity to sail on an overnight trip, and my connection with windjamming was instantaneous. It was magical and still plays like a movie in my head. Despite the security and stability that came with my job at the bank, I signed up to crew aboard the Wendameen. The president of the bank predicted I'd be back in six months; but here I am nineteen seasons later - still sailing!
My involvement with the Evans began in late summer of 1995 when I took over the position as mess mate from a young lady that was returning to college. I was the cook the following summer and then the First Mate for two summers before the schooner came up for sale in the fall of 1998. Though I had been keeping track of my sea time, when I purchased the Evans in February of 1999 I didn't yet have my captain's license. I spent that whole winter working on the boat and studying for my test. It was an absolute rollercoaster ride but about two weeks after the sale became final and the reality was finally starting to sink in, I called my mom and said, "I own a National Historic Landmark!"
In addition to sailing each season since 1994 in and around Penobscot Bay, I have found myself working on several other vessels in the off-season. I have sailed in the Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race several times, sailed all throughout the Caribbean from Trinidad to St. Thomas, through the Panama Canal, and up the west coast as far as Los Angeles. Although all those experiences were great in their own way, every time I sail somewhere else I appreciate our idyllic Maine coast even more.
Owning a windjammer involves more than just sailing. Essentially, I have several jobs - electrician, carpenter, plumber, janitor, teacher, painter, camp counselor, and businesswoman. And I'll be totally honest when I admit that I had no idea what I was getting into! Thankfully I was surrounded by knowledgeable captains that were willing to help if I needed it, I learned quickly, and the old girl is patient with me. Now I'm just as happy and confident with a paintbrush as I am with a wrench, saw, mop, computer keyboard, multi-tester, caulking iron, welding rod, fork truck, or hammer.
Safety is my first priority. I take this responsibility very seriously and am licensed by the Coast Guard (100 ton Master - sail, power, and steam). I attend annual First Aid and CPR training to maintain my certifications and seek other educational opportunities to stay trained and informed.
I also take great pains to care for our environment. Windjamming is inherently one of the most environmentally benign vacations there is already, using the wind to get from one place to the other rather than the gallons and gallons of fuel big cruise ships use, but I go a few steps further. I attended a day-long extended Leave No Trace (LNT) training workshop in 2000 and set up a half-day training session for all of the captains in the Maine Windjammer Association in 2004. I always teach the ideals of LNT on board as well as encourage guests' support in our compost and recycling efforts. We don't throw anything overboard!
I take great pride in the Evans and its accomplishments. We were recently named a top attraction in New England Travel's Inaugural Readers' Choice Awards. In 2001, I received a Maine Tourism Award from Governor Angus King for my work with the Evans and Maine tourism. In 2006, I did something that I will probably talk about for years to come - we sailed the Evans into The Basin, a deep-water hurricane hole surrounded by the island of Vinalhaven. I had never heard of anyone in the fleet doing it before and it was always in the back of my mind as something that would be unique and exciting. It was one of the most amazing things I've ever experienced and one of my guests said that I sail the Evans like a dinghy. For a full account of our cruise into The Basin, visit our blog.
Everyone always asks, "What do you do in the winter?" Lots of people assume that I take the schooner south or just go on vacation somewhere warm, but I assure you that that is not the case! Even though we sail for just over four months of the year, the business is a year-round committment. There's web site maintenance, brochures to design, stuff, and distribute, phones to answer, bulk mailings to sign, seal, and send, correspondence, tax preparation, PR and advertising in addition to all the boat maintenance, sanding, painting, and varnishing that happens each year. I do find time to enjoy lots of other activities including the National Toboggan Championships, being a member of a local steel drum band, doing a weekly show on a local radio station, hiking, kayaking, reading, writing, knitting, cooking, traveling, volunteering, watching movies, and, most importantly, napping! New activities that I've picked over the last couple winters include Zumba, ice hockey, and motherhood!
I hope it is easy to see why I love what I do and that my enthusiasm and love of sailing is contagious. There's a certain sameness to what we do every day, but seeing it through the eyes of an excited guest makes me feel like I'm experiencing it for the first time. I hope I never lose that feeling.
Captain Brenda Thomas
PO Box 791
Rockland, ME 04841
toll free 1-877-238-1325