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Sailing through history: Tall ship Adventuress lives up to its name

Jun. 11, 2014 - 11:35AM   |  
The 101-year-old two-masted schooner Adventuress offers cruises ranging from three hours to several days.
The 101-year-old two-masted schooner Adventuress offers cruises ranging from three hours to several days. (Jon Anderson/Staff)
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If standing under the taut sail of a tall ship at sea isn’t already on your bucket list, you should seriously consider adding it. It’s a rush like no other.

Just ask anyone who’s ever been aboard a ship like the century-old schooner Adventuress, which plies the waters of the Pacific Northwest’s Puget Sound.

Indeed, many will whisper of a certain special magic.

For former Navy Lt. Cmdr. Tom Dyer, who served through the late 1960s before becoming a Seattle boat builder and eventually owner of his own shipyard, that magic is a return to his youth.

Standing early-morning watch on the ship’s gently swaying deck, he says, “I’ve stood a lot of watches over the years, but there is the element of going back in time on a ship like this. For me it’s about remembering the old ways — and not just learning about them, but actually doing it.”

He can’t help but think of standing his first watches as a kid on his dad’s boat and later, as a 15-year-old Sea Scout — a nautical version of the Boy Scouts — sailing out of Seattle to British Columbia aboard a 110-foot former World War I submarine chaser.

It was a formative experience, and part of why he loves volunteering aboard the Adventuress, which spends much of its time as a floating classroom at sea for youth and adults from around the region.

A veteran of adventure

Built in 1913 to explore the largely uncharted Alaskan coast for the scientist-adventurer whose life would eventually inspire the story of Indiana Jones, Adventuress first set sail in a time when most homes lacked electricity and most people traveled by horse and train.

By World War II, the ship was commissioned into the Navy, tasked with patrolling the California coast off San Francisco Bay.

Now operated by the nonprofit Sound Experience, this two-masted time machine will whisk you back to that era as you hoist sails, climb rigging and stand watches.

While most weekdays are reserved for teaching programs, the general public is invited aboard for three-hour weekend cruises during summer months. Tickets for those trips are typically about $55 for adults, but for a $60 annual membership — or $95 for an entire family — you can join Sound Experience, which offers as many as 20 day trips every year at no additional cost and deep discounts on regular overnight excursions.

“It’s a great deal,” says Adventuress’ firm but soft-spoken skipper, Capt. Joshua Berger, a skull-and-crossbones tattoo betraying his early love of adventure at sea.

“There’s really something about this boat,” Berger says. “Certainly you can feel the rich history onboard while sailing and think about the thousands of people who sailed on this vessel over 101 years.”

That hit home for him recently when he got a call on the ship’s radio from a woman who had sailed aboard the ship with her elderly father the year before. He had just passed away, and the woman wanted Berger to know how special the trip had been for them.

That last time her father had seen the ship, she told him, was when he was returning home from World War II and Adventuress guided his troop ship into the San Francisco Bay.

“Of course, the hairs just go up on the back of your neck,” Berger says.

The ship’s brand of magic is contagious. As former Marine infantryman Robert Nalley likes to say, “Real life is in the mountains and on the ocean. Everything else is just waiting.”

That’s why he’s been a member of Sound Experience for about a year, racking up some half a dozen embarks, including four overnight trips.

“If I were in the military today, this is the kind of place I want to come to get away. You can be active and involved, but there’s a crew, so you can also just relax and enjoy yourself. You can disconnect, but you’re not alone.”

Something special

Adventuress is one of about 2,500 National Historic Landmarks scattered across the country.

“Of those, there are only 121 vessels. And some of them, like the Arizona in Pearl Harbor, are sunk,” says Ken Greff, former captain of Adventuress and now president of Sound Experience’s board. “Of those 121 ships, only 15 are sailing vessels that actually go to sea. Most are museums that can’t even leave the dock.”

Greff, who was first spellbound by the Adventuress in 1978, says the magic of the ship tends to be different for everyone.

“There’s something about how it moves through the water that just conveys that primal sense of adventure — you’re really doing something, it’s exciting and fun,” says Greff, a retired school psychologist.

“There’s something transformational about that. It transcends time in ways newer vessels can’t and really touches your soul.”

Adventuress is just coming out of a $1.2 million restoration, but it retains its original look and feel, eschewing most of the modern conveniences of sailing.

Back on his morning watch, Dyer says even the saltiest sailor in today’s Navy would find this “just a totally different and worthwhile experience.”

“This is all 19th-century equipment; there’s no modern technology or powered winches to raise these sails. You’re doing it all by hand, just like sailors did a hundred years ago.”

And then there are those magic moments — as the sun begins to peek out over the distant Cascade Mountains and you’re “out on deck, when everything is quiet, watching the sun come up at sea. It really doesn’t get much better.”

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