It was a picture perfect warm and sunny day in early September when the 100-year-old schooner Ladona was rafted to the schooner Ernestina-Morrissey at Hodgdon Marina in Boothbay Harbor.
Ladona, an 82-foot, two-masted, gaff-rigged, topsail schooner, was built to be a private yacht at Hodgdon Boatyard in East Boothbay and launched on May 31, 1922. Owners Noah and Jane Barnes and Captain-designer J.R. Braugh decided to designate one of the 2022 season weeks in commemoration.
Formerly the Nathaniel Bowditch, Ladona was transformed between 2014 and 2016 in Thomaston at Lyman Morse Boatbuilding into an elegant, luxurious yacht that accommodates 16 passengers (eight fewer than before), designed by Braugh.
The Barneses, who also own the Stephen Taber – previously owned by Noah’s parents – envisioned spacious cabins, hot and cold running water, high end linens, and a brand new galley from which gourmet meals would be served. And, that is just what they have – including something you just don’t see on schooners: a dining table affixed to the deck of the ship. And the passengers love it. Braugh said they use it all the time – and there is a leaf that can be added to the table to seat all 16 passengers! Braugh explained how it was designed to make the table work as a deck fixture. Pointing to the raised areas on the deck below the bench seating, Braugh said. “Two abbreviated cabin trunks form two sections of the cupola, which form the light and ventilation for the cabin house and hallway. They also form a place for people’s feet while sitting at the table. Guests love it and really engage with each other.
“Structurally,” he continued, “that led to the creation of a deck house (to the left of the table), that is space and shelter for guests as well as being the backstop of the table structure and cabin trunks. All together, it’s a very unorthodox permanent addition to a deck for a windjammer or a sailboat.”
Decking is native Maine white pine, but the bench seats, table and leaf are made of an African mahogany called Sipo, from the Congo River basin. Braugh said it was just as hard, or harder, than mahogany. Sipo was also used for the galley counter and the table and bench seating there.
The passengers aboard Ladona were joined by special guests Jane Barnes invited to a celebratory cocktail party. The guests on Sept. 8 were Steve Lyons, director of Maine Office of Tourism; Terry Philbrick, former owner of the vessel (with late husband, Gib) when Ladona was the Bowditch; sailmaker Nat Wilson and Rhonda Friedman, Dana Wilson, representing Boothbay Region Historical Society; and Ian McKay, dockmaster at the Marina representing Hodgdon Yachts.
Gov. Janet Mills was invited to the centennial celebration, but was in Boston. Mills did, however, send a proclamation in her stead. Included among all the “Whereas’s” were these facts: Ladona was original owner Homer Loring’s private yacht designed by William Hand. Just one year after setting sail, Ladona won first place in her class in the 1923 Bermuda Cup. She was named after the U.S. Naval gunship Loring’s father served on during the Civil War; Ladona was also a submarine patrol ship during WWII; a fishing trawler in Connecticut renamed Jane Doré; a sail-training education ship as the Nathaniel Bowditch; and today the 82-foot beauty is a luxury multi-day or weeklong getaway for couples, families, singles … even small weddings!
And with gourmet Chef Anna Miller in the galley, the passengers will tell you the food will be outrageously good. Miller, who has spent 10 years on charter schooners, prepared lamb chops as the menu for the centennial, served after the multiple cheese, fruit and cracker nibbles; wine, always selected by Jane, was flowing – and conversations were, too!
Some of the passengers aboard Ladona were from Los Angeles, the Boston area, and upstate New York and were happy to share their rave reviews about the weeklong sail, including the beautiful settings, great food and the hot showers.
Susannah and Brooks Read of Concord, Massachusetts were loving their first schooner getaway and already had plans to return next year. “The gourmet food, the comraderie, and the crew make this an absolute treat,” Susannah said. “Each member of the crew has brought their own special skill sets, each one complementing the others. There’s a serenity, a calmness, and command Capt. J.R. possesses that puts you right at ease out on the water.”
Brooks found some of the crew members’ stories about their journeys around the world fascinating. “A couple of these guys are 21st century explorers, essentially. We’ve been learning about where we might go for more of our own adventures!”
For all the comfort their cabin afforded them, the Reads had been sleeping on the deck, in sleeping bags. “Yeah, we asked J.R. if we could do it and he said “Sure! Why not?” said Susannah. “Whatever you want – they are most accommodating.”
Hailing from Fredonia, New York, Jim and Marcia Merrins are big fans of the schooner sailing vacation and have been doing it for years. The Merrinses book back-to-back trips with the Barneses and have been since 2018 aboard the Taber and Ladona.
“The scenery is beautiful and the food is great,” said Marcia. “And the passengers change each time so that’s fun. The reality is it’s very relaxing for Jim and myself; you’re kind of away from everything. When you travel around, seeing places from the water you get a different perspective. Sometimes you don’t have cell phone service, can you imagine that? We are tempted by Ladona. We used to be more active on schooner trips, but now we like comfort and the relaxation and Ladona is just perfect.”
Brad and Raquel McClellan of Los Angeles, California read about Ladona in Travel & Leisure magazine and decided the experience sounded like a fun adventure. “The food, the food is great and the sights – islands and homes … and being able to travel by wind power you don’t feel like you’re making a huge carbon footprint,” said Brad.
“This is amazing! Every day I love it more,” Raquel said. “The crew is wonderful and it’s a very interesting group. Everyone has a great story. We go paddle boarding or swim and then sail off somewhere!”
Steve Lyons and the Maine Office of Tourism promote windjammer sailing trips, but he believes more promotion is needed. “I’m not sure what a windjammer tour is has been marketed as well as it should be. I’m not sure people understand the depth of the experience,” Lyons said. “Going forward, we will be looking at how we can help fill these vessels, and others, that give you that true feeling of coastal Maine and the maritime history.”
Peggy Garland and husband Stephen Tucker, also Baystaters who’d sailed on the Taber, decided to check out the Ladona because they were looking for a touch more luxury. And for Stephen, the places Ladona drops anchor – the coves, Monhegan Island, the sunsets, and the moon rising – are what he likes most. Peggy grew up in Gloucester and has been on the water since girlhood. The sea is in her bones, she said, and then touched on a bit of what Lyons was talking about: “I think there’s something in our collective consciousness as humans – we understand there’s something about these boats that is essential to civilization and survival; we just feel it. There’s something we learn in this environment that we need for the future and ... it is so profoundly peaceful.”