Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Million Ways to Find Meaning Aboard

At the end of this month, after three wonderful years at Sound Experience, I will leave my position as Membership and Public Programs Coordinator to go on to grad school. That’s why I’m stealing this space—where thousands of people could rightfully share their experiences aboard—to talk about what Adventuress has meant to me.

The first time I sailed on Adventuress was in May of 2014, two months after I was hired—and in spite of the fact that I mispronounced the word “schooner” in my initial job interview (I was qualified in other ways, I promise). I had no experience on ships of any type; as a recent transplant to the Puget Sound region, I was still in awe of ferries.

During evening program on the first night, Wiley, the Chief Mate, gave a delightfully unhinged presentation about Anchor Watch. The gist—simply—was that those standing Anchor Watch should be as quiet and respectful as possible. To impart this, Wiley turned off the lights and held a flashlight underneath his chin as if he were telling a ghost story. He whispered. He sang. He used the built-in handholds, designed for getting in and out of tricky upper bunks, to perform an acrobatics routine. Everyone listened, everyone learned, and everyone sat rapt.

On the last day of the trip, I had the chance to interview students after they came down from the rigging. One of my standard questions—“What was your favorite moment aboard?”—was met by a barrage of similar answers.

“Climbing aloft.”
“Climbing aloft.”
“Climbing aloft.”

This was valid—nothing can compare to looking down upon Adventuress and seeing her tiny deck in the vast sweep of water and land—but I began to despair of having any worthwhile material for a story. Finally, I interviewed a notorious clown, one of those mischievous and intelligent classroom disruptors. He was the type of young man that teachers are secretly fond of and openly fear.

“What was your favorite moment aboard?” I asked.

“I really loved the Chief Mate’s presentation about Anchor Watch,” he answered. “I think it’s so cool that he can be such a good leader and have such an important job on the ship, but also be so much fun.”

And that’s when I knew—despite only recently learning how to pronounce the word schooner—that I had found a home. What I value most about Adventuress is that there isn’t one right story; there isn’t one right way to find meaning aboard. There are many reasons that Adventuress is special, and they are indivisible from one another. Community, history, leadership, pure physical beauty, and a desire to protect the natural world. We pick what means the most to us, but Adventuress unites all these elements aboard. 

Since then, I’ve taken to sailing each year on the 3-day Members Only Expedition. I’ve watched a compass adjuster use an analogue device that looked straight out of Harry Potter to true the ship’s compass. I’ve helped to haul up the mainsail beside my mother. I’ve eaten dolmas, watched sunsets, and listened to harbor seals breathing in the dark. I’ve witnessed a Party Piece in which a group of crew members assumed Irish brogues and substituted the word “Ireland” for the word “West Virginia” in the classic John Denver song “Country Roads.” It was inexplicable, and I laughed so hard that I cried.

When I solicit other people’s stories, I often receive the same response:

“You had to be there.”

The whole point of writing, which will be my field of study in grad school, is that you don’t have to be there. Writing is capable of reproducing emotion and experience. And this is true, and it’s the reason that I value writing above all else, but—look—this is my last chance to tell you this:

Some aspect of that refrain is true. You do have to be there. 

And so, as I head out to explore the world, this is my last request: that you step onto Adventuress. 

(Photo 1: The author holding a very unimpressed baby; Photo 2: The view from above, courtesy of Laura Barclay; Photo 3: My shipmates from the 2015 Members Only Expedition)

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

From Fantastic Voyage to Future Crew, Emma Gregory Looks Ahead to Work, Fun, and Family Aboard

Emma's "Shipboard Family" on FV 2.
Emma Gregory is a perfect example of the shipboard progression available to teen participants who are committed to developing their knowledge of the marine environment and their skill as mariners: she came aboard for Fantastic Voyage (FV) in 2012 and 2013 and returned last year as a high school senior for our first annual Level 2 program.

Now a first-year student at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, Emma will serve this summer for a two-month stint on crew—including time as an Educator/Deckhand on our 2017 FV trips. Explaining why she chose to return in this role, Emma shares the importance of guiding teen participants through the same progression: “I want others to have the same experience I had aboard the ship.”

When she stepped onto Adventuress for the first time in 2012, Emma had almost no experience on the water. The thought of spending time with strangers in a strange environment made her understandably nervous. But, she explains, everything changed once the ship started moving: “I experienced that classic ‘wind through the hair’ sensation and it sparked something in me. Pretty soon, those strangers had become my family… Every time I go back there’s a different group dynamic, but Adventuress always feels like home.”

