In Thomaston, A Couple Saves a Classic Maine Schooner Just in Time for Its Centennial

After a painstaking restoration, the Hindu is about to hit the water again as it sails toward its second century.

Josh Rowan and Erin Desmond (seated), in Thomaston with the crew restoring their historic schooner Hindu
Josh Rowan and Erin Desmond (seated), in Thomaston with the crew restoring their historic schooner Hindu.
By Nora Saks
Photos by Dave Waddell
From our June 2024 issue

The first time Josh Rowan laid eyes on Hindu was in 2007, when he agreed to captain it for a friend who ran a charter company in the Florida Keys and Massachusetts. The 1925 schooner had been partially restored at the time, and Rowan was immediately smitten. “I thought, what a gorgeous boat,” he recalls. “A boat has two things, form and function, and with Hindu they’re really well-balanced. At that point, I’d probably sailed on 300 different boats and seen thousands, and she was my favorite.” 

After Rowan’s friend wound up in a legal dispute with a business partner, though, the elegant old vessel was repossessed by the bank and, still in need of significant repairs, left neglected. Rowan next saw Hindu a few years later, in Key West. It was chained to a marina dock, infested with wood-eating shipworms, sinking ever so slightly with every passing day. “Mushrooms were growing out the back,” he says, “and you could put a pencil through the planks.”

Views of the work in progress earlier this year.

Rowan had grown up sailing and, at age 15, started his own charter company, specializing in Key West sunset sails. His passion for commercial seafaring, though, started to wane in his late 20s, and he was thinking of leaving the business — until he fell in love with Hindu. In 2011, he and his father, Bill, went in together on purchasing the boat, and once it was seaworthy again, it became the centerpiece of a Provincetown- and Key West–based fleet they christened Hindu Charters.

The hull had received patchwork fixes over the years, and the boat would at some point require a thorough restoration, but a freak accident eventually moved up the timeline. In 2020, Rowan and his now-wife, Erin Desmond, manager of Hindu Charters, were sailing through Long Island Sound when they struck a submerged yacht. Hindu sprang a leak and limped back to Provincetown. From there, they motored all the way to the midcoast town of Thomaston, pumping out water as they went, then had the schooner trucked a short way to a lot on the side of Route 1, where it has spent the past four years.

For Hindu, the trip to Maine was a homecoming. Along with the official state sailing vessel, Bowdoin (based at Castine’s Maine Maritime Academy), and the Rockland charter vessel Ladona, it’s one of only a handful of remaining schooners by famed designer William Hand Jr., and it was constructed at what’s now Hodgdon Yachts, in East Boothbay. At 63 feet long, with two masts, Hindu was initially a grand pleasure craft named Princess Pat. It changed hands and names twice more before an entrepreneur purchased it in 1938, sailed it to India on spice-trading expeditions, and bestowed its present name. Then, during World War II, Hindu was painted battleship gray, equipped with a 50-caliber machine gun, and commissioned by the government to stalk German U-boats. After the war, it found new purpose as a sightseeing boat, stalking whales in Cape Cod Bay, and it has plied the tourist trade ever since.

Rowan and Desmond brought the damaged Hindu back to its home state because Maine is one of the few places with a critical mass of skilled craftspeople who understand old wooden boats. To lead the repairs, they hired shipwrights Simon Larson and Mike Rodgers, whose past projects include rehabbing Ladona. In Thomaston, Hindu has been enclosed in a timber-frame, plastic-wrapped barn, which makes it feel a bit like a giant ship in a bottle. Almost the entire hull, wooden keel, and decking needed to be reconstructed, each frame, plank, and bung removed while battens preserved all of the schooner’s original contours. “If you do that, then it’s a rebuild, not a replica, because you’ve never lost the soul of the boat,” Desmond says. “It would have been way easier, and cheaper, to just start from scratch, but there’s something to be said for doing things right and doing things well, even if it means years of your life.”

blueprints of the Schooner Hindu
Detailed blueprints helped ensure that, as Desmond put it, the “soul of the boat” was preserved. 

When construction wraps, the crew will rig up the sails in time for a June 15 celebration to kick off Hindu’s centennial year. The boat will slip back into the water in Thomaston, Rowan and Desmond will break a bottle of champagne across the bow, and a few weeks later, they’ll sail back to Provincetown, where Hindu will resume its career as one of the longest-running charter boats on the Eastern Seaboard. “Whatever lies ahead,” Rowan says, “we won’t let her die on our watch.”

The public is invited to a June 15 celebration of Hindu’s relaunching, in Thomaston, at Lyman-Morse (84 Knox St.) and the neighboring Slipway restaurant (24 Public Landing). Visit sailasyouare.org for more information.

May 2024, Down East Magazine

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