How To Pass On The Love Of The Sea

How Sailing Teaches Girls Science, Engineering, Teamwork And Leadership Awesomeness

One Woman’s Mission To Teach Kids The Love Of The Earth In The Salish Sea

Michael Venables: Tell me a little more about your business, and how you got started in marine education.

Captain Art Lohrey sailing into Prevost Harbor. Photo courtesy San Juan Classic Daysailing

Morgan Lohrey: Well, my dad and I own the company, San Juan Classic Daysailing. We started about 12 years ago, and we had a wooden boat shop. We started the charter company with the boats that we refinished ourselves in our restoration shop, wanting to give people the opportunity to explore the San Juan Islands like we do with our family. [And]explore the area in a little more intimate manner, explore the coasts and shallow bays and other opportunities out there. We put together packages that we like to do ourselves with our family, and offer them to other people.

Venables: What do you think is the most important service you provide with regard to sailing education?

Lohrey: We like to focus on the historical aspects of the sailboats. They are all classic, fully-restored wooden boats. We don’t use any new, mechanized equipment. The only stuff we have on board that’s new is safety equipment: lifeboats, life jackets, GPS, things like that. But, the mechanics of the boat itself is all human-powered, historically accurate equipment. And we take that craft that is very engaging and powerful and then take kids out to explore the wilds of Puget Sound and beyond—in a way that they can directly interact with nature and the pristine environment, without altering it as we explore it.

Learning about rigging on the Dirigo II. Photo courtesy San Juan Classic Daysailing

Venables: What skills does sailing education develop in kids?

Lohrey: I think—confidence. I think that it gives people kind of a feeling that they can empower themselves to do wild things as well. Sailing a schooner or a tall ship is stuff that’s kind of from a bygone era and inaccessible to most people these days, as are the areas where they can go [to sail]. And learning this may look very intimidating at first. You would never know what this line did or what that piece of equipment did. But after a couple of hours on board and certainly a couple of days on our longer trips, people become empowered.

They feel confident that they can get out there and be part of the history and part of the world that they are engaging in. Also, it’s very good for team building. The schooner Dirigo cannot be sailed by one person alone and so teamwork, camaraderie and a sense of adventure is really fostered on every trip.

The schooner, Dirigo II at full sail. Photo courtesy San Juan Classic Daysailing

Venables: How does teaching sailing support the overall goals of STEM education for girls?

Lohrey: I think it’s a hugely important thing. I think the maritime industry at large has always been a man’s world. Nowadays, you are seeing more women on board: women first mates, women engineers and women captains. A number of the sailing programs in the area and around the world do specifically women-focused sailing adventures. I think that this is a fantastic setting for women and young girls to display that they are just as capable as men. There are a lot of fantastic parts of sailing that are electrical, engineering. There’s weather … there’s science. There are all kinds of things that have always been a man’s world. I think that it’s great for young women to see older women in these positions of leadership and not be afraid to jump in there and do it.

The cutter Iris at full sail near Shaw Island. Photo courtesy Michael Venables

We had a family just the other day come [sailing] with us, with three young daughters. When we left port, they had no idea that they were going to be involved. And they ended up raising the mainsail all by themselves and learning about the physics and the dynamics of the wind and how it provides lift for the sails. By the time they got off the boat, they knew how a sailboat worked. And they knew how to trim a sheet and tend the helm. It’s a really great opportunity for girls to get involved in activities that are not really thought of as “girl activities.”

The cutter Iris heeling in the Salish Sea. Photo courtesy San Juan Classic Daysailing

Venables: What do you envision as your main mission for the years ahead?

Lohrey: With our business, we are kind of diverging into two different branches. We have our smaller boats here in Friday Harbor that will continue to offer [sailing programs]: from a two-hour sail to a full-day private charter exploring the islands, getting out to the outer islands, visiting the ports, giving people the opportunity to explore this part of the Salish Sea. And then the schooner Dirigo, is about to embark on a very exciting adventure. September she’s going to be sailing down the Pacific coast to San Francisco, San Diego, down to Mexico and from there, points unknown. People can join us on board for one leg or more. We’ll be doing lots of adventuring, exploring all different kinds of different bio regions, interacting with other schooners that we are in contact with, doing some racing and historical sailing trips. I think the most exciting aspect of it all for me is kind of the unknown. We have our bread and butter here with the smaller boat tours that we are going to continue to offer. The schooner Dirigo II is going to give us the opportunity to do some real sailing and some real adventuring.

Hoisting one of the sails of the Dirigo II. Photo courtesy San Juan Classic Daysailing

Venables: What happens on a typical voyage and what range of basic sailing skills do you teach?

Lohrey: On the smaller boats, we generally do the two-hour day sails or half and full-day private charters and sunset sails. That gives people a little hands-on experience out there. We do a little safety briefing when we begin and then we go over the basic functioning of the boat: what to expect during a sailing trip, what lines do what, the standing rigging and the running rigging. And then once we’re out we involve people as much as they want in getting the sails up. What we learn is how the sails work with the wind and how we’re interacting with the currents and the different topography of the islands. When people get off, they have a pretty good understanding of the basic physics of the sailboat. With the schooner, it’s a little more in depth. We have lots of different kinds of sails. We have gaff-rigged sails and the traditional Marconi, the traditional triangular-shaped sails. So we have lift, we have friction, we have a mechanical advantage with all of our rigging. When we set out on the schooner, it’s all the same, times ten. And people get an opportunity to learn all of it. The schooner does full day, private charters and multi-day adventures to the islands and then, of course, beyond. By the time people get off, they have a very solid understanding of not only of the principles of sailing, but also of the actual running of the specific boat and boats like it.

Venables: What is the message that you’d like to communicate to kids who want to sail?

Captain Morgan Lohrey and Admiral Rowan at the helm of the Dirigo II. Photo courtesy San Juan Classic Daysailing

Lohrey: I think the main thing we want to inspire kids to do is to look high. Our captain, Art Lohrey, the founder of the business (and my father), was a foster child growing up. And never in his wildest dreams would he have imagined as a child that he would own a schooner or be able to experience anything like this. He is a fantastic teacher and loves taking children out on the boat. His message to kids is “you can do it too.” He’s very emphatic about the idea that kids can do anything on the boat, (as long as it’s safe), that the adults can do. And never think that anything is out of your reach.

Captain Alan Niles sailing in San Francisco Bay. Photo courtesy Alan Niles

My son and I were fortunate to take part in a wonderful afternoon’s sailing trip on the cutter Iris with Captain Alan Niles. In addition to his sailing credentials, he is an experienced photographer, climber and scuba diver.

I was honored to meet Captain Morgan Lohrey, her colleagues and some of her crew. She shared her passions with me about her ongoing mission to pass on centuries-old maritime traditions. Captain Lohrey and her colleagues are teaching sailing to a new generation of kids, grounded with the lessons of environmental stewardship. And along the way, they’re helping them to find themselves. Somewhere in the salty waves of the Salish Sea.