PORT TOWNSEND — A belle of the seas is getting her bell back.
Lost for 99 years, the schooner Adventuress’ original ship’s bell arrived in Washington state Sunday after being retrieved from a Belmont, Calif., family by cinematographer John Leben and Catherine Collins, executive director of Sound Experience, the Port Townsend-based nonprofit that owns and operates the vessel for youth education programs.
The bell’s original purpose: To mark the hour, signify the changing of the watch and warn other vessels during inclement weather.
Leben’s and Collins’ 12-15-minute documentary about the find will chronicle how, over the last 77 years, the bell’s clang called the family of retired bookbinder Alfred “Nick” Lemos to dinner and cocktails before being stored in a garage.
Collins said Sunday she and Leben are hoping to debut the film at the 2014 Port Townsend Film Festival, which runs Sept. 19-21.
The 10-pound bronze bell will first be displayed aboard the Adventuress during the
July 4-6 Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival at the The Center for Wooden Boats.
It will be formally affixed to the 133-foot, 101-year-old schooner during a ceremony at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival taking place Sept. 5-7.
After a three-day trip from Belmont, it made its way into Vancouver, Wash., nestled in style on the back seat of Leben’s BMW.
“I wouldn’t dare put it in the trunk,” Collins said Sunday after staying awake for three days and driving straight back to Washington from California.
She already had been interviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle and Fox News while in Belmont.
“People were so excited to hear about it,” she said.
“Artifacts don’t turn up like this every day.”
The bell was lost after the Adventuress, built in 1913, was sunk during a 1915 fire a year after entering the service of the San Francisco Bar Pilots.
“We don’t know when it went missing,” Collins said.
“It fell off, it was stored, the police kept it for safe keeping, I don’t know.
“When it was put back into service in October 1915, [the bell] said ‘Bar Pilots 1915.’ Part of the fun mystery.”
Lemos, now 87, had received the bell, which has the ship’s name engraved on it, as a gift when he was 10 and just recently discovered the Adventuress is afloat.
It was given to him as a gift by a San Francisco police captain who was dating his grandmother and who said it had been kept on a police boat, according to the Chronicle.
“He said, ‘You want this bell, kid?’” Lemos told the newspaper.
“I was 10 years old then, and I think it was a bribe to keep me quiet.”
This spring, the family decided to track down its origin after one of Lemos’ adult children, inspired by an artifact reality show, started asking questions about it.
It did not take them long.
“They Googled the ship and immediately saw that the Adventuress was still sailing,” Collins said.
Lemos recently left a voice mail about his discovery at Sound Experience’s office.
“He said, ‘I think I have your bell,’” Collins recalled. “We were astounded.”
Lemos suggested mailing it to Collins, but that was out of the question.
“I said, ‘No, no, no, I have to come get it.’”
Collins asked Lemos if there was any chance he would donate it to Sound Experience.
“He said emphatically, ‘Honey, it’s yours.’”
The feeling was electric in the Lemos family home when Collins and Leben arrived to pick up the artifact.
“You could tell when you walked into the room that there was a vortex of excitement going on,” Collins recalled.
“It really felt like it was an unusual historic event that had a character.
“They had no idea it was connected to a ship that is so beloved to another area.
The bell’s rediscovery comes just two months after a $1.2 million renovation was completed on the 100-ton ship.
The hull, masts and drive train were replaced.
The makeover will be complete with the installation of the original “Adventuress 1913” bell.
The artifact “had a lifetime, and we are a continuation of its lifetime,” Collins said.
“One of the things I keep hearing from people is, they say, ‘When I hear this story, I get goosebumps,’ so it really is resonating, it really is.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at [email protected]