Maine Windjammer Winter Activities

What does a windjammer captain do in the winter? Read on...


What a Windjammer Captain Does in the Winter

Rebuilding the Evans' Stern

Probably the question I'm asked the most is, "What do you do in the winter?" I've told many people that I'm a hand model but that only works if we are face to face and you can get a good look at my working hands. When people look at my hands quizzically, I explain that I'm the "before" model. All joking aside, there's a lot of work to be done in the winter months to prepare for the busy sailing season. From sanding, painting, and varnishing, to advertising, PR, web site maintenance, and lots and lots of paperwork, there's plenty to keep me from spending the winter months somewhere warm.

Virginia Thorndike of Lincolnville writes about Penobscot Bay and area harbors for Columnists' opinions are their own. The Community Internet Station encourages submissions. Here's a peek at one winter project (two winters ago), originally published on Rockland's Internet News source:

(Feb 18, 2012): Someone thought they ought to have a work list for the schooner Isaac H. Evans. One is now prominently posted near the entrance to the plastic structure in which Captain Brenda Thomas and her shipbuilders are working at North End Shipyard in Rockland.

The Evans has already been up for several weeks, and Brenda hopes she's ready to launch again before too long, as she's paying for each day the schooner is on the railway. "You always round up, but it's always more money and more time than you expect," Brenda says. But of her schooner, she adds, "She's paying for it all."

Reservations for this coming summer's sails are ahead of last year, and Brenda has every expectation of a successful summer. Still, until the work is done, and the large expenses have come to an end, she can't help but be leary.

The projects include some plumbing, rebuilding the steering gear, and replacing the deadwood (timbers that provide solidity to the keel structure). Later in the spring, Brenda will be working on the centerboard, too. In order to do these jobs, much of the vessel has been torn apart.

Two cabins had to be completely dismantled, and a holding tank and a bunk came out in order to get at the centerboard pin. The steering gear is all in pieces. "That's original to the boat," Brenda says.

The Evans, built in New Jersey in 1886 as an oyster-dredging boat, has very little left that was there when she was young. "It's like grandfather's axe," Brenda says, quoting the old wooden-boat adage. "He's replaced the head twice and the handle three times, but it's the same axe.

North End has only done it once before, but they hauled the Evans backward so the workers would have better access to her after end. (Photos by Phil Roberts, Jr.)
This will be Brenda's third season running the schooner. Despite having trained as a banker, once she sailed, she was hooked on the windjammer business, and worked on a couple of schooners before landing on the Evans for good. She's been aboard since '95.

She feels extremely lucky to have been able to buy the vessel from former owner Ed Glaser, though she's been surprised at some aspects of being captain.
Captain Brenda Thomas. In January, she and the Isaac H. Evans won the Maine Tourism Award for Recreation Suppliers. "Ed always made it look easy. I've had to learn a lot about systems, the behind-the-scenes stuff. He was constantly working on things, things the crew and the passengers didn't know about. "But the biggest surprise, when you're doing it alone, is you have to realize what your strengths are, and you have to know where best to put your energies, and where to let go. I've been thinking of hiring a payroll service -- I went to school for that and I know how to do it, but is that the best use of my time?"

This winter Brenda is becoming more intimate with the innards of her schooner. Not knowing enough about boat building to run the project herself, she's had to hire shipwrights, but she's learning.

"I have a connection with her -- it almost seems invasive, this work. She's been through so much, but she's still alive. And I've been in places on this boat that probably only Ed and Doug and Linda have been before," she says, referring to the Lees, who rebuilt the schooner in the early 1970s when they brought her into the trade.

Captain Brenda Thomas. In January, she and the Isaac H. Evans won the Maine Tourism Award for Recreation Suppliers.

Jim Parker and Skip Connell

As Jim Parker walks by, Brenda tells us he's in charge. "First I've heard of it," says Jim. He's been in the wooden-boat building trade for over 25 years. Also working with them is his friend Skip Connell, a lobsterman facing a slow season.

"Jim and Skip and I made the hole," says Brenda of the process of removing the old deadwood. "That was pretty easy to do."

Skip puts the first new piece of deadwood in place in the hole.
Brenda is the least experienced boat builder in the crew, and takes on many of what she describes as mindless, repetitive jobs. Here she is filling the holes from old fastenings. Another year, Brenda will take far more responsibility. Recently, another professional boatbuilder, Chris Stickney, joined them. His first job for the Evans was to build the box in which they steam planks.
A propane burner creates steam, which is piped into the box holding the plank. In three hours, more or less, a two-inch oak plank becomes limp and ready to bend into place on the frames. Now they are hard at work replanking the deadwood area of the schooner.
Chris fits luan into place to make a pattern to cut a plank that will fit the space. They all pitch in to set a steamed plank in place. Before the plank is taken out of the steam box, Brenda arranges the operating room, putting all the tools and wedges and blocks where they'll be needed. Then she lends her muscle as they horse the plank around, make final cuts, and clamp it in place, and she holds the set as one of the men pounds the spike to fasten the plank to the frames.
Brenda and Chris pull the steaming plank into the protective shelter around the work area...
and lean on it...
while Jim wedges it into place aft.
It takes all of them to push and wedge and clamp it in place. There is still steam coming off the oak.
The plank doesn’t fit just right, so Jim takes a chisel to the end.
Although it has stopped steaming, the plank still has enough flexibility that they can wedge it down onto the plank beneath it.
They drill and spike and (here) set the spikes to fasten the plank to the ribs. The heat is nearly all gone now, perhaps 15 minutes after the plank came from the steam box.
A job well done. Donut break!