ROCKLAND, Maine — Capt. Brenda Thomas hopes that there is someone who would find owning and operating a historic wooden schooner as fulfilling as she has.
And that person could own the 99-foot Isaac H. Evans for $125 by winning an essay contest.
“The person doesn’t have to operate it as a schooner. They could live on it, turn it into a restaurant. A Scout group could get it and offer sail training. There are no strings attached,” she said.
Thomas said she hopes, however, that the person will be someone who has the passion she has for life at sea on a schooner.
Thomas is looking for up to 8,000 entries at $125 each. This would raise up to $1 million. The deadline for submissions is Oct. 31, but she reserves the right to extend the deadline for another 60 days.
Thomas said she will read each essay and then submit her favorite 20 to an independent panel of two people. She said she is not identifying who the two judges are but has given their names to the Maine Department of Public Safety’s gaming division.
The essay needs to be up to 200 words. Details of the contest are located in the notes section at the Win the Maine Windjammer Isaac H. Evans page on Facebook.
The schooner owner said she is confident she can read all the essays in November, saying she has practiced reading essays and can comprehend 200 words a minute. She said 8,000 entries is a maximum, and she reserves the right to accept fewer than that number.
Thomas grew up in Farmington and was exposed to the water through fishing, power boats and swimming on a lake, but she had never gone aboard a schooner.
She worked for six years for Camden National Bank and moonlighted by doing bookkeeping for the owners of the schooner Wendameen. In addition to the pay, she was offered a one-night trip on the Wendameen, which was then sailing out of Rockland.
“It was a life-changing event,” Thomas said.
That was in August 1993. By the next spring, she had resigned her job at the bank and took a job as a cook on the Wendameen. She worked her way up, holding every position from deckhand to a mate. In 1995, she joined the crew of the Evans and worked her way up to first mate.
“A lot of people don’t find their passion in life. I had been working inside where you look forward to the weekend and are disappointed if the weekend is rainy. I had been wearing business suits, permed hair, makeup, pantyhose, high heels and all that,” she said.
She acknowledged that the inside job offered security with health insurance and retirement benefits, but there was no passion.
“The wooden boat made me feel alive. I felt connected. Something struck me deep inside,” she said.
In 1999, the Isaac H. Evans came up for sale, and she jumped at the chance to buy it from Capt. Ed Glaser even though she had not captained a vessel. She earned her captain’s license before the start of the sailing season that year.
She acknowledged that running a schooner means you have to be handy at many things, such as electrical work, plumbing and painting. In a 1999 interview, she said that other schooner owners helped her in the transition.
The schooner business was strong until the recession hit in 2008 and then went through a few rough years, she said. The business has slowly recovered, and she said this year has been a fantastic one with the schooner full each trip and numerous requests for charter trips such as wedding anniversaries.
Thomas said the success of this summer has made her wonder whether she is making the right decision to sell the Evans. She still has a mortgage on the vessel, which she was planning to pay off in October 2017.
But family commitments have led to her decision to sell.
Thomas had wanted children for many years, but she and her husband were not successful in having any. The marriage ended, but her desire for having children did not.
She adopted two children as newborns — a 4-year-old son, Kai — whose Hawaiian name means ocean — and a daughter, Kamea, who turned 3 last Tuesday.
The captain said she started offering trips aboard the Evans shorter than her customary four-day adventures as a way to spend more time with her children. She said Kai and Kamea can tolerate the shorter trips. When on board, she has a nanny who cares for them. During the longer trips, the children stay with her parents.
“Basically, I am doing two things that I am passionate about and require a lot of energy,” the Rockland woman said about operating a schooner and raising children.
That is when she decided to sell the Evans. In early July, she launched the essay contest.
Thomas said she decided to go the essay route to set herself apart from other schooner owners who are trying to sell their vessels. In Rockland alone, the schooners Heritage, American Eagle and Victory Chimes are for sale.
She said that operating a schooner can be cost-prohibitive but that if someone can acquire one debt-free that would give them a significant advantage.
The Evans was built in 1886 and is on the national historic register. The Evans can carry 22 guests and four crew on overnight trips and can carry 39 passengers on day trips.
Thomas said she does not know what she will do when she sells the Evans. She owns another vessel, the Rendezvous. She said she could put that back in the water and offer day trips so that she can spend every evening with her children.
But as for the Evans, she said she hopes that someone with the same passion ends up with it.
“She’s been like a matriarch to me,” Thomas said about the schooner. “She has taught me so much and has so much more to teach.”