Cruising World - - Underway - — John Ri­ise

On April 1, the brig­an­tine Matthew Turner — and a life­long dream of her cre­ator — was launched in San Francisco Bay.

Ap­plause from an es­ti­mated 3,000 on­look­ers — along with mu­sic from the oblig­a­tory brass band — filled the balmy spring day as aux­il­iary ves­sels trans­ferred Turner to the main Corps of En­gi­neers pier, where she will be fit­ted out and fin­ished off. She is ex­pected to start sea tri­als this fall. Some­time af­ter that, she will be­gin the mis­sion for which she was cre­ated: in­tro­duc­ing young peo­ple to the won­ders, and im­por­tance, of the oceans.

No one was sa­vor­ing launch day more than Alan Ol­son, who con­ceived the idea to build this ex­act ship al­most half a cen­tury ago.

At 100 feet on deck, Turner is the largest wooden sail­ing ves­sel built in the Bay Area in al­most a cen­tury. At least as amaz­ing as that fact is that most of the con­struc­tion was done by a vol­un­teer crew that worked along­side the six paid ship­wrights. Since the keel was laid, in Oc­to­ber 2003, some 400 vol­un­teers, men and women ages 15 to 81, have do­nated more than 120,000 hours on all phases of con­struc­tion. Some work twice a month, some twice a week. Some, mostly re­tirees, show up five days a week.

The vol­un­teer pro­gram is what made the project fi­nan­cially vi­able — an all­pro­fes­sional build would have been far too costly. Even so, due to ex­pected de­lays and un­ex­pected speed bumps, the orig­i­nal pro­jec­tion of $5.6 mil­lion for a three-year build will be closer to four years and $6.8 mil­lion. All of it has come from gen­er­ous in-kind or mon­e­tary do­na­tions. It’s easy to give to some­one who has al­ready given so much.

Ol­son’s sail­ing roots go back to the early 1960s when, barely into his 20s, he built a 40-foot cata­ma­ran in Min­nesota and sailed it down the Mis­sis­sippi to the Gulf of Mex­ico and Caribbean. But for the past 40-some years, he has been home­ported in San Francisco Bay, on a mis­sion to ed­u­cate young­sters (and more than a few old­sters) about ecol­ogy, mar­itime his­tory, sail­ing, and the im­por­tance of good stew­ard­ship of the oceans — all from the deck of tra­di­tion­ally rigged sail­ing ves­sels.

He started in the early 1970s aboard the self-built 70-foot brig­an­tine Stone Witch. In 1985, he founded the non­profit Call of the Sea, which ex­panded the mis­sion. Call of the Sea’s cur­rent “class­room” is the 82-foot steel schooner Seaward. Since it ar­rived in the bay in 2005, some 60,000 kids and adults have taken part in pro­grams aboard, from three-hour bay sails to coastal voy­ages to Mex­ico and be­yond.

“The launch was a mon­u­men­tal event for me and the com­mu­nity that helped make it hap­pen,” says Ol­son, now 76. “It was in­spir­ing to see the large turnout and en­thu­si­asm that swept through the crowd when Matthew Turner slid off the crad­dle her new home in the wa­ter.”

Ex­cept for a few bits and pieces, Turner is built al­most en­tirely of Dou­glas fir, most of it do­nated by the Con­ser­va­tion Fund, a for­est stew­ard­ship cer­ti­fied project in the north­ern part of the state. Rather than tra­di­tional dou­ble-sawn frames for her “bones,” Turner ’s keel, frames and deck beams are lam­i­nated from mul­ti­ple lay­ers of Dou­glas fir — and end­less gal­lons of epoxy. The plank­ing process, how­ever, was right out of the 1800s: steamed planks, some 3 inches thick and 40 feet long, get mus­cled into place and lag-bolted to the frames.

There is still much work to be done, in­clud­ing step­ping the masts, in­stalling the bowsprit, fin­ish­ing the in­te­rior and mak­ing the sails. When com­pleted, Matthew Turner will mea­sure 132 feet over­all, draw 10 feet, dis­place 175 tons and fly up­ward of 7,200 square feet of can­vas on 11 sails. Un­til then, the vol­un­teers hap­pily keep com­ing to get her done. For more on Matthew Turner — and how to sign up as a vol­un­teer — go to ed­u­ca­tion­al­tall­

will have a sparred length of 132 feet, draw 10 feet and dis­place 175 tons. Aux­il­iary into Sausal­ito’s Richard­son Bay (left). A large crowd gath­ered for the his­toric launch (right).

When com­pleted (top), Matthew Turner ves­sels pull Matthew Turner

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