Sparking Young Minds, and the un-Young Too
Educational Tall Ships

By Kimball Livingston Posted May 22, 2014

Photo by Jerry Soto

Photo by Jerry Soto

Here’s a stat: In the ports of the USA there are 200 educational training vessels. Some of them can be called tall ships. Others are just out there, doing good work.

More are on the way.

The superb Maritime Museum of San Diego is building a full-sized, fully functional, and historically-accurate-to-the-best-of-their-knowledge replica of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s flagship, San Salvador. Building it, appropriately enough, at Spanish Landing Park alongside North Harbor Drive. Traveling between Shelter Island and Lindbergh Field, you surely wouldn’t fail to notice . . .

There’s still plenty to do, but it’s easy enough to imagine that there’s a ship in there. This image is out of date but interesting for the construction details . . . from UT San Diego



Coming from a different corner, farther north in California, there’s Alan Olson in Sausalito with his Educational Tall Ship project, one man’s very (very) personal vision of a wooden school ship “that will last a hundred years” and proof that if you start building it, they will come. The volunteers. The believers. The fellow dreamers.


Understand, Olson has built before. He’s a qualified master who knows the ocean. And his other great undertaking, the Call of the Sea foundation, is maxed out at 5,000 people aboard, under way, every year—most of them school children in their first taste of the waterways and ocean science—and he needs more capacity.

At 100 feet on deck and a sparred length of 132 feet, the brigantine to be christened with the name of San Francisco Bay’s master shipbuilder of the 19th century, Matthew Turner, will be able to carry 12,000 people a year. That’s the ship in the rendering that leads this piece.

The keelson is already ready. Thirty-eight of forty-two frames are already laminated. The lead keel arrives today, Thursday, May 22. All 86,000 pounds of it. But don’t worry. It comes in two pieces.

The Matthew Turner will have a bronze floor tying keel to ship, with engineering from Tri-Coastal Marine, which operates in CAD, not through lofting, even though their mission is “the design, construction and preservation of historic ships,” and they have a history of taking on heroic projects. “They are leaders in this kind of boatbuilding,” Olson says. And that is the basis for his hundred-year prediction.

Matthew_TurnerI imagine Alan wouldn’t mind if I share a few facts about Matthew Turner, who with 228 vessels—most of them built in Benecia, California, on the Sacramento River, upstream from San Francisco Bay—was this nation’s most prolific builder of wooden ships. In the wake of a family tragedy, Turner quit his native Ohio and found success in the gold fields of California, then traveled to New York, bought himself a schooner, and returned to San Francisco Bay to go into the shipping business. With a partner, he grew a business with a handful of ships and, as a captain, was twice honored by foreign governments. Queen Victoria (you know she was English, right?) presented him with a gold-mounted spyglass for his part in saving the lives of British sailors. The government of Norway presented him with a silver service award for his rescue of a Norwegian vessel in danger of foundering at Honolulu.

When Matthew Turner turned to shipbuilding, he defied the wisdom of his moment, which is a fact that strikes me as strange. The wisdom, not his defiance. I say that, because what he did in 1868 was design the brig Nautilus with a fine entry and broad stern sections, knowingly echoing what had already proved successful in yachts. As in, the schooner America that was a winner against the Brits (with their forms of cods head-mackerel tail) fourteen years prior.

My point is, nobody knew?

I’ll stop. There’s plenty out there about Matthew Turner for those who go searching.

Alan Olson’s 70-foot brigantine, Stone Witch (construction to launch, 1971-1977) sailed 40,000 miles under his command, conducting education and outreach, and also served a stint as the flagship of Greenpeace. Which should be an adequate introduction to the following excerpt from the ETS web site—

“By combining technologies from the 19th and 21st centuries—skipping over the petroleum era—ETS will become a unique teaching tool that can inspire appreciation for past boat building designs while utilizing innovative technology solutions to construct a truly green sailing ship.

“The basic regenerative electric propulsion concept is simple. Instead of diesel engines, the ship is propelled by AC electric motors directly connected to the propeller shafts and drawing energy from large battery banks. When the ship is sailing, the energy of the passing water causes the propellers to rotate, which, in turn, causes the electric motors to become generators that re-charge the batteries onboard. Significant electrical energy is created as sailing speeds increase.

“New advances in propellers, electric propulsion/regeneration motors, battery technologies and electronic controllers make this possible and are available today. ETS can, in fact, operate on a carbon neutral basis. Energy to run our ship will come from regenerative power under sail, onboard generators fueled with recycled vegetable oil, and dockside charging from solar panels and wind generators. Day-to-day operations are designed to minimize energy and water use with a waste management system that will repurpose, recycle and reduce waste. By using LED lighting, induction cooking and low energy navigation and appliances, we will use less than 50kWh per day. Producing and storing enough energy from just four to six hours of sailing can achieve energy self-sufficiency.”

The Educational Tall Ship, the Matthew Turner, will have a 1,000-mile range on standby generators. Nothing is taken for granted. The build project has two paid shipwrights and as many as eight skilled volunteers per day, enough volunteer labor to materially lower the total budget.


“A ship is one of the best educational tools available,” Olson says. “Building a ship keeps knowledge and skills alive.” Build it of wood, he says, and you can give back more than you take: “We are using Forest Stewardship certified Oregon white oak and Douglas fir, sustainably harvested, and we intend to plant more trees than we take.”

I think it’s called, giving back.

And the most active boat in Northern California is—

The Call of the Sea Foundation’s schooner Seaward, with a passenger list of mostly schoolkids and a science program attuned to the fourth and fifth grade curricula. You could take a bucket of bay water into a classroom and look at plankton under a microscope, but that’s nothing compared to trolling up your own, in fresh air, with the deck alive beneath you—



The Seaward is also available for adult charter in the USA and, in the winter, in Mexico. That helps keep the show on the road. By the way, it’s a bargain . . .


And this comes next . . .


Suns New Jerseys