PORT TOWNSEND — Schooner Adventuress Capts. Katelinn Shaw and Nate Seward are “cautiously excited” to get the 107-year-old ship out on the water this afternoon — the first time it’s set sail this year.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Seward said Thursday afternoon while standing aboard the 133-foot vessel, which has been docked at Port Townsend Boat Haven since May, unable to embark on its usual day and overnight educational voyages during a summer season stymied by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m not used to sitting this long on a docked boat,” he said. “It is definitely strange to spend this amount of time on a boat that isn’t moving.”
The 1913 National Historic Landmark ship, which saw its $2.5 million restoration completed in spring 2019 after 10 years of offseason work by Haven Boatworks, is due to set sail at about noon today and spend several hours in Port Townsend Bay.
“She will certainly be the biggest ship in the bay,” said Catherine Collins, executive director at the nonprofit Sound Experience, which has owned and operated the vessel for the past 31 years.
Sound Experience has hosted more than 1,000 youth each year for on-the-water educational experiences throughout the Puget Sound region.
“I know it’s been said a million times, but this year is unprecedented, and we’re no exception,” Collins said.
“Even though we haven’t been able to sail, we have been really busy trying to deliver our mission with our partners,” she said. “There has been a loss of that energy and that community, but there hasn’t been a loss of our mission.”
Sound Experience staff and captains have spent this year’s relative downtime developing and delivering virtual education programming — including credit-based coursework for high-schoolers — for its school- and community-based partners, particularly the Girl Scouts of Western Washington and Seattle Public Schools’ free Seattle Skills Center.
Financially, however, the coronavirus — and the resulting lack of in-person programming — has effectively taken the wind out of the nonprofit’s sails, cutting its annual $800,000 operating budget in half.
“We have lost 100 percent of our earned revenue,” Collins said, noting the other half typically comes from private donors.
“It’s really important that people know that. Any organization that serves kids has taken a huge hit and is still trying to fulfill its mission.”
The nonprofit received a $107,000 loan earlier this year through the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program and has managed to retain 80 percent of its staffing, thanks in part to the state’s voluntary SharedWork program, which allows businesses and nonprofits to keep employees on the payroll at reduced hours.
Despite the setback, Collins said the nonprofit is focused on meeting the moment by providing a blend of virtual and small-group educational opportunities safely, especially as students return to some form of school this fall, many in closed cohorts of 15 students or fewer.
“We’re hoping to be part of the solution to serving kids safely in the months to come,” she said. “Our safe spaces are on deck, where there is significant airflow, and connecting as a team to sail a vessel in this time could be pretty powerful.”
Short of in-person sailing, Sound Experience is set to create a virtual reality-like film aboard the Adventuress in September to help instruct students in maritime topics, Collins said.
She added that the nonprofit is eagerly standing by to team up with Port Townsend and Jefferson County educators once the ship returns to Port Townsend from Shilshole Bay in the Seattle area, where it will take part in a new fundraiser called “The Adventuress Cup — A Race for the Salish Sea.”
“This is our answer to how we are going to engage our communities and continue our mission,” Collins said. “We’re looking for boats to race, and we’re looking for sponsors.”
Fortunately, she said, the event already has at least one sponsor: the Port of Port Townsend.
But before the Adventuress heads off to the races, it must be properly vetted for its seaworthiness after months sitting dockside. And that’s what today’s sailing is all about.
“This is the first time the ship will cast off its lines and set sail in 2020,” said Capt. Katelinn Shaw, who first sailed on the historic schooner as a student in the early 2000s.
“The point is to run all the machinery and make sure everything is in good working order.”
She and Seward and some seven others will comprise the crew for today’s sailing, which will test the ship’s triangular pilot sail, allow an opportunity for safety drills and ensure all systems are operational.
For Shaw, this outing is special because it will be her first as the ship’s primary captain since she joined Sound Experience in a professional capacity in July.
“For me, coming back is really the realization of a long-term personal vision,” she said. “I’ll believe it’s really happening when we are finally casting off our dock lines.”
Jefferson County reporter Nicholas Johnson can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 360-328-1222.