Adrift In Adventure

“I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.”
--from “Sea Fever” by John Masefield

By Paul Sheridan

At Four Winds * Westward Ho, a traditional, independent, non-profit, sleepaway camp located on Orcas Island, Wash., campers have been singing the words above—taken from the Masefield poem—for decades. Four Winds was founded in 1927 by Ruth Brown, a teacher from Michigan, after cutting her teeth with the Campfire Girls of Seattle. Since the early days of camp, Four Winds has had a large sailboat—simply called a “big boat” in camp parlance—that has plied the waters of the Salish Sea, taking campers on extraordinary adventures.


Another Time
The lore of these boats in the old days of camp is lovely. There are stories of Westward Ho taking campers to high tea at the Empress Hotel in Victoria. Adventuress, an iconic Puget Sound boat originally built for an Arctic expedition to secure a Bowhead Whale specimen for the Museum of Natural History in New York, sailed with Four Winds campers for one summer.

All of those arrangements were built around another time. Considerations of insurance and licensing were different back then. This is anecdotal, but it also seems like it was less expensive to operate a boat. In the 1980s and 1990s, Four Winds had its last big boat, Dorade, which was acquired on a casual arrangement, owned by Four Winds Executive Director Mike Douglas and chartered to the camp. As Douglas neared retirement, he realized that:

1. He no longer wanted to own Dorade.

2. If Four Winds was going to have a big boat program in the modern age, it needed its own boat, and ideally, one that was built for purpose.


A New Vessel
Douglas and the Four Winds board mounted a successful fundraising campaign, and engaged Scarano Brothers, an iconic boat builder out of Albany, N.Y., to build Carlyn, a 61-foot yawl, named after Four Winds’ third director, Carlyn Kaiser Stark. Carlyn sleeps up to 16 passengers and crew, a large number for its length, and was built with educational programs in mind.

Today, Four Winds incorporates Carlyn into its programming in a couple of ways. During the summer, the camp runs two four-week-long sessions. In one of the sessions, nine senior campers go on a Carlyn adventure that lasts the entire session. They camp with the main camp campers, spend three days preparing, and then go on a three-week adventure up the Strait of Georgia, between Vancouver Island and the British Columbia mainland. The highlight of the trip is a venture into Princess Louisa Inlet, a stunning fjord on the mainland side, only accessible by boat. During the other four-week session, Carlyn does overnights and day sails locally in the San Juan Islands, trying to have as many campers aboard the boat as possible. In this way, Four Winds attempts to balance giving a few campers a big life-changing experience with giving a large number of campers some exposure to a truly unique experience.

Carlyn is crewed by a team of four. The captain, at present David Leanza, is a year-round staff member. A captain is always a U.S. Coast Guard-licensed 50-ton (or larger) Master, with a sail endorsement. Four Winds additionally hires three summer-staff members—a mate, who also carries a Coast Guard license, and two unlicensed staff members, a deck hand, and a galley coordinator.

Year-Round Programming
In the spring and fall, Four Wind charters Carlyn to Salish Sea Expeditions, a marine-education non-profit in the Seattle area that essentially runs a residential environmental learning center aboard the boat. This relationship has benefits in many ways, making it easier to employ a captain year-round, and allowing the two organizations to share each other’s expertise and resources. And, of course, it gets more kids aboard the boat.

All Jokes Aside
If profit, or even breaking even, is the goal, adding a big boat program to a summer camp operation is not recommended. Jokes about the two best days in a boat owner’s life being the day he buys a boat and the day he sells it, or of “boat” standing for “Bust Out Another Thousand,” are rooted in truth. Four Winds spends about twice what it takes in from program revenue, including both tuition for the Canada trip and the charter fee from Salish Seas, for its Carlyn program. For Four Winds, though, as a nonprofit, it works. The Carlyn program is five percent of Four Winds’ overall business, so the loss can be absorbed. Moreover, the program serves to further the camp’s mission. Finally, it acts as a real differentiator.

As Four Winds’ current Executive Director, I’ll admit to silently reacting when I hear campers sing “And all I ask is a tall ship,” as though that’s a small request. But it’s a unique, extraordinary experience to set off on a sailboat into the unknown with a group of peers and wonderful staff members. I’m proud that we’re able to continue to provide that experience.

Paul Sheridan is the Director for Four Winds * Westward Ho in Deer Harbor, Wash. Reach him at