ROCKLAND, Maine — Captain Noah Barnes said he has been in love with the schooner Ladona said he was a kid.
The 44-year-old captain got the opportunity two years ago to buy the historic 82-foot vessel — which was then sailing under the name of the Nathaniel Bowditch. And after 20 months of hard work, the Ladona was recommissioned Friday at Windjammer Wharf in Lermond’s Cove in Rockland.
The recommissioning on Friday attracted a large crowd, including captains both active and retired.
Barnes already owned and operated the schooner Stephen Taber when the Bowditch became available. The person holding the mortgage on the vessel foreclosed on the previous owners in early 2014.
“Sailors always have a wandering eye and I liked the look of the Bowditch,” Barnes said.
When it appeared the Bowditch could end up on the scrap heap, Barnes said he made the decision to buy it.
“I cannot say it was a business decision but more an emotional decision,” the captain said. “But I want to prove that the business model of rebuilding a schooner and making it a commercial success still works.”
Barnes said he is optimistic that it will work. The first trip for the rebuilt Ladona will be June 2. The Ladona will carry 16 guests with a five-member crew. The schooner will offer three-to-six-day sailing adventures which he said will be a very personalized vacation experience.
The inaugural sail is nearly fully booked and bookings for the remainder of the sailing season are strong, he said.
Capt. J.R. Braugh has been hired to skipper the Ladona. Braugh has been a captain of yachts and involved in marine interests for more than 20 years, Barnes noted. Braugh is also the lead guitarist for the band Dolphin Strikers, of which Barnes also is a member.
The restoration of the Ladona was not an easy task, Barnes acknowledged.
When the project started, he estimated that 40 to 50 percent of the schooner would have to be rebuilt. The budget was based on that estimate. But, as the work progressed, the poor condition of the vessel became evident. In the end, 90 percent of the schooner was rebuilt.
Little of the original timber remains, save for parts of the schooner such as the keel, the stem and the horn timber. The entire deck was replaced, as was the cabin.
“Along the way, there came hard choices. I had to decide, ‘Is that good enough?’ or to take it all out and make it new,” he said. His answer was always to rebuild and replace.
Barnes said he was extremely proud of the restoration work that was done by a dedicated work crew of master builders. The crew averaged 12 people over 20 months.
Many community businesses have helped out along the way, he said. One example was the hardware on the Ladona. He said he could have gone with less expensive doorknobs but instead went for the top quality and purchased them from the local Lowe Hardware in Rockland (not to be confused with the national chain of Lowe’s Home Improvement stores).
Lowe Hardware makes handcrafted solid brass door handles. There are 15 doors on board the Ladona and he said the company “did him a solid” by providing the custom-made equipment for a discounted price.
The Ladona was built as a yacht in 1922 for the Loring family. The 82-foot schooner was enlisted in 1942 by the U.S. Coast Guard to patrol for German U-boats off New York Harbor during World War II, earning both the Victory Medal and the American Campaign ribbon. Representatives from the Coast Guard were on hand Friday to present the Ladona with the service ribbons.
Following the war, the vessel worked as a fishing dragger and a training vessel and then finally joined the Maine Windjammer fleet in 1971 under the name Nathaniel Bowditch.
Ladona is a member of the Maine Windjammer Association.