The White Hot Spotlight features local people and their creative passions or careers.
Capt. Brenda Thomas is a schooner owner/captain and the co-owner of Maine Boating Adventures, LLC . She is married with two kids and lives in Rockland. Thomas has been sailing since 1994, mostly on schooners in Maine, but also in the Chesapeake, Caribbean, and through the Panama Canal up the west coast to Los Angeles.
Q: As a captain, it's clear your passion is schooners and boats. How did you get into this life style and what motivates you every day about it?
A: Honestly, some days are easier than others. When it's sunny and warm with the gentle breezes of summer, it's easy. There are the windy, rainy days that are more work, but it still beats being in an office!
My involvement with the Isaac H. Evans began in late summer of 1995, when I took over the position as mess mate from a young lady who 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 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 roller coaster 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.
Q: Do you own both The Isaac H. Evans and the M/V Rendezvous or do you just manage the two businesses under one package?
I love that this boat has been through so much and she is still here. I enjoy being her steward for now to make sure she is alive and well for the next caretaker.
I bought the Evans in 1999. I had been a crew member since 1995 and the business was essentially turn-key. I bought Rendezvous in 2007 and spent that winter rebuilding a lot of her. We started operating Rendezvous in the summer of 2008. I incorporated on January 1, 2008; the business name is Maine Boating Adventures, LLC. I had given some thought to offering kayak trips at some point, so "boating" was the only thing I could think of that would cover sail boats, power boats, and kayaks.
Q: Explain the benefits of promoting not only a classic schooner trip throughout the Midcoast, but also a sightseeing harbor tour. In other words, when people come to Maine, what do they want to see and how do you fulfill that wish for an authentic experience?
A: Over the years it seems that people plan their vacations differently. I'm sure the economy is the biggest factor. When I first started in the windjammer business, people were making their reservations up to a year in advance. By the time spring outfitting rolled around, I had a pretty clear picture of what the summer was going to look like. Now people make their reservations much later - sometimes only weeks in advance. And we have even more last-minute reservations. By the time spring outfitting rolls around, we really don't know exactly what the summer is going to look like and we hope the weather is nice so people think of traveling to Maine and going out on the water.
The other trend I've seen over the years is vacationers opting for shorter boating excursions. In the beginning, windjammer trips were almost all six nights; board Sunday night return to the dock Saturday morning. Now our most popular trip is four nights. In the last two years we've also tested one- and two-night trips. Most people just don't have the time, nor the budget to spend an entire week on the bay like they used to.
Even though Rendezvous isn't a sailboat, I saw her potential as a beautiful platform to offer lighthouse cruises and lobster-dinner cruises for people who just wanted to get out on the water and maybe have drink or two along the way, kind of like a classy party boat. We've done birthday parties, bachelorette parties, corporate parties, weddings, and funerals at sea in addition to our regular cruises and special event cruises (like the Windjammer Parade cruise). We were even the platform for the filming of a Kenny Chesney music video a couple years ago and Kenny was on board for an entire day.
Q. How do you find enjoyment every day in what you do?
A: I like that, although there is a basic schedule to every day, every day is different because of the guests, weather, wildlife, and the problems that crop up. I like being versatile and being able to meet the challenges that arise. I work very well under pressure and like the instinctual decision-making that kicks in in those situations. I also like "boring" - when everything is moving along like a well-oiled machine and we just do what we do.
I like climbing aloft and feeling the power of the boat and her masts (I'm still amazed that such a big, heavy boat moves with just the power of the wind!) I like taking guests ashore and exploring alongside them. I love Maine and I love the area that I get to sail in with its thousands of islands and anchorages. We welcome kids on our trips and I find great enjoyment in watching them experience the schooner; from the fun of pirate play to the seriousness of taking the helm. I strive to take repeat guests to harbors they haven't visited before. I like to sand and paint and get great satisfaction from the finished product. I love that this boat has been through so much and she is still here. I enjoy being her steward for now to make sure she is alive and well for the next caretaker. She has taught me so much - about her, about life, about sailing, plumbing, electricity, carpentry, and mechanics, and, most importantly, about myself.
Q: You also play in a steel drum band for fun. Ever think of combining the two and doing a steel drum cruise?
A: I have taken my drum on board a few times but, unfortunately, it's not the most portable instrument, especially on a boat where space is already tight!