Seeing a humpback.
Returning for FV Level 2 in 2016, her sailing skills were a little rusty—it had, after all, been three years since she was last aboard. Says Emma, “The first few days, I felt like I could maybe pass a pop quiz about line handling. By the end of the trip, we were running the boat with almost no intervention from the crew. It was an amazing transformation.”

Her favorite memory comes from sailing alongside a humpback on FV 2: “It was so unique to be up close to an animal like that.” But it wasn’t just the sighting—it was also sharing the experience with the shipboard community. One of the crew members invented a song for the participants to sing—a three part round in which each line ended with either “hump” “back” or “whale.” “When we were singing in time all together,” says Emma, “It would sound at certain points like we were saying ‘humpback whale.’” The whale must have liked their singing, too—they crossed paths with the same humpback later in the trip.

At Eckerd College—where the motto, aptly, is “ThinkOutside”—Emma is studying Biology and Visual Arts. Although science has been a long-running interest for Emma, she credits Adventuress with introducing her to the concept of fieldwork: “The science aspects of Adventuress, things like the plankton tow, were some of my first experiences ‘in the field’ and not just learning concepts from a book.” 

Emma climbing aloft on FV 2.
For Emma, part of the power of returning is Adventuress’ unparalleled ability to connect participants to the environment around them. Says Emma, “The water is such an incredible resource. It’s essential to our world, to our communities, to our continued existence. On Adventuress, you can really show young people the impact of their actions and why Puget Sound is worth protecting.”

Serving as crew is incredibly hard work. Although it’s difficult to imagine before the experience itself, time as a participant has given Emma a taste of what it may be like. Reflects Emma, “On Adventuress, you learn a lot and you do a lot of work, but in the moment it doesn’t feel that way. Everything you do has a purpose. Everything has a relationship to the real world. To have that experience, to have so much fun, and to leave the ship having developed a family aboard—there’s nothing else like it.” 

Would you like to encourage your teen's involvement with Adventuress and the maritime world? We recommend starting with Girls at the Helm or Fantastic Voyage Level 1. After an introduction to the ship, teens are encouraged to return for FV 2 and apply for our Apprenticeship program... and maybe even someday serve as crew! 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Energized and Exhilarated: Elizabeth Hejtmancik on Women at the Helm

Elizabeth (right) and a crew member check the staysail.
Elizabeth Hejtmancik has a clear connection to Sound Experience: her uncle, Gordon Sims, returned a few years ago as one of Adventuress’ primary Captains. While Gordon was home visiting his mother, Elizabeth heard him mention the inaugural 4-day Women at the Helm (WATH) trip, which set out for the first time in the summer of 2015. She was hooked.

The program tempted her for many reasons. It was a chance to step aboard the ship her uncle loves; a chance to explore the wildness and beauty of the Puget Sound region alongside other women; and a chance to gain experience that would inform her trilogy of novels, the first of which deals with sailing in the 19th century. Although Adventuress belongs to a different era—she turns 104 years old this February—Elizabeth knew that living and learning aboard a tall ship would help her gain a deeper understanding of what her characters might have experienced. Says Elizabeth, “Four days is realistically not enough time to learn the language of boats and the maritime world. But it does give you a sense of how it feels. You can’t really imagine what it’s like until you’re out on the water and away from land.”

The trip was such a success that she returned for WATH in 2016, making her one of a handful of women to participate in both iterations. Says Elizabeth, “I was so happy and amazed by my first experience that I came back just to make sure that it was real.”

Elizabeth aloft!
Together, these two trip offer Elizabeth an array of firsts and favorites. Climbing aloft still stands out, but she also recalls special moments that were a bit more down-to-earth. “On my second trip,” she says, “I had one of the last Anchor Watches before Morning Wake Up. I still remember that. There was absolute peace and quiet with the sun coming up on the water and an eagle flying past.” Elizabeth now resides in Nashville; although she grew up on the Chesapeake Bay and has a sense of living on the water, she was still stunned by the beauty of Puget Sound: “Everything feels bigger and more vividly alive. The trees are bigger. The sky is bigger. The water is bigger. I just love this place so much.”

One of the things she couldn’t have imagined before WATH was the community that sprang up so quickly on Adventuress. Says Elizabeth, “Stepping aboard for the first time, you see that everyone is there for a different reason and coming from a different background. Over the course of the trip, people start to fit together. By the end, there wasn’t anyone who didn’t feel like part of the group, which is really an achievement considering the length of the trip.” She still remembers the Closing Circle on the last morning of the first trip, during which the women exchanged “blue sheets”—certificates of recognition signed by crew and participants—and shared gratitude and favorite moments. “I think we were all weeping by the end,” recalls Elizabeth.

