Behind that tall ship: Organization connects county to watershed through sailing and education

The tall ship known as the Appledore IV is an 85’ gaff schooner and is the fourth in a series of five schooners built for world voyaging by Herb and Doris Smith. She sailed from Traverse City to her new home port in Bay City a little over twenty years ago after being purchased by BaySail, a local non-profit organization founded in 1998. 

“The idea was to introduce people to the water,” said Shirley Roberts, the Executive Director of BaySail which owns and operates the tall ship docked off 5th and Water Street in downtown Bay City. 

One of the misconceptions about the Appledore is that she is privately owned by someone living in the condos next to the dock or by a member of the locally-known “Dore” family. 

“She’s actually named after a small island in Maine where the original owners lived,” said Scott Ellis, the Marketing Director of BaySail. 

Real-world, Problem-based Learning Onboard a Tall Ship 

In 1987, the 22 counties that are part of the Saginaw Bay Watershed, America’s largest contiguous freshwater coastal wetland system, were designated an area of concern by the EPA. Paramount to the watershed’s restoration is education. 

BaySail’s mission is to foster environmental stewardship of the Saginaw Bay Watershed and the Great Lakes ecosystem and to provide personal development opportunities for learners of all ages through shipboard and land-based educational experiences. Their mission is achieved using the Appledore IV and her sister the Appledore V, which was acquired in 2002. Students engage in educational programs on the tall ships that align with state and national curriculum standards appropriate for each grade level. 

“Algal blooms are one example of an area of concern,” said Emily Nummer, the Director of Education at BaySail. “We have these events that cause nutrient loading which is where there are more nutrients than should be in the water...Some of it is actual fertilizer runoff that gets in the water. A lot of it is from failing septic systems,” she explained. “One of the things we have the students do when they are on the ship is to test the water.” 

To date, 48,000 students have participated in a Science Under Sail program aboard the tall ships which engages students from 33 Michigan counties in real-world, problem-based learning. 

“A lot of kids ask what happens when you go to the bathroom (onboard). We have tanks that are pumped out like an RV. We do not release our waste out into the water,” said Nummer. 

Exceptionally Rare and Absolutely Unforgettable Camp for Students 

In addition to their onboard educational curriculum, BaySail offers the rare opportunity for 14 to 18-year-old students to stay on board one of the vessels on a five-night voyage across the Great Lakes. The Windward Bound sail training summer camp for youth, lead by Jesse Doucette, the Senior Captain & Interim Director of Marine Operations at BaySail focuses on learning the art of traditional sailing and studying the ecology of the lakes. Between ports, participants learn about every aspect of running the ship, from meal planning to navigation. 

Creating Connection to the Watershed 

The public is given the opportunity to sail on the Appledores from June-October. Sailing excursions depart from Bay City during the day, at sunset and even at night. 

“The money that we are making from public sailing goes to subsidize our education programs. So you are not just getting a nice sail, you are also helping support our environmental work and education work,” concluded Nummer. 
The Appledore also makes an appearance at waterfront celebrations and maritime events across the Great Lakes. This year these stops include Buffalo, Toledo, and Green Bay. 

A Tall Ship Celebration 

Roughly every three years, people from across the world visit Bay City for their award-winning maritime festival, Tall Ship Celebration. The Bay City festival has been awarded the coveted “Port of the Year” more than any other host port in all of North America. Activities include family-friendly programs, live music from around the world (including Poland!) and an art show. Bay City is one of the few cities hosting THE TALL SHIPS CHALLENGE, a series of races coordinated by Tall Ships America that attracts tall ships from around the world. 

Vessels from Maryland, Spain, and even the Cook Islands will make an appearance on the Saginaw Bay to participate in THE TALL SHIPS CHALLENGE race and Tall Ship celebration festival. 

Over the last two decades, BaySail’s award-winning educational programs, unique public sailing opportunities, and maritime celebration have provided the community a renewed sense of pride and connection to the water. 

Much more than just a tall ship with an unusual name, the Appledore IV and V play an important part in the preservation of the Saginaw Bay Watershed and the Great Lakes by giving Michiganders a new appreciation for the waterway on which they live. 
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