BY PAUL BENSON JUL 23, 2020
PROVINCETOWN — An evening aboard the schooner Hindu, watching the sun slip behind the monument and clouds light up like giant hydrangeas, has been a Provincetown tradition since 1946. Generations of tourists and locals have memories of their time aboard and many residents, including this reporter, have served as crew. If events had gone just slightly differently a couple of Fridays ago, memories are all that would be left of her.
The Hindu and her crew survived a bizarre maritime accident in Long Island Sound on July 10. Only a few feet to the left or to the right, and the freak collision could have sunk her in minutes.
The Hindu was already a living relic — an original wooden schooner built in 1925, the tail end of the era of massive sailing ships and pleasure yachts. Designed by the legendary boatbuilder William Hand Jr., the Hindu is one of only a handful of wooden boats that are still around.
Part of her survival story is her peculiar ownership history. Built as a pleasure yacht with two cabins, she was gutted and retrofitted for crew during the Great Depression, and sailed to India as a commercial vessel. Not long after, the U.S. Coast Guard requisitioned her for the Second World War effort. Though wooden sailing vessels were obsolete, they could run without engine noise, which made them undetectable by German U-boats. Fishing schooners and pleasure yachts were used to hunt for U-boats in 1942 and 1943, calling in the location of periscope sightings to bomber pilots.
After the war, Al Avellar bought the Hindu from the Coast Guard and brought her to Provincetown. Since the Coast Guard had already retrofitted her, the transition to tourism went smoothly. She took passengers on twice-daily harbor cruises, and, on calm days, Avellar would steer his customers out to Stellwagen Bank to see whales — an activity that proved so popular, he started the Dolphin Fleet of whale watch boats.
For 60 years, under a series of owners, the Hindu lived in Provincetown like other year-rounders: working seven days a week in the summer and spending winters bundled up and dry. In 2004, Capt. Kevin “Foggy” Foley and his business partners took the Hindu to Key West, Fla., to work winter seasons. The partnership quickly fell apart, however, and Foley lost the Hinduto a bank in 2009.
While tied up in the courts, she sank at her mooring and was nearly scuttled for scrap. A maritime family in Key West bought her in 2011 and restored her. Now, Capt. Josh Rowan brings the Hindu back to Provincetown every June to sail the summer season in her historic home port.
It was on that annual voyage back to Provincetown that the Hindu nearly met her end. At 3:30 a.m. on the morning of July 10, in more than 100 feet of water in Long Island Sound shipping lanes, the Hindu suddenly jolted as if it had run aground.
“I knew that was impossible,” said First Mate Erin Desmond. “It was my watch. I was looking straight at the instruments, and I knew we were in the center of the channel.”
Capt. Rowan, who was at the helm and looking forward, saw what had happened first. “The bow of a fiberglass yacht rolled out of the water and pointed up at the sky, like a sinking Titanic,” said Rowan. “It stood 12 feet out of the water as we slid past it, and the white hull made it look like a manmade iceberg.” The Hindu passed the “boatberg,” and Desmond, looking towards Rowan at the stern, saw it slide straight down into the ocean and disappear.
Based on where the Hindu made contact, several feet below the waterline, Rowan thinks the sunken yacht was suspended in the water column. He estimates it at 30 to 40 feet long, and with enough air trapped inside it, it would have sunk only a few feet. There were no reports of lost yachts; no one knows how long it could have been drifting with the currents. When the boat rolled and pointed skyward, it could have released its trapped air and sunk for good.
“I called mayday to the Coast Guard and ran down below to check if we were sinking,” said Rowan. The Hindu had struck the submerged vessel square on, with the strong structural parts of the bow bearing the force of the collision.
“It broke the joints of the stem, and several of the hood ends, where the planks tie into the stem,” Rowan said. “We were taking on water, but not so much that the redundant bilge pumps couldn’t handle it. If it had been just a couple of feet over, to the right or left — if it had made first contact with the planking of the hull, rather than the stem — it would have sunk the boat. Quickly. We would have had 5 to 10 minutes before we were in the water, in survival suits.”
The crew of four would have survived — GPS and survival suits make a huge difference, Rowan added. But the Hindu would have been one more wrecked schooner at the bottom of the sea.
Rowan had been planning a comprehensive rebuild of the Hindu — “the kind of work that will carry her through the next 100 years,” he said. The front and back of the boat were built to curve upwards, like a saddle or a smile. The Hindu is old enough that the bow and stern both sag downwards. This puts all kinds of problematic pressure and tension on the planking of the hull.
To replace decking, hull, and keel is an enormous undertaking, however. It’s a 12-month project, done entirely by hand, and there’s rarely a good year to forgo an entire year’s income. Covid had Rowan thinking this was the year, and the collision made that an obvious choice.