Elizabeth (center) poses with her Watch.
Before WATH, Elizabeth had never participated in any type of women-centered trip. “It really blew my mind,” she says. “All of these outside pressures were gone—some of which I wasn’t even aware existed until we’d left the dock. Women almost always make way for the men in their lives. All of a sudden, it was just us… I would describe it as a confidence-building experience. I came away really energized and exhilarated.” After WATH, Elizabeth sees these types of programs as some of Adventuress’ most important work. “I have a personal affinity now for women and girls’ trips,” she explains.

As a writer, Elizabeth also draws a connection between the everyday work of sailing a tall ship and what it can teach us about improving our lives on land: “In some sense, being on Adventuress makes elemental forces visible. I can see the wind in the sails. I can feel the boat moving beneath my feet. In life, sometimes these big unseen forces—whether they’re natural, personal, or emotional—inevitably come up. And I feel like sometimes we’re trained to step back. On Adventuress, we’re trained to recognize and harness these forces, because when you’re out on the water you have to be strong and competent in knowing how to react correctly to your environment. The experience of sailing is a great way to come to terms with circumstances that may at first seem outside of your control.”

Of course, there is some irony in traveling from Tennessee to Washington to take part in a trip that is literally guaranteed not to include your uncle as Captain. But lest you think that Elizabeth’s time on WATH was totally Gordon-less, she has one last anecdote. On her second trip, her husband Andy joined her in the Puget Sound region and went on his own adventures with Gordon. On the first day of WATH, a sailboat buzzed past Adventuress several times. It was Gordon and Andy, cheering her on.


Women at the Helm is back! Each year we try to offer women a new experience aboard Adventuress. For our 2017 trip, June 21-25, women are invited to join us for a 5-day voyage from Seattle to Bellingham that will feature a stop in Port Townsend for a special evening reception with Catherine Collins, our very own Executive Director. In 2017, the wonderful and accomplished Rachael Slattery will also serve as Captain. We strive for a large number of female crew on WATH, but participants may also be joined by our friendly and supportive male crew members.

This trip offers women 18 and over the chance to join together with our crew of shipboard educators to sail Adventuress, explore the San Juan Islands, and learn about the marine environment. Join us for fun, camaraderie, community, and incredible learning. More information can be found by clicking here.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Ray Hall and the Bellingham Kiwanis Club Look to the Sea

In May of 2014, Ray Hall—a Kiwanis Club Member and Bellingham resident—stepped aboard Adventuress for the first time. His wife had seen a post in the local newspaper about a Public Sail out of Bellingham’s Squalicum Harbor Marina; she bought tickets to celebrate his birthday. It was his first time on a tall ship.

Says Ray, “We put all the sails up. It was a gorgeous day. The sky was clear, with the perfect amount of wind. I thought, ‘My gosh, I have to find a way to share this experience with others.’ Because I’m a Kiwanis Member, and because I was absolutely thrilled by the experience, I wanted to connect Kiwanis and Sound Experience in some way.”
Shortly after the Public Sail, Ray met with then-Education Director Megan Addison. He was straightforward. “I basically said, ‘I want to use your boat for young people from Bellingham,’” recalls Ray. “And I wrote a check. At the time, the money wasn’t from Kiwanis. It was from me. I wanted to make it happen. I’m a blue-collar, impatient guy and I figured I would get things moving.”

The Bellingham Kiwanis Club did end up generously funding the trip, and eventually Ray’s broad vision took on the detail of reality: students from Bellingham’s Sunnyland Elementary came aboard for two 3-hour Sound Studies trips in both 2015 and 2016. Two more programs are scheduled for spring of this year and will include Sunnyland students and additional young people from K-Kids, a Kiwanis-sponsored after-school activity group.

Writes Sunnyland principal Trina Hall, “Though our PTA works hard to provide opportunities for our students, being a Title I school means that a sail aboard Adventuress would be beyond our reach had it not been for the generosity of the Bellingham Kiwanis Club.”

For Ray, the driving force behind his mission to get kids on Adventuress is the value he places on fun. From delivering dictionaries to schools to sponsoring youth leadership training to funding the fight against neonatal tetanus in developing countries, Kiwanis International is dedicated to serving children. Explains Ray, “In our Bellingham chapter, there’s a lot that we do within the traditional school structure, which is absolutely great. But my thinking behind bringing kids onto Adventuress is that we want to offer learning that is unique and fun. Kids remember fun.”

