Learning to sail

One would be forgiven for mistaking the Adventuress for a pirate ship. With her tall masts and classic schooner shape, the Adventuress was originally built over 100 years ago as a passenger ship that traveled around South America. Now she provides adventure and learning opportunities for young people.

“People often wonder what we are doing sailing a ship that’s 100 years old with, you now, the leaders of tomorrow. What is this about, right? It’s really the interpersonal interaction and personal responsibility. It’s the discipline, uncomfort and challenge,” Captain Katelinn Shaw said.

Shaw began sailing on the Adventuress as a high school student, returning later as an intern and later still as a deckhand. After sailing other boats in dozens of different locations worldwide, she returned to her old friend the Adventuress.

“There is a lot of variety in every group. The hardest ones are the ones that don’t choose to be here,” Shaw said. “Not only are they nervous and uncomfortable, we have to convince them it’s worthwhile, interesting and fun.”

Chief Mate Gaia Wilson added “I’ve often had some of the most powerful experiences working with students where you’re not sure even by the end of the program whether you’ve gotten through to them, or they gotten anything out of it. Then they come back a year or two later and they walk by on the dock and they tell you how meaningful it really was for them. You can see it in the way they have grown.”

Wilson continued to tell the story of a student who was very reserved and appeared disengaged. She came back the following year to be the first person to answer questions, was excited and more confident overall. “I had her learning to do part of my job coordinating setting of the sails which involves yelling and wow she did great!” Wilson said.“That just would never have happened two years ago.”

Wilson grew up on San Juan Island, around water sailing. “I’ve always felt more comfortable on the water than I do on land, just in myself and the world.”

She worked her first season as a deckhand nine years ago. “It was the most challenging thing I’d ever done. It pushed me outside my comfort zone every single day. I’m a pretty shy and quiet person. It forced me to learn how to use my voice and be loud when I needed to, to take a leadership role that was not familiar or comfortable. Now that’s what I do every day. So for me, that’s what keeps me coming back to this ship. I’ve worked on many other boats but what keeps me coming back to this ship is that it’s the one that I’ve found that facilitates that transformation, [allows you to find] things that are challenging that you didn’t imagine you could be capable of and discovering that you are challenged and grow.”

Learning and growing seem to be in the Adventuress’ bones. After she carried travelers around South America, she was brought back to California. She sat in dry dock for years until Ernestine Bennett, of Seattle, bought the boat with the idea of using it to take troops of Girl Scouts sailing. Carol Haas crewed on the Adventuress beginning in 1980, it was where she got her original training.

“The magic of it is when teens get aboard. Even if they are snarky teens they realize they are way over their heads. It’s a sport that requires everyone to contribute, takes everyone to raise the sail,” Haas said.

Around 2000, Sound Experience, a nonprofit organization dedicated to Washington State Youth and the marine environment, bought the schooner continuing with the ship’s educational mission.

One key program Sound Experience has developed involves youth who would otherwise not have the opportunity to experience boats or the ocean, let alone sailing. The Community Foundation of Snohomish County has partnered with the nonprofit that takes low-income youth on five-day ventures around the San Juan archipelago.

“This is the fourth year, and the program is growing,” said Director of Connect Casino Road, Alvaro Guillen.

Connect Casino Road is a non-profit organization acting as a backbone organization for 25 service organizations co-located at the community center. The Village on Casino Road works with groups who are low-income marginalized, Guillen explained. The families often have transportation barriers meaning they either have no car or share a car that may have mechanical issues. According to Guillen, approximately 10 percent of the neighborhood doesn’t own a car. This means Connect Casino Roadgoes the extra mile to bring the youth to the Adventuress. The partnership breaks the transportation barrier by taking the youth by bus to the Port of Everett and back to the community center.

“Our mission goes beyond meeting families’ basic needs – to meet dreams and aspirations, to have fun and safe joy, [which] makes a difference to mental health issues too, which is what makes the program special,” Guillen said.

In August, one group was brought up to Anacortes where the teens rode the ferry to Friday Harbor and walked to the Port where the Adventuress, Shaw, Wilson and the rest of the crew were waiting. For some it will be the furthest they have been away from their family, and the most out of contact. The next few days aboard will be an adventure these young sailors will likely never forget.

One student, after participating in the program wrote to Guillen afterward “[These] were the five most fun days of my life, this trip has taught me many things but the most important is to live life and appreciate nature, I have learned to be responsible for myself, to grow as a person, to live in a group, to have respect, to survive on my own, the sea filled me with positive energies and living with the other members helped me to have an incredible trip, I feel so satisfied to have had the opportunity. This trip has helped me improve as a person.”

According to Haas, through sailing one can not help but learn and grow.

“You are living 24/7 with these people, sharing chores. It becomes really obvious you depend on one another. If the boat is the planet, and the crew life on Earth, you have to take care of the boat and each other or you are not going to make it,” she said. “There is nothing like sailing, period, but sailing on a wooden boat is a really magical experience.”

Heather Spaulding \ Staff photo
Gaia Wilson and crew mate

Heather Spaulding \ Staff photo Gaia Wilson and crew mate

Heather Spaulding Staff photo
Captain Katelinn Shaw ready to set sail.

Heather Spaulding Staff photo Captain Katelinn Shaw ready to set sail.

Heather Spaulding Staff photo 
Boarding the Adventuress

Heather Spaulding Staff photo Boarding the Adventuress