“We’re taking her to Maine, and working with a legendary shipwright named Mike Rogers,” said Rowan. “Erin and I will do a lot of the organizing and labor and project management alongside him.”
Rowan and Desmond have set up a community fund-raising page on GoFundMe.com. “Promise to the Schooner Hindu” has a $500,000 campaign goal. “None of that is to pay me or Erin,” said Rowan. “That’s for materials, shipwright, shipyard, and journeymen, so that when she turns 100 years old in a few years, she’s in condition to last another 100.”
Alex Darus Banner Correspondent
PROVINCETOWN — When 40-year-old Josh Rowan first was asked to captain the Schooner Hindu in Key West back in 2007, he had absolutely no interest in returning to sea.
But 13 years later, as the Hindu reaches its 100th anniversary, Rowan and his father Bill, the owners of the Hindu Charters and the Schooner Hindu, are on a mission to restore the boat to be in better shape than it was when it was first built back in 1925.
“This rebuild is kind of like homage to her absolute original design,” Josh Rowan said. “When she’s done she’ll be in the best shape she’s been in in 100 years.”
Rowan has organized an online GoFundMe campaign with a goal of raising $500,000 for the full renovation of the famed charter boat. Currently, the campaign has raised about $15,000.
The boat’s 100th anniversary year will be in 2025, but they hope to have the boat completely restored by then. The ship was built in East Boothbay, Maine by the Hodgdon Brothers, and it was designed by William Hand.
It has been sailing in Provincetown since 1947, first with Al Avellar and then John Bennett until his death in 2002.
The Schooner Hindu served in World War II as a scout. It sailed to India to pick up spices after the Great Depression and it helped initiate the whale watching industry in Provincetown. It’s been one of the longest running charter boats on the East Coast. It is one of only a few William Hand Schooners still sailing in the world, according to the GoFundMe page.
“She’s been there and done that. She’s the real McCoy,” Rowan said.
Rowan says he has sailing in his blood, as his father built a wooden boat when he was a child, which he later used to start his first charter company at age 15.
But once he left that company at age 23 to get an engineering degree, he thought he was done sailing for good. Until his friend Kevin Foley “begged” him to visit Florida in 2007, just to check out the boat he wanted Rowan to captain.
“The boat came into view and it kind of changed where my path in life was,” Rowan said.
Since Rowan first saw the Hindu, he’s recognized that she hasn’t been able to operate at her full potential. The boat was built as a 1920s yacht but after years of wear, she had become more of a work boat. In 2011, too, when the Hindu was repossessed by a bank and headed to the dump, Rowan and his father decided they had to save her.
“At that time we didn’t have the money or the wherewithal to do a full restoration that she needed,” Rowan said.
The boat was in rough shape, but Rowan and his father were able to fix her up to operate charters to make some money before starting the complete renovation, which originally was to begin this fall. But on July 10 while traveling to Provincetown, the Hindu had a “freak accident” and was hit by an unmarked, unreported submerged vessel. It was damaged in the accident, but according to the fundraiser, if it was hit at any other angle, it would have sunk completely.
“It was a real shock to the system,” Rowan said. After that, Rowan realized they wouldn’t be able to charter for the 2020 season, which he anticipated would be one of the Hindu’s best years yet prior to the coronavirus outbreak. But after a complete examination, they had no choice but to go to Maine and start the rebuild 5 months early, he said.
The Hindu is currently being renovated in Thomaston, Maine, a town famous for schooner building decades ago.
“It’s kind of apropos that this is where we’re doing it,” Rowan said. “This is kind of bringing back a little piece of history.”
Rowan anticipates the repairs will be complete June 1, 2021 and the Hindu will be able to sail next season. Right now, there are two master shipwrights, who have worked on two sister ships of the Hindu, along with Rowan, completing the work. But as the renovations progress, Rowan anticipates they will need to expand the team.
As for the rebuild, Rowan is looking at using the best materials possible to make the boat more stable, and make the repairs as long lasting as possible.
“When she’s finished, there will be better materials used in her than there were when she was first built,” Rowan said.
While the Hindu will relaunch next summer with the head, galley and simple plywood bunks, Rowan and his father plan to take the boat to Key West next winter to rebuild the interior true to the original vessel, which he said is their “favorite part” of the process.
The sheer legacy of the Hindu makes Rowan feel that the project is bigger than himself. He said that while his family members are the official owners of the boat, they feel more like stewards.
“The boat’s been around so much longer than we have and everything you do is hoping that you are helping the boat to be around again for that much longer than you are,” Rowan said.
To protect that legacy, Rowan hopes to create a non-profit foundation in the next few years that would own the Hindu. The board could include members from families like the Avellars and Bennetts that have long standing histories with the Hindu, he said. While it would be owned by a non-profit, he’d like for that foundation to lease the Hindu to a for-profit so that it can make money, and be used for what it’s always done — taking people out on charter for a reasonable rate and “keeping the tradition alive,” Rowan said.
