Onboard the little schooner known as the Abbey Road, Lake Superior Tall Ships has taken more than 2,700 kids and adults from the area sailing on life-changing outdoor adventures over the past four years.
The group now wants to expand its mission of teaching youth seamanship, Lake Superior stewardship and the region’s maritime heritage though the purchase of a second and significantly larger schooner.
Lake Superior Tall Ships Executive Director Gordon T. Ringberg said the group has begun efforts to raise $2 million to buy a larger ship on the East Coast and return it to Lake Superior where it will join the Abbey Road as part of a growing fleet. The Abbey Road was donated to the organization in 2014 when the previous owner was seeking a non-profit organization that could put it to good use; Ringberg and Lake Superior Tall Ships officer Phil Peterson said it since has been used to take groups onto the lake primarily for sailing experiences but also for educational purposes.
“We do have some private charters that go out on it to help fund the vessel but Sea Scouts are very active with it. Northland College has used it, we’ve had school systems using it, and it has been very successful,” Peterson said.
Students from the Ashland Oredocker Project School, Washburn High School Ecology Club, and Chequamegon Bay AFS students and host parents all have sailed aboard the 52-foot Abbey Road. But the Sea Scouts – a division of the Boy Scouts of America – have been the primary beneficiaries.
“The Sea Scouts program itself is phenomenal because the kids … make the plans, they execute the plans on their own and the adults are there just for guidance as needed,” Peterson said.
But Lake Superior Tall Ships has taken the Abbey Road as far as it can, Ringberg said, and a larger ship is needed to continue the group’s mission.
“We’re not growing anymore and we want to serve not just the Bayfield area and Ashland and Washburn, but we want to try and do something for the whole lake,” he said.
“We are running this program in the black and we feel that we’re at the point we can take on a larger vessel that will give us many more opportunities and we’d like to build on that existing program we have,” said Peterson.
While the group’s long-term goal is to build the Alice Craig – a replica of a US Revenue Cutter Service schooner that sailed Lake Superior from 1859 to its sinking in 1887 – Ringberg said building a new boat would be quite an undertaking. The group instead will purchase another boat for its fleet first.
“This boat that we’re looking at out East right now would be a perfect boat to expand on,” he said.
Lake Superior Tall Ships has begun to process of raising the $650,000 necessary to purchase a 110-foot-long steel-hulled schooner that can accommodate five times the number of people the Abbey Road can handle.
“It’s called the Mystic Whaler right now but we would change it to the Algonquin, which is named after a boat that was brought to Lake Superior before the locks in Soo were built,” Ringberg said. “It’s a boat that was pretty well known on the lake.”
“It can sleep 30 some passengers and carry 50 passengers per day,” said Ringberg. “The Abbey Road can only take six passengers for hire and up to 12 non-paying guests.”
Ringberg said the group had the Mystic Whaler surveyed in the fall to verify its soundness and value then moved ahead with plans.
“From our visit to the boat in the spring and seeing that the vessel has been maintained to a high standard, we believe this to be a fair price,” he said.
But the cost of the ship itself is just the beginning. Tall Ships also wants to raise the schooner’s first year operating expense of $500,000 and start a scholarship fund to take kids sailing on Lake Superior for little or no cost, Ringberg said.
The total fundraising goal is $2 million.
“Once the ship is on Lake Superior we are confident that we will continue to generate the revenue needed to keep her afloat,” he said. The group plans to bring the Algonquin back to Lake Superior in spring as part of the Tall Ships America Great Lakes Challenge.
“We’ve gone through a feasibility study and now we’re just going to start fundraising really hard,” Ringberg said. “We’re looking for people willing to donate $1,000 or more and then they become what’s called a plank owner … they’re the first supporters and so their names are on a plaque on the boat and they get some special privileges.”
Donations of less than $1,000 are also welcome and one donor – the Lukis Foundation – has agreed to match every $3 raised with $1 of matching money up to the goal of $2 million.
Lake Superior Tall Ships is planning an event the weekend after Labor Day and has invited classic boats and schooners from around the region to rendezvous at the Bayfield City Dock as a way to “celebrate our nautical history,” Ringberg said.
Peterson said the group also offers free community sails so “locals can get out on the lake and experience sailing on Lake Superior,” and encouraged people to visit the website for more information.
“We’re just excited about the program and looking forward to bringing a larger sailing vessel to Lake Superior,” said Peterson
For more information on Lake Superior Tall Ships or to learn more about making a donations visit www.lakesuperiortallships.org