Adventure Story: Restoring a Legendary Schooner

Adventure docked in Gloucester, Mass. Photo by Steve Cartwright.

Some day, the 84-year-old fishing schooner Adventure will sail again. All she needs is some friends—and maybe another million dollars—to be rolling along, gracing the seas as she has already done for 8 decades.

Capt. Jim Sharp originally rescued the Adventure, which he ran as a tour boat in Camden. Photo by Steve Cartwright.

Capt. Jim Sharp of Camden, Maine, originally rescued Adventure, last of the Grand Banks dory-fishing fleet, and employed her as a passenger vessel. Twenty-two years ago, ready for different challenges, he turned the 121-foot wooden ship over to the people of Gloucester, Massachusetts—at no charge.

But fixing up an old boat is anything but free. As the vessel’s spokeswoman Joanne Souza put it, “Another million dollars and we can have most of the bells and whistles we want. People are a little weary of it taking so long.”

Adventure was known as a swift and seaworthy vessel, a highliner and the most profitable Gloucester fishing schooner on record.

Already more than $2.5 million has been spent rebuilding Adventure’s hull. In 1926, it cost then-owner Jeff Thomas about $65,000 to have the ship built and fitted out by the James & Son yard in nearby Essex, Massachusetts. Hundreds of spectators watched as 12-year-old Natalie Thomas smashed a bottle of champagne against the Adventure‘s bow upon her launch.

As head of the Gloucester nonprofit group committed to seeing Adventure sail again, Souza celebrates every gift, from the $2,000 she received earlier this year for new dories to the $100,000 donation to continue restoring the hull. She estimates about 15 percent of the white oak and yellow pine currently in the vessel is original.

It may be quite a while before Adventure is relaunched, but supporters are confident that day will come. The idea is to create a functional, experiential tribute to the thousands of fishermen from Gloucester who sweated and shivered and rowed and hauled and sometimes did not return from the sea.

Schooner Adventure under way. Photo by Fredrik D. Bodin

Capt. Sharp, who now runs a Rockland, Maine, marine museum, requested that Adventure “continue to be cared for, prominently displayed as a monument to the city of Gloucester, and used for the education and pleasure of the public.”

The group restoring Adventure wants the ship to serve as a floating classroom for teaching both environmental and historical lessons. However, before she can be recertified as a passenger vessel, many Coast Guard requirements must be met, such as the installation of watertight bulkheads. Even with such modifications, the group hopes to remain faithful to Adventure’s fishing design, meeting federal standards for historic preservation. Sixteen years ago the schooner was designated a National Historic Landmark.

Souza, who grew up in a fishing family in Rockport, Massachusetts, said there are still older people around who remember the last fishing trips Adventure made in her 27 years of sailing out of Gloucester and Boston. Adventure was known as a swift and seaworthy vessel, a highliner and the most profitable Gloucester fishing schooner on record. Her crews landed an estimated $4 million worth of cod and haddock over the years. By 1953, her final fishing voyage, Adventure was the last dory schooner to work the banks.

Adventure steaming out. Photo courtesy Steve Cartwright.

Photographer John Clayton documented the final fishing days of Adventure. For the next 3 decades, the vessel was queen of the Camden windjammer fleet, taking tourists on short voyages that included live music and lobster.

During her Camden years, Adventure served a stint as the We’re Here in a remake of the movie version of Rudyard Kipling’s Captains Courageous (the original movie used a sister schooner in the 1930s). Let’s hope her story continues.

More information:

To join, donate or volunteer, visit The Schooner Adventure.

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