Tall ship? Taller plan.

Captain Ian Ridgeway and FUEL are charting a bold new course.

Article by Joe Keenan – August 2019, Martha’s Vineyard Magazine

Photos By Ray Ewing

There is a seaman’s expression: “He came up through the hawsepipe,” the hawsepipe being the hole in the bow of a ship through which the anchor chains run. When Ian Ridgeway first encountered the topsail schooner Shenandoah, he very well may have been able to fit through the hawsepipe. Slight of build, with blonde hair and an enthusiasm that is undeniable, he describes himself as the the Shenandoah’s first stowaway – which he may have been. He came aboard with the fifth grade class for a week-long trip, after which he called his mom to hell her the captain had invited him on board for another week. That wasn’t the case, but when Captain Robert Douglas discovered the ruse, he allowed young Ridgeway to stay on, having taken a liking to the boy. There was a free bunk and a position he could fill – that of galley boy.

The Shenandoah has a long tradition of moving folks up through the ranks, starting with the position of galley boy. If you proved your worth there – a job not for the faint of heart – you could earn a berth in the fo’c’s’le as a humble deckhand. If one kept at it as a deckhand, the next rung on the ladder, or “up the ratlines” in ship parlance, was bosun. The bosun’s job is to keep all the various parts of the rig in order, as well as to make sure that all the running rigging, blocks, and tackles are in good shape. Following a bosun is the position of second mate, and after that the prized position of first mate, who is second only to the captain and equal only to the cook.

In subsequent years Ridgeway fulfilled all the requirements and climbed the ratlines, even going beyond the position of mate to become a captain of the Shenandoah’s sister ship, the Alabama. His rise was by no means meteoric. It took years of hard work. But it was this journey through the ranks – all the learning, dedication, and adventure, which leads to a deeper understanding of life – that led him to embark on a new journey and pick up Douglas’s long deferred dream of building a steel schooner by the lines of the Shenandoah.

A half-century ago, when Douglas had the idea of building a nineteenth-century topsail schooner and the Shenandoah was born, his plan was to carry passengers up and down the East Coast. After a few years, however, it became evident that adult passengers prefer amenities and deadlines met rather than the whims of the tide and weather: the Shenandoah has no engine with which to buck the tide, only a coal-fired stove in the galley, kerosene lanterns, and a tight berth. The work of all the passengers is required to heave on the lines to hoist the sails

As the number of adult passengers dwindled, Douglas began to bring on board children from the local schools. Slowly, kids’ cruises became the norm. Though the trips weren’t listed as educational, the were inherently so. At some point Douglas decided he wanted to build a new schooner from the plans he had drafted for the Shenandoah, but this time it would be made of steel and would include an engine, maybe even hot water.

It is this vision that Ridgeway has revived and expanded upon. Along with Captain Casey Blum, the first woman skipper for the Black Dog Tall Ships, he has created a nonprofit called Foundation for Underway Experiential Learning, or FUEL, with the goal of raising nearly $5 million to build and endow the new ship. It’s a heavy lift on an island filled with good causes, to be sure. But with an impressive board of directors and volunteer consultants form the world of sailing education, and Ridgeway’s seemingly unbounded supply of energy and enthusiasm, the day will no double come when the champagne bottle will be broken on the bow and the new vessel will slide down the ways into the sea.

Then the young sailors will experience packing their bags and climbing aboard, finding their bunks and meeting their shipmates. The lines will be let go, the sails will be set, and in a matter of hours they will be out of sight of land and far beyond the reach of WiFi. As they journey and do their appointed tasks – taking classes, helping in the galley, standing watches, swabbing decks – they will discover other things: that they can withstand the storms and calms alike, that they can live in tight quarters, and learn to get along. They will discover the joys of navigation, sail handling, and all of the necessary skills of the sailor. They will discover themselves.

They will see things only seen at sea by mariners: hundreds of dolphins approaching from all directions as if on cue and then departing with no notice, sunrises and sunsets, stars and moon seen as never before. They will see other ships and meet other crews, but perhaps most importantly, they will test themselves and discover they are able bodied, and will become more sound of mind and spirit. And they will dream the dreams of sailors at sea.

