The wheel of the historic schooner Adventuress was stolen in the early hours of Sunday morning while the ship was docked in Olympia, leaving its crew scrambling to find a replacement before the vessel leaves for a three-day educational trip Monday with 24 children.
The 133-foot ship was moored at Percival Landing in downtown Olympia over the weekend for tours and a public sail. The theft was discovered by a crew member who went up on deck about 7:30 a.m., noticed the wheel was gone and notified Captain Joshua Berger, who was down below.
“I was abolutely shocked and horrified,” Berger said.
Berger and his crew sprung into action, calling police and contacting friends and supporters in search of a replacement wheel. Crew members scoured the waterfront area in the hope that the three-foot diameter wheel, which was made about 10 years ago by an Oregon craftsman, had been left somewhere nearby. They posted flyers around downtown and talked with merchants, asking them to keep an eye out for the wheel.
A public sail that was to take 45 people out on Sunday afternoon had to be canceled. Instead, the ship was opened for public tours while Catherine Collins, executive director of Sound Experience, the nonprofit organization that owns and runs Adventuress, worked to get a replacement wheel. Three antique wheels were quickly provided, two from a nautical antique shop and another from a private collector.
A machinist will mill one of the loaner wheels Monday morning to make it fit on the vessel’s shaft, which is 1.5 inches in diameter and straight, versus the typical tapered, 1.25-inch shaft. Collins said Sound Experience will be able to use the wheel until its sailing season wraps up at the end of October.
“We have a loaner, so the program can go on,” she said. “Then we can regroup this winter if we don’t get our wheel back.”
The ship’s crew follows a nightly routine to secure the boat, locking up its exterior electronics and taking its bronze bell inside. Berger said he had no idea why anyone would steal the ship’s wheel, which is made of maghogany and besides a bronze plate, contains little metal that could be salvaged.
“It seems like a prank of some sort,” he said.
Adventuress serves as an educational platform to teach about 3,000 children and teens annually, many of them from underserved communities, about environmental awareness. The ship, which turns 100 next year, was voted most popular historic site in the region in an online competition two years ago.
The wheel theft follows the March 2010 pilfering of the antique running lights on the historic tug Sand Man while it was docked at the same Olympia marina. The lights were never found, but a wooden boat enthusiast later donated a set that were a close substitute.
Sound Experience is asking the public to keep an eye out for the wheel at secondhand stores in the area and is offering a $100 reward for its return, no questions asked. Collins hopes media attention and the crew’s efforts to spread the word will make the wheel impossible to sell.
“I want to make that wheel so hot that no one can sell it for anything and they would get arrested by showing up in public with it,” she said.