Shenandoah left Vineyard Haven Dec. 6, under tow by the 65-foot Fairhaven-based tug Jaguar, Capt. Charles Mitchell, bound for Boothbay, Maine. Capt. Robert S. Douglas's 108-foot Vineyard Haven schooner, launched in 1964 from the Harvey Gamage Shipyard in South Bristol, Maine, was hauled out of the water this week, the first step in a 43-year checkup and overhaul at the Boothbay Harbor Shipyard.
Captain Douglas and his wife, Charlene, aboard Shenandoah for the trip, powered up coal stoves to keep the schooner's crew warm during the tow. Jaguar towed Shenandoah, which has no auxiliary power, through Woods Hole and the Cape Cod Canal, then east to Boothbay in mid-coast Maine. From the east end of the canal, it's about a 16-hour steam to the shipyard, according to Captain Mitchell.
Apart from regular annual maintenance, generally undertaken at D.N. Kelley Shipyard in Fairhaven, Shenandoah has not undergone extensive repair since her launching. She has operated every year since her launching, carrying as many as 31 passengers on weeklong cruises in Southeastern New England waters. She also cruised in Maine during the 1970s. Recently, her passengers have been mostly groups of young people. Since the mid-1990s, fifth grade students from Vineyard elementary schools have been among the student sailors, making the week-long cruises at rates 50 percent off the standard fare.
Morgan Douglas, the third of the captain's four sons and the captain of another Douglas schooner, Alabama, said this week that Shenandoah's mid-life refreshment has been made possible by the creation of the Shenandoah Foundation, a tax-exempt charitable foundation "The Shenandoah Foundation will secure the ship's future through completing maintenance like this, as well as bring greater exposure to the schooner and its programs for kids and school children," he said.
Shenandoah, called an extreme clipper schooner, with square sails on her foremast, and Alabama, a slightly smaller fore and aft rigged schooner, are both operated out of Vineyard Haven by Coastwise Packet Company. Captain Douglas and his family own Coastwise Packet and Black Dog Tavern enterprises. Morgan Douglas heads the company's Black Dog Tall Ships unit.
Whenever Shenandoah has been under sail, she's been under Captain Douglas's command. Captain Douglas is also responsible for her design, an adaptation of an 1830s American revenue cutter named Joe Lane, and he supervised her construction.
Morgan Douglas, on his way to Maine this week to oversee the beginning of the reconstruction work, explained what he called "a significant project."
"Shenandoah was hauled Monday, the first step in a project known as a 're-topping' - essentially replacing her topside planking from the waterline up, along with completely refastening her. This is the first major repair she has undergone since her launching in 1964. And although we have worked out the best deal possible for this project, it will not be an inexpensive one. But once it has been completed, Shenandoah will be ready to sail well into the future."
Morgan Douglas said the purpose of the Shenandoah Foundation will be to "...provide both the resources for maintenance and repairs like this one, as well as stronger and more consistent outreach to schools, youth organizations and maritime programs, so that children and adults have the opportunity to sail onboard, as Island students do.
"Sailing, as it takes place onboard Shenandoah, is something unique. She is the world's only non-auxiliary square topsail schooner and a direct link with our country and region's maritime past. The foundation recognizes this as something that needs to be preserved, as well as shared with a larger audience, while still allowing Martha's Vineyard school children the opportunity to sail onboard."
Boothbay Harbor Shipyard, formerly Sample's Shipyard, was founded more than 135 years ago, according to its web site. Continuing a long shipbuilding tradition, the yard specializes in the maritime skills and trades that made New England famous. Its 700-ton marine railway has held tall ships, tugboats, fishing trawlers, Coast Guard vessels and other service craft such as passenger boats and ferries. The 150-ton railway has accommodated sailing yachts, workboats, schooners and motor vessels.
David Stimson, for several years a Vineyarder before moving to Maine, is general manager of the Boothbay yard. For more than 35 years he has designed, built, and restored wooden boats ranging from catboats to larger scale passenger vessels. He's also a writer whose work has appeared in marine publications.
The Shenandoah Foundation web site, now under construction, is www.shenandoahfoundation.org. It is a 501(c)(3) non-profitable corporation.