By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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The ship's wheel on the Port Townsend-based schooner Adventuress was stolen in Olympia on Saturday night.
A loaner wheel was secured in time and installed by Sunday night for a previously scheduled educational program that is the specialty of Sound Experience, the nonprofit that sails the Adventuress.
The 99-year-old vessel was tied up at Percival Landing, a public dock in Olympia, when the theft occurred, Sound Experience Executive Director Catherine Collins said Monday.
“When the crew woke up on Sunday, they saw the wheel was missing,” she said.
“Whoever stole the wheel knew what they were doing, because it's not easy to sneak onto the Adventuress and not make any noise, since the footsteps on the deck echo like a drum downstairs in the cabin.”
Collins said the missing wheel is about 3 feet in diameter and weighs about 40 pounds.
When the theft was discovered, the ship's crew began contacting maritime antiques dealers in the area.
A replacement wheel was supplied by a Seattle dealer who wishes to remain anonymous, Collins said.
The wheel had to be machined slightly to fit the Adventuress, for which the dealer gave permission.
The crew was relieved that the wheel was installed in time for the start of a three-day educational program which includes 24 students from Portland, Ore.
“It was a little uncertain for a while,” Collins said.
“But we were certain that we would find something,” Collins said.
The ship's wheel had been on the Adventuress for about 10 years and was constructed from parts of the wheel that was used previously, she said.
“It has a great history, and is the perfect size for little hands,” Collins said.
“And thousands of little hands touch that wheel every year during our programs.”
Collins said she is confident that the wheel will be recovered “because everyone in the maritime community knows it is missing, and it will be hard to sell anywhere.”
She said the most valuable items, such as electronics and the antique ship's bell, are locked in the cabin area at the end of each day, but the wheel itself was not thought to be subject to theft.
The loaner wheel has been made available for an indefinite period, she said, adding that if the original wheel is not recovered, a new one will be ordered or built.
The spare wheel will be cabled to the deck with a bicycle lock, she said.
The Olympia Police Department is investigating the incident.
Collins said social media have rallied around the cause of the wheel's recovery, with the message on Sound Experience's Facebook page shared more than 90 times.
Although the wheel may be locked down, one thing that will not change is the schooner's accessibility, Collins said.
“We are a public vessel, and we will always be tied to public docks,” she said.
“We want people to come aboard and have a hands-on experience.
“We aren't going to change our access, and we are not going to let this get us down.”
Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.