The GoFundMe page will be continuously updated with information on the repair process. It’s been “amazing” to scroll through the list of everyone who’s donated and remember times that they may have sailed on the boat, he said.
“It’s just wonderful to see people in this time being generous to the Hindu because it is a really hard time for everyone and it means that much more to us,” Rowan said.
Sat, 10/17/2020 – 8:15pm
The Schooner Hindu. (Photo by Freas Photography)
THOMASTON — A schooner built almost a century ago in East Boothbay Harbor is being restored in Thomaston in an effort to rehabilitate the schooner into its best condition ever.
The Schooner Hindu is hailed by its current owners, Josh and Bill Rowan, as a living ambassador of maritime history.
The Hindu was built in 1925 by Hodgdon Brothers and designed by yacht designer William Hand. The schooner is one of a few Hand vessels still sailing in the world.
The Rowans have chosen Thomaston as the base for the schooner’s restoration for several reasons, including the town’s historical relevance to maritime history.
“In researching boatyards, and knowing what a huge project this was going to be, we realized it would be more cost effective longterm to buy land to get the project done,” said Erin Desmond, who works with Hindu Charters, the company that owns the Hindu. “We had chosen our shipwrights, and needed to find a locale that was convenient for them. Additionally, we needed to find a property that the Hindu could make it to over land, which limited our options quite significantly despite the willingness of Dan Miller from Belmont Boatworks to look at every option we proposed. Aside from Thomaston’s proximity to our shipwrights and a big enough travel lift at Lyman Morse, we were drawn to the Sea Captains houses in Thomaston, and it’s history as one of the most prodigious ship building ports in the country. We feel very lucky to have Thomaston as our home for this project, and for ourselves once the project is done.”
The Hindu has a storied past, and once served as a scout for German U-boats during World War II, according to the Rowans, and sailed to India to collect spices following the Great Depression.
The Hindu helped initiate the whale watching industry, per the Rowans, and has been one of the longest running charter boats on the East Coast, calling Provincetown, Massachusetts, home port since 1947.
Length: 63-feet on deck
Primarily crafted with white oak
Sail area: 2,100 square feet
Draft: 8 feet
Under the Rowans’ ownership period, since 2004, the hollow spars have been replaced, as well as the main and main boom, fore and foreboom, and a specially designed jackyard spar.
“Dave Berig designed and made the Dacron sails with intricate hand stitching details throughout including the grommets and rope footings,” said Desmond. “The Hinduhas gained a knot in all conditions due to the sails Dave made.”
After navigating the earth’s waters for 95 years, a major overhaul to the Hindu became apparent to her owners.
“Short and simple, it needed to be done,” Desmond said. “The Hinduhas been through some abuse in her 95 years including sinking at the dock in Key West, Florida, while she was in possession of a bank before [we] purchased her. She was iron fastened when she was built; over the years with fresh water leaking in through her decks, her frames and fasteners were progressively decaying. We were sick of applying bandages to a wounded soldier who deserves better.”
The Rowans are still in the beginning stages of the Hindu restoration project, and a $500,000 fundraising effort is underway for the project. To date, the GoFundMe page has raised approximately $40,000 since the end of June, though there have also been some donations from businesses.
“The Hindu is currently a bare backbone with some hull planking remaining for protection and shape, while we [assess] what can stay and what has to go,” said Desmond. “All of the bottom sections of framing will be replaced, and many of the uppers as well. Our shipwrights are using locust to make new frames, which has already given the Hindu twice as much stability and strength. Additionally, locust marries well with purple heart, which we are using for our new keel timber. They share properties that we appreciate; low levels of swelling, and high static and dynamic load bearing.”
The new hull planking will come from the Rowans’ property in Oregon, where up to 500-year-old dead standing trees are being milled for use.
“The Hindu will have a sprung wood composite teak deck,” said Desmond. “Some of her deck framing will remain, and some will be replaced. The cabin house will be rebuilt, and the interior will be sketched in for a further down the road reconditioning to her original layout. This is an ambitious once in a century rebuild. We hope that, with regular general maintenance, it will keep the Hindu sailing for at least another 100 years.”
Why, however, is it important to restore the schooner?
“We continue to pour our hearts and souls into the Schooner Hindu because we believe in her spirit, and the magic she brings with her from this century and the last,” said the Rowans. “We believe she is worthy of any and all acts of preservation, and would be honored if you’d join us in the quest to keep her sailing through these Covid times and beyond to the good times that have yet to come.”
To donate to the GoFundMe campaign and find out more information, visit https://gf.me/u/ynn2k4.