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

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.