In February 1913, a 133-foot schooner was launched at the Rice Brothers Shipyard in East Boothbay, Maine. It was fine-lined and luxurious, an expensive commission at a time when shipyards were beginning to shift operations to meet the demand for smaller “one design” racing boats, versus larger ships for commerce or adventure.
Designed by Boston’s Bowdoin B. Crowninshield, Adventuress was built for an Artic adventure. John Borden II, a young man of means from Chicago, envisioned an epic hunting expedition for himself and his friends, and needed a ship. Adventuress fit the bill.
At the same time, the American Museum of Natural History in New York City was completing a massive whale exhibit and was missing just one whale specimen, the Bowhead. Its ambitious naturalist, Roy Chapman Andrews, had spent years on ships around the world hunting whales for the museum and their work was nearly complete. However, the discovery of oil meant that whaling stations in the Arctic were closing. Soon it would become difficult, if not impossible, to get a whale rendered for such an exhibit.
When Andrews learned of Adventuress’ expedition, he approached Bordon who agreed to take Andrews along. The museum’s search for the Bowhead whale was thus added to the ship’s maiden voyage to the Arctic.
The “shakedown” sail from E. Boothbay south that winter was rough, mirroring Arctic conditions with six inches of ice in the rigging by the time they reached Boston. The crew walked, leaving the captain to secure new crew before heading to Bermuda, and then through the treacherous Straights of Magellan and up the West Coast. The expedition experienced costly time delays. The Panama Canal wouldn’t be open for another year or so.
What was bad for the hunting party was fortuitous for Adventuress. Had Bordon, Andrews and the ship been on time to the Arctic whaling grounds, it surely would not be here today. The pack ice formed early in the winter of 1913, trapping ships and their sailors, in some cases with tragic consequences. The fate of the Canadian Arctic Expedition is illustrated in the aptly-named The Ice Man: The Doomed 1913 Voyage of the Karluck.
Adventuress didn’t make it to the Arctic that winter – or ever (yet). Nor did Andrews get his whale. Instead, Andrews spent weeks on the Pribiloff Islands doing pivotal research on the dwindling fur seal population while Bordon and his friends hunted for bear and other game.
"Young men go on to other adventures, and ships other lives."
Young men go on to other adventures, and ships other lives. John Bordon sold Adventuress the following year and built a new ship for his expeditions, The Great Bear, which he subsequently sank on an expedition to the Bering Sea in 1916. Roy Chapman Andrews “went inland” and famously discovered the first dinosaur eggs at the Flaming Cliffs in Mongolia in 1922. Adventuress, for her part, went on to a respectful three-decades career with the San Francisco Bar Pilots, and was recognized for her service patrolling the West Coast during WWII.
Today, in the Seattle area under the care of nonprofit Sound Experience, Adventuress is a beloved National Historic Landmark (NHL) – and one of just two NHL sailing ships still in active USCG operation on the West Coast. Since 1989, more than 50,000 children and teens have climbed aboard for day and overnight voyages on the Salish Sea. Together, they raise the massive gaff-rigged mainsail, take the helm, and learn to sail a tall ship. They learn about the importance of our waterways and oceans, explore maritime careers and – perhaps most important – learn what it takes to be a shipmate. For more about Sound Experience’s mission and programs, visit www.soundexp.org