Skip to main content

Schooner or later: Family tall ship adventures

Published on: March 28, 2011

Adventuress family tripsRaising a 3,000-pound sail is a workout. It takes teamwork. And, when you do it aboard a classic tall-masted ship, it’s a ton (more than a ton, actually) of fun.

A group of us — adults and kids alike — line up behind each other on the deck of the historic schooner Adventuress. A few minutes ago, we motored away from the Bainbridge Island dock, and on this clear fall day, the Seattle skyline sparkles from across the water. Deck hands give us a quick tutorial in terminology (the rope we’ll use to raise the sail is a “halyard”) and technique (hand over hand, please, and keep in rhythm with your neighbors), and then we get to work, singing chanteys to keep time while we pull. To our left, the thick canvas sail slowly rises to the top of its 110-foot rig, sparkling white against a deep blue sky.

Tall ship cruising on Adventuress

Welcome to Adventuress, a restored 1913 two-masted schooner run and maintained by the nonprofit organization Sound Experience. Crews and volunteers from Sound Experience sail Adventuress from locations around Puget Sound, from Olympia to Friday Harbor, offering public sails (and other programs) that introduce families to the ship and her colorful history, and raise kids’ awareness of Puget Sound’s delicate environmental balance.

The 133-foot-long Adventuress is breathtaking to look at, all graceful lines and gleaming wood. It feels like a privilege to climb aboard, like opening the door to an impeccably crafted old house that you can explore at will. “There are a lot of beautiful boats out there,” says Sound Experience executive director Catherine Collins, who talks with such enthusiasm about Adventuress that it’s impossible not to be drawn in. “But they’re not accessible.”

Sound Experience wants to run “the friendliest, most accessible tall ship on Puget Sound,” according to Collins, who sees her organization as a steward of a working community treasure. A public day sail aboard Adventuress is an ideal family daytrip — not too long, different from anything you’ve probably done before and utterly welcoming to kids — and it does feel as if you’ve stumbled onto something special and not yet too well known. Families can find their perfect balance between hands-on learning and blissed-out relaxation. And, best of all, they can get out on the water aboard the kind of powerful vessel most of us would never have access to otherwise.

Family-friendly pricing

Family tall ship adventuresActually, the very best thing of all is the price: Buy an $85 family membership and you get free admission to all three-hour public sails for a year. That’s almost a dozen from locations all over Puget Sound, from March through August. It’s a terrific bargain.

Dress warmly for your trip on Adventuress, because it can get colder than you expect, even on a sunny day. Bring hats, gloves and extra layers. Hot drinks and DIY peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are available onboard, but you’re welcome to bring your own snacks. Once you’re on board, the crew will give you a rundown on getting under way and how to stay safe in an unfamiliar environment. Kids of all ages are welcome — our sail included babies, toddlers and elementary-age children — and will be invited to check out the critters in a lovely wooden touch box, to steer the ship, and to learn about plankton and marine mammals. It’s tempting to stay on deck and watch the water rush by, but the environmental programs are a highlight of the excursion and shouldn’t be missed.

After we raise the sails, the three hours pass way too fast, and our group — we feel like friends now, after spending the afternoon chatting on deck — disperses reluctantly. Everyone vows they’ll be back in the spring and summer for another sail, because one trip on Adventuress just isn’t enough.

If you go . . .

Adventuress sails from Elliott Bay Marina on April 2, Foss Waterway Seaport on April 16 (two sails), and Gig Harbor on April 17. In May, it sails from Percival Landing in Olympia and Squalicum Harbor Marina in Bellingham. June, July and August sails depart from Port of Friday Harbor Marina.

Non-members pay $40/adult and $20/youth, so an $85 family membership will more than pay for itself in one trip for a family of four.

Visit for information about special sails, teen and family overnight programs, and membership.

San Juan weekend
Adventuress departs from the Friday Harbor Marina on San Juan Island in June, July and August. Make plans now for a weekend on the island, where you’ll find lots of ways to round out your tall ship adventure.

Port of Friday Harbor Summer Concert Series. Free music at the marina on Fridays, 5–7 p.m., and Sundays, 2–4 p.m. 360-378-2688.

Free Family Art Days. Explore the Museum of Art & Sculpture Park’s serene but kid-friendly grounds, and do fun, funky art projects. Saturdays in July and August, 11 a.m.–4 p.m.

Theater. Island Stage Left presents free performances of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale on July and August evenings at two outdoor locations.

San Juan Historical Museum. Explore early life on the island: Visit an 1894 farmhouse and the original San Juan County Jail. $3–$4, younger than 5 free.

Lime Kiln Point State Park. A great spot to look for orca whales from shore! Tour the historic lighthouse, visit the interpretive center and hike the trails. Beautiful views.

Pick up snacks at historic Kings Market’s deli and bakery. If offers nice produce, meats and wine if you’re cooking in.

Sit on the deck and watch the sunset at the Madrona Bar and Grill, or grab breakfast, sandwiches or bakery treats at the more casual Lime Kiln Café. Both offer kids’ menus. Located at Roche Harbor (which also offers family-friendly accommodations in the vintage Hotel de Haro).

Go to for a list of accommodations.

Share this article with your friends!

Leave a Comment