One of my all-time favorite ships is celebrating a major milestone in her career – and it’s one that most ships will never be fortunate enough to see. The historic Schooner Zodiac, based out of Bellingham, Washington, celebrates her 90th birthday this year – and to celebrate, the company is holding free deck tours and a discounted day-sail on Saturday, April 26.
Built in 1924 in East Boothbay, Maine for the heirs to the Johnson & Johnson company, the Zodiac began life as a private luxury yacht. In 1928, she successfully competed in the King’s Cup Race across the Atlantic, finishing in Santander, Spain. Shortly after, she was purchased by the California Bar Pilots and pressed into service along the California coast as a pilot schooner for the next forty years.
Under the direction of Tim Mehrer, the Zodiac has a small but dedicated group of employees and volunteers who give their time and effort to making this 90-year old vessel sparkle with each passing season. She offers both day-sails and multi-day cruises through the San Juan Islands, and even ventures out as far as Deception Sound.
I first discovered the Zodiac two years ago – entirely by accident. I had no idea that the Zodiac existed just a 90-minute drive across the border from Deckchair HQ in Vancouver, Canada – or that I would fall head-over-heels in love with this unique ship.
On the multi-day sails, guests sleep in berths or in small staterooms. Once everyone gets over the fear of the various noises people can make when they sleep, everyone has an absolute blast. In fact, I think I feel more comfortable aboard the Zodiac after just one night than I do on many cruise ships. And it’s hard not to feel comfortable: at night, the blue glow of the open sky glows underneath the light of the moon, which shines in through the ship’s portholes and skylights. Her lights burn brightly, and the water laps idly against her sides.
I love modern cruising, but that’s an experience that is wholly unique to sail – and to a vessel with the kind of history the Zodiac has. It also doesn’t hurt that you can participate in the raising and lowering of the sails, along with assisting in the navigation and upkeep of this fantastic ship.
Of course, the ship can only be as good as her crew – many of which first started their association with the Zodiac as passengers before volunteering their time sailing aboard her, or maintaining her. Each winter, Zodiac is winterized and refurbished for the coming season.
If you’re going to be in or near Bellingham, Washington on Saturday, April 26, you should pop down to see this attractive vessel. Walk her wooden decks. Smell the scents of the varnish mixing with the pitch in her seams. For me, it’s the smell of the Zodiac that entrances me – it’s a wonderful mixture of maritime history and raw ingenuity that’s like nothing else.
If you can’t make it, I’ll be in Bellingham on the 26th for her first evening sail of the season, and will have all the details here on From the Deck Chair. It’s a birthday I wouldn’t think of missing!
More information on the Schooner Zodiac, along with the complete 2014 sailing schedule, can be found by paying a visit to their website. Tickets for the April 26 day sail can be purchased for $50 per person by calling Reservations at 1-206-719-7622.