The ‘Adventuress’ delivers environmental education with a smile

On a recent sunny Saturday in Friday Harbor, I was a guest on a public sail aboard the historic wooden sailboat, the Adventuress, now in its 95th year.

On a recent sunny Saturday in Friday Harbor, I was a guest on a public sail aboard the historic wooden sailboat, the Adventuress, now in its 95th year.

Among the group excited to set sail were kids, families, couples, and even some spur of the moment guests, including a local woman who saw the boat at the dock and became a member to experience “this piece of Maine here on the West Coast.” Before even stepping onto the 133-foot schooner, we were met with the friendly smiles of crew members welcoming every passenger aboard the ship.

Captain Mary Beth (M.B.) Armstrong was at the helm, and after instructing passengers on safety precautions, First Mate Thatcher Mathews asked which guests would like to help set sail from the dock. “It’s quite a sight for those on land,” Armstrong told the crowd. Passengers learned terms like “Pass the jib!” and “Drop the main!” while helping get the ship’s beautiful sails up and ready. Once underway, guests even had a chance to steer the boat.

Adventuress is owned by Sound Experience, a Puget Sound-based environmental and youth leadership non-profit group that delivers its programs aboard the schooner. They reach more than 3,000 young people and adults each year, inspiring in them a greater understanding of the complexity of our marine ecological systems and stronger commitment to the stewardship of our waters. “Our mission is to be an icon for a cleaner Puget Sound,” said Armstrong.

Sound Experience has programs for all ages, from grade three to the elderly. They spend a lot of the summer in the San Juans, offering teen and family sails (which run from three to five nights) and elder hostels (six nights) out of Friday Harbor. School and youth groups can also arrange sails aboard the boat from any of these ports: Olympia, Tacoma, Seattle/Elliott Bay, Lake Union, Kirkland, Bainbridge Island, Everett, Bellingham, Port Townsend, and Friday Harbor. Three-hour public day sails and dockside tours are offered at all of their ports-of-call during the boat’s sailing season, which is March through October.

“All the programs involve environmental education of some sort,” said Catherine Collins, Executive Director of Sound Experience. “We want to engage the public to keep Puget Sound clean. We have a collective impact on Puget Sound.” During the public sail I attended, there were “education stations” where kids learned about fish and whales, a below deck tour of the boat, and a brief history of Adventuress, which was built in Boothbay, Maine in 1913.

Sound Experience does not charter the ship, and they keep member prices low to ensure everyone can experience the wonder of our local waters. “We consider ourselves to be the most accessible tall ship in Puget Sound,” said Collins.

The boat winters in Port Townsend from the end of October to the beginning of March, where it receives maintenance work from volunteers. “We have an amazing volunteer program,” remarked Collins. Sound Experience operates with a $500,000 budget; two-thirds of the crew is paid, and one-third consists of interns and volunteers. “We have multi-generational volunteers from across the region and other states.” This past winter the schooner received 10,000 hours of maintenance labor – all from volunteers.

“You can see the love in the brightwork,” said Collins, gesturing to the glistening varnish work on the boat. “People give a tremendous amount of backbreaking labor. It’s a labor of love.”

“We’re working on endowing her so new maintenance can continue in perpetuity. There has been a recent revival for preserving and maintaining her for generations to come. With the right help, we’ll get her secured for Puget Sound.” Sound Experience earns 60 percent of its money from programs and membership fees and 40 percent through donations and fundraising.

Two female captains trade shifts on the boat: Corie Mielkae and M.B. Armstrong. “They’re amazing role models for girls who come on board,” said Collins. Sound Experience works frequently with the Girl Scouts, and they are hosting a 10-day sail this fall for at-risk girls, partnering with the Lady Washington, the official ship of the state of Washington.

The crew consists of sailors and students from all over the country. Volunteers help out during sails too, and even lend a little entertainment to the voyage. Kent and Carol Mesford, two volunteer members from Spanaway, WA frequently sail with the Adventuress to sing sea chanties. Their perfect harmonies and gentle guitar playing were a sweet match to the relaxing afternoon sail.

The crew and volunteer members have an infectious enthusiasm for the Adventuress and the ideals she represents. “There aren’t a lot of places where you get a sense of community so quickly. There’s a magic that is almost indescribable. People leave with an amazing feeling. I think you see the best of humanity on this boat. People share differently on this boat. I think people come away feeling more full about what it means to be human,” said Collins. “And it’s fun. It’s just really fun!”

Armstrong, who is in her second year of captaining the boat, echoes those sentiments. “I love the community of people. The Adventuress and Sound Experience draw together a unique community. And I love the Adventuress. She’s a beautiful schooner. So the combination is perfect. Sound Experience really walks the walk. I’ve never been on a ship that does its own composting!”

There is also recycling on board, all the crew t-shirts (and shirts for sale) are made from 100 percent organic materials, they sail as much as possible instead of using the engine, and they try to buy local and/or organic food for the ship’s vegetarian-only meals. In addition, kids carefully monitor the resources aboard, particularly on multi-day programs, and practice resource conservation by reporting to the group daily about fuel usage, water usage, food consumed, waste produced, and more.

The next three-hour public sail will be on Saturday, August 23 from 9 a.m. to noon, departing from the Port of Friday Harbor. All ages are welcome and no experience is required. The cost is $40 for adults and $20 for youth under 18 (Sound Experience members sail for free). Space is limited.

For reservations, to learn how to become a member, or information about upcoming programs, visit or call (360) 379-0438.