Shenandoah sets sail under new captains

Famed schooner comes under the care of FUEL.

The Black Dog's schooner Shenandoah has been given to FUEL for its educational programs.

For 57 years, Captain Bob Douglas has been at the helm of the legendary schooner Shenandoah. Now the vessel Douglas conceived, built, and nurtured will be under the stewardship of a new generation of captains.

On Thursday, Ian Ridgeway, the co-founder and executive director of Foundation for Underway Experiential Learning (FUEL) announced that FUEL will be carrying on the educational programming that has become a rite of passage for many of the children who grow up on the Vineyard. Ridgeway, along with fellow FUEL founder Captain Casey Blum, LCSW — both Douglas’ protégés — will be running the ship.

Ridegway and Blum founded FUEL in 2017 to help young people overcome difficulties in their lives through sailing and handling a ship out at sea.

Douglas has been an integral part of FUEL, and Ridgeway has worked for Douglas for more than 25 years, and spent many hours on the Shenandoah. Ridegway said he wants to keep the existing programs going on the Shenandoah, and wants to add in new programs as well. Speaking to The Times by phone Thursday, Ridgeway said having Blum, a licensed social worker on board, would add a new element to the ship’s new chapter.

“I’m very excited and honored,” Ridegway said. “[Blum] can take an experience that’s already very meaningful, on an incredible platform, and make it really life-changing and really impactful.”

It’s hard to pin down the exact moment when the idea of Douglas passing the ship to Ridgeway and Blum was conceived, Ridgeway said, but it was a transition that was meant to be.

“The writing was sort of on the wall,” Ridgeway said. “It just sort of worked out that Bob was ready to make that transition, and we were excited to be there to accept this gift.”

The Shenandoah has brought out more than 5,000 Island children on voyages, giving them a taste of what travel was like on a sailboat and at sea. 

Every two years the ship comes ashore and is inspected for a mandatory checkup. Ridegway said FUEL is working with the Coast Guard on the work that needs to be done to be recertified to sail again.

FUEL is now in the midst of a $1 million campaign to ensure the educational programming on the Shenandoah continues for Island youth. So far the campaign has raised $350,000 from the Martha’s Vineyard Bank Charitable Foundation, FUEL’s board of directors, Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard, and Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank. Other individuals include Elizabeth Harris, Stever and Elsie Aubrey, Harry and Madelon Dickerson, John and Hillary Keene, Christopher Celeste and Nancy Kramer, John and Melissa McDonald, and Chet and Betsy Gibson.

With $650,000 left to raise, FUEL is looking to the Vineyard community for large and small contributions. Tax-deductible gifts can be made to the Shenandoah Campaign by visiting www.shenandoahfund.org or contacting Ridgeway at ian@fuelprogram.org.

FUEL is also in the middle of working to construct a Shenandoah 2.0, a steel successor to the famed tall ship.

Ridgeway also acknowledged the efforts of Douglas, the Douglas family, and the Black Dog, and how they’ve continued to give life-changing adventures to Island youth. “I just think that’s really such an incredible gift they’ve given to the Island,” Ridgeway said. “You can talk to just about anyone on the Island between the ages of 12 and, like, 36ish and they’ll probably say, ‘Oh yeah, I spent a week on the Shenandoah,’” Ridgeway said.