April 3, 2017|By Chris Kelly| Water

On Saturday, April 1, 2017, I watched an improbable dream come true. Alan Olson, executive director of Call of the Sea, had dreamed of constructing a historic and sustainable wooden tall ship that would provide unique educational experiences in the San Francisco Bay area. Call of the Sea is a local non-profit that inspires kids to become environmental stewards through hands-on environmental education under sail, and The Conservation Fund is proud to have partnered with them on this one-of-a-kind project

4 3 IMG 1496The final few feet of the journey of "Matthew Turner" from shipyard to harbor. Photo by Chris Kelly.

The Fund became involved in Alan’s dream in 2012 when I saw an article in a local sailing publication describing his idea to build a wooden sailing ship like those constructed in the Bay Area by legendary 19th century shipbuilder Matthew Turner. This was no small plan. Named after the master shipbuilder, the “Matthew Turner” would be the first traditional wooden tall ship built in the Bay Area in nearly 100 years. 

4 3 TallShip California WhitneyFlanagan065Photo by Whitney Flanagan.

As the owner of a wooden sloop and a founder of the Fund’s North Coast sustainable forestry program, I loved the idea of getting kids involved and excited about San Francisco Bay’s natural beauty and rich history through a hands-on effort to build and sail a traditional sailing ship using sustainably harvested timber. On a whim, I called Alan and found out that he wanted to use locally sourced, sustainably harvested Douglas fir timber for the construction—the very kind of timber that Mr. Turner would have used back in the day. It just so happened that we had sustainably harvested beautiful Douglas fir logs from our Big River Forest in Mendocino County about two hours north of the Bay, which were perfectly suited for construction of the tall ship. 

4 3 BigRiver California RickBernard 4Photo by Rick Bernard.

Big River is one of dozens of large-scale forests that the Fund manages as working forests. Our Working Forest Fund addresses an urgent conservation challenge: the loss of America’s last big, intact, privately-held forests. Our goal is to ensure forests' vital role in providing clean air and water, wildlife habitat, and economic benefits for communities. We work toward this goal by acquiring and permanently protecting ecologically significant forestland, and by applying expert management and restoration to those forests. The Big River Forest generates jobs, is vital to maintaining the Big River watershed, is home to endangered species such as coho salmon and steelhead trout and also produces revenue by trapping carbon dioxide. 

As we were still in the depths of the great recession, the logs had no buyers and we were thrilled to be able to offer them to Alan as one of the first tangible investments in his big dream. So later that fall, eight truckloads of the Fund’s Douglas fir logs rolled to a sawmill in Cazadero on the Russian River. 

4 3 BigRiver California WhitneyFlanagan015Photo by Whitney Flanagan.

The timber later traveled to the shipyard and made up 80% of the wood used to build the 132' long, 25' wide, brigantine-rigged schooner. During the process, a team of the Fund’s California staff did a volunteer day at the shipyard where “Matthew Turner” was built, which was a fun way to see our timber being crafted in this unique way.

4 3 TallShip California WhitneyFlanagan088Members of The Conservation Fund team were able to see the process of building "Matthew Turner" first hand at the tall ship volunteer day. Photo by Whitney Flanagan.

Nearly five years after the Fund donated those Douglas fir logs, the tall ship “Matthew Turner” slipped into Richardson Bay on April 1, 2017 to the sound of a brass band and the cheers of hundreds of well-wishers, professional shipwrights, volunteers, spiritual and religious leaders and dignitaries. I was so happy to be there to see the culmination of many years of planning and hard work. I had a chance to talk with Alan Olsen as the ship was being transported to the launch site, who remarked, “We decided early on that if we build this ship we should make it as sustainable as possible.” 

4 3 matthew turner in water"Matthew Turner" is now at home in the waters of the San Francisco Bay. Photo by Scott Kelly.

Work will continue on the ship throughout the summer, and starting this fall the “Matthew Turner” will begin taking 12,000 students per year out on San Francisco Bay to experience Call of the Sea’s programs and learn more about the marine environment, the nautical history of San Francisco Bay, the importance of sustainable forestry, and power of big dreams. Among the great pleasures of a career in conservation has been the opportunity to learn about and support goals like those embodied in the Matthew Turner, and it’s all the sweeter when it brings me close to wooden boats and the San Francisco Bay! 

You can listen to more of Chris's conversation with Alan Olsen here:

Find out more about the construction of the new educational tall ship "Matthew Turner" and how it fits into the educational mission of Call of the Sea.

Written By

Chris Kelly

Chris Kelly is known for his innovative approaches to conservation, and has contributed immensely to The Conservation Fund’s efforts in his home state of California, where he works as our California Project Manager.