— Joe Keenan

For more information, visit buildtheship.org

Learning by doing

FUEL uses sailing ships as an unparalleled tool for education.

By Abby Remer – August 7, 2019, MV Times

Something new is afloat. While the Black Dog Tall Ships will continue to run the education programs for all Island schoolchildren, an exciting new opportunity will be available onboard a historic topsail schooner designed by Bob Douglas, master and designer of the Shenandoah.

At its core, the Foundation for Underway Experiential Learning (FUEL) program will be a developmental adventure targeted at 32 students from high school, college, or those heading into trade school, mainly from the Cape and Islands. Executive director and co-founder Ian Ridgeway and Casey Blum, LCSW, MS, FUEL’s co-founder and program director, recognized that there is a gap in services for this age demographic on Martha’s Vineyard, and are aiming to fill it by providing programming that is intentionally designed to help young adults transition into adulthood.

These young people, like those who went to sea during the great whaling era, will venture out on the open seas to learn by doing. The experiential curriculum was designed around three education pillars: personal development, environmental stewardship, and maritime heritage. They provide the framework that allows FUEL’s staff to carry out the organization’s mission of showing learners how to engage with the world in meaningful ways. The program, currently in the fundraising stage, will be the first to combine study abroad and experiential learning on a historical sailing ship.

During the ocean voyages, students and 12 crew, who will be trained to execute the curriculum, will be divided into three watches, following the traditional schedule of working four hours followed by eight hours off. While on watch, they will learn how to steer, navigate, handle sails, and climb and work aloft, as well as sailmaking, rigging work, conducting engine room checks, working in the galley, and more.

“Seamanship and navigation are a core class that would be offered on every trip,” Ridgeway says. “For instance, one of the essential things would be three or four basic knots you would have to know to use rope effectively. Everyone needs to know points of sail. But that shouldn’t even be hard, because these things are so integral to the experience that they’re going to know them anyway.

“Academic classes such as what creates the trade winds that are driving our sailing ship and how have they impacted human history would also be taught, as well as marine biology, astronomy, maritime literature, weather, and climatology.” 

Unlike their counterparts from an earlier era though, FUEL’s educational methods will also include structured dialogue, group discussion, writing, reflective journals, and demonstrations.

The curriculum was developed in-house by Blum and overseen by FUEL’s academic committee, which consists of educators Dr. Dan Garvey, Dr. Michael Gass, Dr. Anita Tucker, and Dr. Harry Dickerson.

The academic classes will be taught onboard, but because they’ll be traveling to places like France, Italy, Spain, Africa, and the Caribbean, students will also enjoy sightseeing, cultural exchanges, snorkeling, swimming, and more. Not a bad way to spend a semester — and all available for college credit.

“Our program has been designed to surpass the accreditation standards set by the Association for Experiential Education (AEE),” Blum explains. “Experiential education is a teaching philosophy in which educators purposefully engage learners in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills, clarify values, and develop people’s capacity to contribute to their communities. In addition to this accreditation, FUEL will partner with a school of record that will award up to a full semester of college credit.”

Ridgeway emphasized, “The core essence of the program is personal growth. We’re trying to make sure that transformative experience is happening for as many students as possible. Students will develop critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills onboard the ship that we’re really focusing — inter- and intra-personal relationships. I want people to know how positive the outcome from this program is going to be, and understand how much kids are struggling and need something like this outside of school that can give them a positive outlook on the world and help them live a meaningful life.”

“My life and Casey’s were changed by working on ships,” Ridgeway told me. “I had to take some time off between high school and college, and it had such a positive experience on me. Especially here on the Island, I think our young adult population is really underserved. There’s not a lot for kids after high school. I think we can help them get on a positive track. Even more interesting than that is historically how kids from the Island would become adults. They went to sea to broaden their horizons. To learn leadership [to bring] back to the Island community. I think it’s even cooler that we can go back to our roots. Sometimes the answers are right there in the past.”

FUEL is in the fundraising phase now, and many of those they talk to say that they’d like to do the program themselves. They may not need the college credit, but Ridgeway says they could still do the trip and participate in the program. 

“I think it would be awesome to have older people and younger people together, sharing life experiences, both new and already experienced,” says Ridgeway. “Don’t get distracted by the ship. Our mission is not taking learners sailing. That is our program, our method. Our mission is making them thrive as adults.”

