The Schooner "Adventuress" - Part I

I am slowly being indoctrinated into a different world. A different universe, one that never sets foot on the land. The people of the sailing world, especially the tall ships world, maintain a culture unique to themselves.

I should back up to talk a bit about the Adventuress. She was built in 1913 at the expense of a man named John Bordon, a young entrepreneur who, in the footsteps of Teddy Roosevelt, wanted to go out and hunt big game under the guise of conservation. Specifically, Bordon wanted to procure the skeleton of a bowhead whale, which because of the value of the bones was not yet to be found in any museum, and donate it to the American Museum of Natural History's new whale exhibit with a plaque above it proudly declaring that he was the man who had harpooned it. He took with him another young man, a naturalist by the name of Roy Chapman Andrews, who later in life would traipse around the Gobi Desert in his signature broad-brimmed hat and become the inspiration for Indiana Jones.

Because she was to travel into Arctic ice, the Adventuress was given a thick hull and sturdy ribbing. Because Bordon was a bit of an aristocrat, she was also fitted inside with spiral staircases, a bathtub, an organ, and a galley any cook would kill for. Her designer was man named B.B. Crowninshields, who had worked on racing yachts early in his life, later applying that knowledge to drawing up plans for distinctive schooners with graceful lines and unusual speed. (One of his earlier ships, the Martha, shares our waters in Puget Sound. We see her frequently, an almost spitting image of the Adventuress.) But the Adventuress was considered his greatest work, with an undercut stern that lets her turn easily in a breeze, and sails that allow her to go close by the wind.

She was launched out of the shipyard in Boothebay, Maine, crossed to the west via the Straights of Magellan, and headed up for an ill-fated trip to the Bering Sea. Several men on board were simply friends of Bordon and had no useful knowledge, aggravating the rest. Andrews was put off by the cavalier attitude of his patron, who seemed to have a short attention span for the natural sciences. The team never saw a bowhead whale, but put out once for a nearby humpback as a consolation prize. Bordon was poised to throw the first harpoon when the humpback upended the little boat, and the men aboard had to cling to it in the icy waters while the Adventuress worked its way in to pick them up.

The mission was curtailed when the Arctic ice began to close in on them, but it was not without its accomplishments. Andrews managed to get ashore to study fur seals on the Pribilof Islands. Their pelts were extremely valuable, one of reasons the United States had acquired Alaska, but their numbers had declined so much by 1913 that a moratorium had been placed on hunting them. No one knew anything about how they lived, how they bred and raised young, so Andrews went ashore to make observations and take video, the first ever of the fur seal.

After the Adventuress returned to Seattle, Bordon had already had his fill of whale hunting and turned his attention elsewhere, selling the boat. There is a rumor that she then went up to Juneau and served as a floating brothel for a few years, but I'm not sure if it's true or just a joke among the crew. But she definitely ended up in San Francisco in 1915 operating as a bar pilot for several years.

And that's as far as I've gotten in learning her in-depth history, so I'll have to buff up a bit more for Part II.

The picture I posted down below is a bit misleading. It shows her decked out in full sails, all seven of them, whereas we usually use the bottom four - the mainsail, foresail, staysail, and jib. The other three - the main topsail, fore topsail, and flying jib - are hardly ever put on the ship because the Coast Guard doesn't think she would meet stability requirements. (Although rumor has it that they came to this conclusion without ever actually putting those sails up.) We can't use them with participants on board... but we can when it's only the crew, so there are high hopes among us all that before the down rig at the end of the season we might be able to take the sails out of storage and really deck her out. Everyone is very excited about this idea. Putting more sails on a boat, to a sailor, is like putting more cylinders in an engine, or more loop-de-loops in a roller coaster. You can make almost any crewmate's eyes light up with the magic phrase, "We could get out the topsails..."

Is the Adventuress a ship or a boat? Both. The Navy defines a ship as a vessel which can carry aboard it a boat, and since the Adventuress has two little boats (Jefe, a powerboat, and A-ya-shee, a wooden row/sail boat), she can officially be called a "ship." But she is also a "sailboat," so boat works as well.

What else can I say? She measures 110 feet on deck, 135 when she's all sparred out. (Meaning that her main boom and the bowsprit overshoot the deck.) She can sleep 37 people, but I'm not sure if that includes when the crew dogpiles all over each other in the deckhouse, or when I sling my hammock out on the deck. (Which has only happened once but, I vow, will definitely happen again! It's the best way to view stars, you see.)

That's all I have for now. To be continued.

1 comment:

Monster Librarian said...

Very informative blog. The history of the ship is pretty darn cool! So, she's as old as the farm...interesting!