Adventuress is 100… plus 1!

2014 is a big year for anniversaries in Pacific Northwest maritime history. This summer, we’re doing a series of articles on some of the significant local organizations and vessels celebrating major milestones.
The schooner Adventuress sails past downtown Seattle. Photo courtesy of Sound Experience

The schooner Adventuress sails past downtown Seattle. Photo courtesy of Sound Experience

The schooner Adventuress is actually 101 this year, but as most of us of advancing age have learned, what’s a year one way or the other?

Although Adventuress has become a Puget Sound icon, she wasn’t built here and wasn’t intended particularly to sail our local waters.

Adventuress was built in East Boothbay, Maine, by the Rice Brothers (you can read more about Adventuress’ Rice Brothers roots in this article by Sound Experience Executive Director Catherine Collins, published in Three Sheets last year). She was designed by racing yacht designer Bowdoin B. Crowninshield, better known for his earlier America’s Cup contender Independence. The yard and the designer go some way toward explaining Adventuress’ longevity; she’s pretty and quick, both assets that are good for a boat to have when time comes to save it from the breaker’s yard.

Adventuress was conceived as a strange combination of private yacht and research vessel. She was commissioned by John Borden II of Chicago, wealthy son of a successful land and mining investor, who had, a few years before, co-founded a company in Chicago called the City Motor Cab company … a company which became, after a few mergers and some Chicago-style business deals, Yellow Cab. Borden was a hunter and adventurer, and he found a kindred soul in the American Museum of Natural History’s Roy Chapman Andrews … the famed explorer who was to serve as one of the role models for the character of Indiana Jones.

Andrews was after a bowhead whale, a species that had been hunted since at least the 1600s, but of which, in 1913, no museum in the world had a complete specimen in their collection. The Museum of Natural History’s cetacean collection was nearing completion then, and a bowhead was to be the crowning addition to the new “Whale Hall” exhibit.

The problem was money; the museum didn’t have enough to fund a complete expedition to the Arctic, the bowhead’s natural territory.

Adventuress’ original owner John Borden, onboard the ship circa 1913. Photo courtesy of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

Adventuress’ original owner John Borden, onboard the ship circa 1913. Photo courtesy of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

This is where Borden came in; Borden was a hunter, and it seems the idea of hunting a bowhead whale, personally, had great appeal. The New York Times reported that the condition of the loan of Adventuress was the Borden be allowed to ” … kill the whale himself and have it marked as his trophy.”

This was readily agreed upon, and Borden set off from Chicago to round the Horn under the command of Captain Frederick D. West, a man who had three vessels sunk from beneath him and whose right arm, lost in a firearms accident, was buried (and perhaps still is to this day) in a violin case at the mouth of the Mackenzie River.

In such auspicious company, Andrews and company sailed to Alaska.

But no bowheads were to be had. Andrews did plenty of research, obtained film footage of seals in the wild, and otherwise built solidly upon his illustrious career, but Borden’s big moment never came. One imagines it was this disappointment, as much as anything, that lead him to sell Adventuress to the San Francisco Bar Pilots almost as soon as she returned from the Arctic, only a year after her launch.

The pilots were not interested so much in beauty or adventure, and Adventuress had her gorgeous rig cut down to cope with Bay winds, and her auxiliary engine was put to much use ferrying pilots to and from their ships for more than three decades. She had her interlude of government service during the Second World War, patrolling San Francisco Bay for the Coast Guard.


In 1952, outmoded by newer designs, and fallen on hard times on the Sausalito waterfront, Adventuress finally found her ticket back to Puget Sound. Doc Freeman, Seattle maritime entrepreneur and all-around Lake Union personality, spotted her by chance in California and plunked down $7,800, for which he got a decrepit ship and a hair-raising trip the wrong way up the Pacific Coast. But he got her to Seattle in about as many pieces as she left, and then promptly sold her again. After a few transactions, she ended up in the hands of real estate developer Aubrey “Monty” Morton, who got her started on the education path by using her as a Sea Scout training ship.

Morton sold her after 15 years to Ernestine Bennett, who furthered the trend of using Adventuress as a training vessel, incorporating the boat into her non-profit organization, Youth Adventures, which, famously, taught “youth of all ages” about sailing and general nautical skills, fostering a generation of Puget Sound sailors along the way.

Sound Experience, the non-profit which currently runs and maintains the schooner, has taken on the education mission with a will, expanding it from sail training to include a variety of environmental education programs. The organization has also gone full-tilt on the fundraising and maintenance front, launching a multi-year Centennial Restoration Project in 2009 that will be completed this year which has seen the vessel practically completely rebuilt from stem to stern. The project is designed to restore her to a 50-year standard of service.

And well it should, because the ship still maintains an incredibly active sailing schedule: this year’s itinerary, recently released, includes a trip to the Anacortes Waterfront Festival in early June, the Ships to Shore Festival in Richmond, BC at the end of June, and the Wooden Boat Festivals on Lake Union over Fourth of July Weekend and in Port Townsend in early September. She’ll push off for three to four hour festival sails at each event, with tickets available to the general public for $65 for adults and $35 for youth. And she will undertake her usual demanding schedule of educational and public sailings all around Puget Sound.

See more about Adventuress on our Northwest Marine Heritage page on the vessel, or contact Sound Experience to get involved in this piece of living history.

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