For information about the program, visit buildtheship.org/program. For information about upcoming events, see buildtheship.org/events.

First annual celebration benefiting FUEL and the launch of the FUEL Fund.

On July 18th on Vineyard Haven’s North Shore, people gathered to celebrate the growth of the FUEL Program. FUEL’s new film, “Bound Away” about the legacy of the Shenandoah and FUEL’s goals for the future was premiered and Dr. Dan Garvey, President Emeritus of Prescott College and experiential educator, spoke to a captive audience.

“All of our research shows there is nothing more important to change people’s lives than to introduce them to high adventure experiential activities. It’s better than narcotics, it’s better than therapy, it’s better than any school you can send them to.”

—DR. DAN GARVEY

“There is something that occurs when people are put in a place where the outcome of their behavior is uncertain, but there is going to be a consequence.”

— DR. DAN GARVEY

Photos from the evening

Please contact us if you would like a copy of any of the photos.

A steel successor to replace legendary Shenandoah

A design for Shenandoah 2.0, a steel successor to the legendary schooner. — Courtesy FUEL

A design for Shenandoah 2.0, a steel successor to the legendary schooner. — Courtesy FUEL

By Rich Saltzberg - July 2, 2019 — Martha’s Vineyard Times

The famed topsail schooner Shenandoah, the masterpiece of Captain Bob Douglas built 55 years ago, will one day be moored near an improved rendition of itself, a sister ship fashioned from steel. Aboard both the Shenandoah and the early 20th century schooner Alabama, the Douglas family has shown children the wonders of learning through sailing for decades.

While Black Dog Tall Ships remains strong and popular, a kindred organization is poised to help maintain the magic of big-vessel educational sailing the Douglas family pioneered on the Vineyard Haven waterfront. To do it, they’re going to need a bigger boat. 

“Bob used what he learned from designing and sailing Shenandoah to make an improved ship that could better serve learners and the community,” Capt. Ian Ridgeway told The Times. In addition to being a captain of the Alabama, Ridgeway is the executive director of the Foundation for Underway Experiential Learning (FUEL), a nonprofit for maritime learning. Furthermore, FUEL is meant to facilitate the construction and future operation of Shenandoah 2.0 out of Vineyard Haven. 

Among the virtues of steel, Ridgeway said, is that it’s “a more readily repairable medium, which helps in world voyaging.” On average, steel offers about 10 percent more interior volume than wood. In Shenandoah 2.0, that translates into approximately 30 percent more interior space, he said. 

Douglas said instead of a foresail, the new schooner will have a main staysail, which is better for sailing in foul weather. The new schooner will also have something Shenandoah lacks, an engine, which will make it “more mobile and versatile,” Douglas said. 

Whereas Shenandoah is 170 tons, Shenandoah 2.0 is projected to be 240 tons, Ridegway said, and whereas Shenandoah’s sparred length is 152 feet, 108 feet at the rail, Shenandoah 2.0’s sparred length will be 169 feet, 118 feet at the rail. 

“From a stability standpoint, she’s a safer boat, he said. Shenandoah 2.0 will be able to “recover from a complete 90° knockdown, while Shenandoah cannot.”

Maine shipyard Washburn and Doughty has been selected to construct the schooner once funding goals are met. Douglas called the shipyard a “very impressive operation” known for its tugboats. “I never saw such a clean operation,” he said. 

“I did my first weeklong trip on Alabama as a 9-year-old kid, and I’ve been here sailing every summer since then,” Capt. Casey Blum, FUEL program director, said. Now a captain of that vessel, alongside Ridgeway and Capt. Morgan Douglas, Blum is hooked on sailing and the outdoor education aboard sailing vessels like Shenandoah, which is why she wants to see another iteration of the great schooner in Vineyard Haven Harbor.

“My biggest hope is that the legacy continues and that the people that are served by the Shenandoah continue to be served into the future,” she said. “So I think that’s what we’re doing with FUEL is trying to carry the torch on. It’s such a meaningful vessel for so many people here, for the Douglas family, and all the people who’ve gone to sail onboard. You know, it’s definitely amazing that’s she’s lasted as long as she has. She’s had great care given throughout her life.” 

