Executive Director of the Sound Experience
Catherine Collins grew up sailing with her family on Buzzard’s Bay in Massachusetts. As a girl, she spent a month on Clearwater, a Hudson River sloop. All that time on the water instilled in her a love of the marine environment and an interest in maritime education, two traits she carried with her when she jumped coasts and moved to the Pacific Northwest. Now, Collins tries to instill a love of the marine environment and maritime education in others, as executive director of the Sound Experience (soundexp.org), an organization that seeks to educate and train sailors aboard Adventuress, a historic schooner.
Sea: Adventuress has been sailing for over a century, what are some highlights from her long history at sea?
Catherine: Adventuress has a fascinating history following her launch in East Boothbay, Maine, just over a century ago. Her maiden voyage in 1913 was an expedition for the American Museum of Natural History in search of a bowhead whale specimen to complete the museum’s cetacean exhibit. They did not get the whale, as overfishing had made bowheads scarce, but the naturalist aboard was the now-famous Roy Chapman Andrews who later went on to discover the first dinosaur eggs in Mongolia. Andrews is also purported to be the impetus for the Harrison Ford character in the “Indiana Jones” films.
Following her maiden voyage, Adventuress was sold to the San Francisco Bar Pilots who used her to bring expert navigators to arriving ships in the Golden Gate area, some of the most treacherous waters in the country. For the first couple years in San Francisco, she was the “Belle of the Ball,” a sleek and gorgeous gaff-rigged yacht with the finest auxiliary engine of the day. Adventuress led Opening Day for yacht clubs and was a proud addition to the Bar Pilots organization. In July 1915, however, Adventuress caught on fire in the marina and had to be “scuttled” (sunk) at the dock to put out the fire. Visitors today can still see a charred beam in the fo’c’sle from that fire. Needing the ship for their work, the Bar Pilots quickly fixed her and put her back in service in fall of 1915, but with a cut-down Marconi rig, which was easier for a few men to work vs. the heavy gaff on the fore and mainsails.
In 1952, Adventuress was bought and brought to Seattle by a businessman with a chandlery who planned to sell her for a private yacht. After several owners, in the early 1960s Adventuress began her work in earnest with children and teens. For a couple decades she was used for sail training for Seattle young people, and in 1989 the newly formed nonprofit Sound Experience put her to work in her mission as Puget Sound’s environmental tall ship. The idea was that people would care for what they learned to love. There are few education platforms quite as inspiring as the 133-foot schooner Adventuress. Also in 1989, Adventuress — now restored to her original gaff-rigged glory by a visionary woman named Ernestine Bennett who oversaw Adventuress’ youth programming in the ’70s and ’80s — became designated a National Historic Landmark (NHL) by the National Park Service. Carrying the nation’s highest historic significance, Adventuress is one of only two NHL sailing ships still in active service on the West Coast.
To prepare the ship for her 100th year and beyond, Sound Experience undertook a complete $1.2 million hull restoration of the ship — the Centennial Restoration Project — which was completed in 2014. With only restoration of the ship’s deck remaining (fundraising for the $680,000 project is currently underway), Adventuress is poised to sail for generations to come.
A most remarkable story occurred just after the hull project was complete and Adventuress was underway again with programs in the spring of 2014. We got a call from an 87-year-old gentleman who said that he had Adventuress’ 1913 ships bell. Adventuress had carried a 1915 bell inscribed with SF Bar Pilots, but none of us had thought to wonder about the bell she must have carried on her Arctic voyage. Sure enough, the man had her 1913 bell, which was given to him by his grandmother’s boyfriend — a police boat captain in 1937 as a “bribe” so he wouldn’t tell anyone about their relationship. His grandmother was married to a fireman at the time. The story was remarkable and captured the public’s attention, being featured on the front page of the Metro section of the San Francisco Chronicle. The family very generously donated the 1913 bell back to Adventuress where visitors can see the bell affixed to the foremast where it was during her maiden voyage.
What is a typical day on board Adventuress like during high season?
A typical day for Adventuress from March through October when she sails from ports throughout Puget Sound and in the San Juan Islands is a busy one. Approximately 12 to 15 experienced and passionate crew/educators live aboard for four to five months at a time. These incredible educators engage students coming with their schools or youth groups in learning about current issues such as microplastics in our waterways, and the vital role of plankton or marine mammals, including our region’s beloved resident orcas. Other students come aboard to become inspired about possible careers involving the marine environment or maritime trades or businesses. On weekends, the ship may be open at a Puget Sound port for free dockside tours followed by a public sail or two. Because Adventuress is all about community, most people choose to become a Sound Experience member, where for less than $100 a whole household can sail for free on over 20 sails a year. The day doesn’t end until the ship is tidy and either tucked into a marina or anchored somewhere gorgeous, with a ship full of happy participants on a multiday voyage. During the summer months, Adventuress runs programs for teens, girls, women and co-educational and operates from Anacortes so that four-to five-day journeys (or more) take participants into the beautiful San Juan Islands for adventure. Adventuress sails “not for one, but for all.”
What aspects of Pacific Northwest boating culture and history do you hope students learn during their time aboard Adventuress?
Adventuress is indeed an icon for Puget Sound sailors and boaters alike. She is so unique and her gaff-rigging so exquisite that she is recognized and quite beloved by those who recreate in the Salish Sea. Even yachtspeople who enjoy the newest technology are delighted by Adventuress’ traditions, including singing sea chanteys when raising the huge mainsail and trimming the sails while sitting on deck with others hauling together. Whether students or the public, we hope that everyone leaves inspired learn more about the Puget Sound watershed, why it’s important environmentally and economically. We hope that everyone is inspired to take action in their personal lives to live greener and consider the impact of their actions on their communities and on our marine waterways. For students, we hope that they consider “looking to the water” for their professional careers, and helping to steward a healthy marine environment as they grow as leaders in our region.
Do you have a favorite memory about Adventuress?
I learned about Adventuress when my husband and I, newly married, began raising my 14-year-old godson who was sent to us in Seattle from Boston. For years, since he’d been a little boy, I’d sent him to summer camps, and he was often sent home early. He was active and impulsive and beginning to make poor decisions. We discovered Adventuress tied to the dock in Seattle’s Lake Union and learned about their week-long Fantastic Voyage program for teens. We signed him up and waited by the phone (figuratively), thinking that we’d have to collect him early like the other “camps.” We never got a call. My favorite memory is when we went to pick him up at the end of the program, we found him completely engaged in the engine room helping to do maintenance on the engine (with oversight from our crew) — and he was completely and utterly consumed with fascination for the ship. That’s the power of Adventuress. She simply engages like no other education platform I’ve seen. For more info go to soundexp.org.