Ray still remembers his fourth-grade teacher, who sent him a card while traveling in Mexico: “Keep in mind, this was in the 1940s. But I still remember that sense of amazement. I still have the card. I want to offer something like that to these kids—a sense of the bigger world that they will always remember and someday reach on their own.”

Despite growing up beside Bellingham Bay, many of Sunnyland’s students have never been on the water before. Says Ray, “These are kids from a Title I School. They wouldn’t have this opportunity without community support.” Having sailed alongside students during several of the Sunnyland programs, he especially remembers the shipwide enthusiasm for sea chanteys: “The kids sang along with glee. They love the sea chanteys because they get to participate and have fun. All of the happy stuff, that’s what really matters.”

Writing about the experience, Ray ends with encouraging words and a fragment of his own poetry:

Perhaps someday a marine biologist will be participating in a Kiwanis meeting and will be daydreaming of Adventuress and the experience that started his or her journey from a day on the water to a lifetime of joy. As Kiwanians, we too reap the harvest of such an excursion. The sight of wonderment felt by these young seafarers reminds us that we are on the right path.

As children we look to the sea and the stars
And as children we will always be
As Kiwanians we will always reach for the stars
But first we must go to the sea


Is your club interested in sponsoring a trip aboard Adventuress for young people in your area? For more information about how you can make this possible, click here to read about our Educational Programs or contact Education Coordinator Amy Kovacs at or 360-379-0438 x2.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Winter Mate Jesse Wiegel on Sailing in Service to Something Bigger

Jesse under Adventuress' cover
during a previous Winter season.
Jesse Wiegel’s first exposure to Adventuress involved his job at a coffee shop near Port Townsend’s marina. Every so often, a distinctive group of customers would pass through: happy young sailors who delighted in each other’s company. That was how Jesse first became acquainted with the Adventuress crew and, through this connection, how he first began sailing. Starting as an Intern in 2011, Jesse has served as Relief Galley Coordinator, Educator/Deckhand, and Relief Engineer. Last year, he came aboard as Chief Mate for the first time. When the sailing season came to a close at the end of October, he stepped off for a few days and then came straight back to the boat to spend the winter working and living aboard Adventuress as the Winter Mate.

Although Jesse grew up in Sequim, sandwiched between the Olympic Mountains and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, he didn’t start off with an immediate connection to the natural world. The North Cascades Institute, where he worked for a time, introduced him to the majesty of the land; Adventuress introduced him to the beauty of the Salish Sea. Says Jesse, Adventuress opened me up to the idea that I could connect to this place by being on the water. The first time I came aboard, it felt really natural. It felt like something I’d been looking towards for a long time. I didn’t want to leave.”

Jesse directing participants on last
year's Fantastic Voyage Level 2.
And he didn’t. Over the next five years, as he sailed in many different roles, Jesse became deeply familiar with the ship and organization. He speaks with ease about the different programs that take place aboard Adventuress, from Sound Studies and Sound Explorations (programs for schools and youth groups) to Public Sails to summer overnight trips. His favorite is Fantastic Voyage, because it brings together a brand new group of teenagers each year. Says Jesse, “On Fantastic Voyage, all these strangers come aboard and in the course of six days they coalesce into a powerful group. Every time I see it happen, it works.”

A lover of music, Jesse takes a break on deck.
Jesse also has experience on other boats, including Lettie G. Howard, Pride of Baltimore II, Clearwater, and Picton Castle. His time sailing on other ships gives him a unique perspective on what sets Adventuress apart: “On many other boats, people enjoy crushing it on a big ‘ol ship. And that’s a lot of fun. But on Adventuress, our culture comes from the fact that we sail in service to something bigger. We’re exposing participants to the Salish Sea. That’s the most powerful thing we do. The result is that we produce people who care for this place.”

As for what he’s planning when he leaves Adventuress at the end of the Winter Season, Jesse isn’t sure of the details, but he knows the path he hopes to follow. Says Jesse: “What’s next? The short answer is: getting people outside. I want to continue to work with outdoor programs that expose people to their environment.”

Before he sets off on a new endeavor, though, he has several months left on Adventuress. As Winter Mate through the beginning of March, he’ll continue managing maintenance projects while overseeing Winter Crew and Winter Work Weekends (WWW). The upcoming WWW is this weekend—January 14-16—and Jesse encourages you to attend: “It’s a whole lot of good people taking care of the ship we love. We have this great sense of accomplishment from so many hands working together. The Winter Crew could not do this without your help.” He pauses for a moment, then continues. “And I just want to add that the food is delicious.”