As to the fate of the Shenandoah, Douglas said he was unsure. He placed a small for-sale ad in May in a nautical publication to test the market but there’s no sale pending. The 87-year-old mariner said he’s known for 30 years what the new schooner will be named, but that’s a secret he’s not giving up. 

Shenandoah 2.0 will cost between $4 and $4.5 million, Ridgeway said, so donations to FUEL to realize the vessel are paramount. 

“By investing in the new ship, you are investing in the spiritual growth of the young sailors who make the journey onboard the ship and within themselves,” John Keene, a FUEL director, said. A gathering in support of FUEL’s annual fund will take place on July 18. Anyone who wishes to attend or who wishes to contribute to FUEL can contact Ridgeway at ian@buildtheship.org.

New Community Partnership

We are charged by having created another community partnership. The FUEL Program and our home radio station MVY Radio are joining forces.

Look out this summer for a new segment on the air called “From the Sea” brought to you by FUEL and WMVY. Everything feels right when nonprofits are working together to raise our community up. Thank you Laurel Reddington, MVY, and all our MV nonprofits for your hard work to keep this island special.

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FUEL featured in the MV Film Festival

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Did you know that we made a short film about the FUEL Program last summer? Our talented videographer friends Lisa Bolden and Michael Nipper came out to Martha's Vineyard for two weeks in July and August to capture the magic behind our story.

Now, The Martha's Vineyard Film Festival has elected to include our film among the Vineyard documentary shorts in their 19th annual M.V. Film Festival.

Ours will be showing on Sunday, March 24th at 5:45pm at the Chilmark School along with the other Vineyard documentary shorts. Since you most likely cannot make it for the film festival, you can see our short film by clicking the button below.

Dr. Dan Garvey joins FUEL Advisory Board

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“I am eager to support FUEL because I know the value of experiential education. On a ship, learners are taught real lessons with direct, immediate consequences. There is no better investment to help reinvigorate education.”
— DAN GARVEY, Ph.D.

Dr. Dan Garvey has joined the FUEL Program's board of advisors. Our advisory board is a group of distinguished experts who are working with us to make sure our program is effective and successful. His relevant accomplishments are numerous. I will highlighting a few:

  • President Emeritus, Prescott College

  • Former faculty & Researcher, experiential education, University of New Hampshire (UNH)

  • Former President and Executive Director, Association for Experiential Education

  • Vice President, American Youth Foundation

  • Former Dean of Entering Students, UNH

  • Former AmeriCorps Executive Committee member

  • UNH Outstanding Teaching Award recipient

  • Julian Smith Award recipient

  • Author of over 25 books and articles about experiential education

  • Former Trustee, National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS)

  • Former Director, Project Adventure

  • Current Trustee, The Institute for Shipboard Education

Additionally, Dan has sailed around the world six times as dean of Semester at Sea and one time as faculty.

To learn more about the FUEL Program's advisory board click here.

Tracey Overbeck Stead Joins FUEL

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Tracey Overbeck Stead has joined FUEL's board of directors. As a successful interior designer from Texas who summered on Martha’s Vineyard, she moved to the island with her husband Ethan and her three kids in 2017.

Tracey owns a wooden daysailer built by Gannon & Benjamin that she keeps in Vineyard Haven harbor and holds a US Coast Guard 50 ton Captain’s license.

Tracey is excited for her kids to learn the ways of a sailing ship on a FUEL educational voyage.

See who else serves on FUEL's board of directors.

Dr. Anita Tucker Joins FUEL Advisory Board

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We are excited to announce that Anita Tucker, Ph.D., LICSW, has joined FUEL's board of advisors and is serving on our academic committee.

The academic committee oversees the creation and implementation of our curriculum. They make sure our courses are worthy of college credit and our learners are getting the most valuable and positive developmental adventure a world-voyaging sailing ship can offer.

A few of Anita's credentials:

  • Associate Professor, Department of Social Work at the University of New Hampshire

  • Co-coordinator, Dual Masters Program in Social Work and Outdoor Education

  • Prepares graduate students for careers in adventure and wilderness therapy.

  • Associate Director, Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Center at UNH

To learn more about Anita and other members of the FUEL Program's advisory board, click here.