Schooner Martha next improvement: A new cabin top

By Kirk Boxleitner
Posted 4/24/24


Martha is an authentic wooden 1907 schooner that’s been running youth sail training programs out of Port Townsend since 2001, but to Robert d’Arcy, who’s served as her …

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Schooner Martha next improvement: A new cabin top



Martha is an authentic wooden 1907 schooner that’s been running youth sail training programs out of Port Townsend since 2001, but to Robert d’Arcy, who’s served as her captain and caretaker for nearly 30 years, she’s even more than that.

“She’s a time machine, connecting our past and future,” said d’Arcy, who began working to restore the vessel in Seattle in the 1990s. “Maintaining this ship helps teach generations to come who we were and can still be, with a little effort.”

By the time Schooner Martha came to Port Townsend in 2001, she was owned and operated by the nonprofit Schooner Martha Foundation, co-founded by d’Arcy and a number of others, including current volunteer foundation board member Kathy Knoblock.

As the vessel starts its 2024 sailing season this spring, its “lean and mean” operation has been fundraising for needed fixes, such as repairing the original 1907 cabin top, which is leaking and likely to cause “serious issues” if it remains unrepaired, according to Knoblock.

“We’ve never had the funds to pay Robert, who serves as our captain and project manager, nor our crew living wages,” Knoblock said. “We operate on a very tight budget, and I don’t think many folks know that. They see a beautiful, classic sailing ship and assume there are millions of dollars behind it, when there are a few thousand dollars currently in our bank account.”

Knoblock credited Port Townsend residents and community members with contributing thousands of hours of volunteer efforts to keeping the ship sailing. The vessel was built in San Francisco in 1907 and came up to Washington state in 1968, where she served as a camp sail training boat in the San Juan Islands.

Martha survived what Knoblock deemed a “catastrophic” yard accident in 1976, when she fell out of the hoist during a routine haul-out and punctured her side. In spite of almost being declared a total loss, she still went on to compete in the Master Mariners Race.

Just as Knoblock considers Schooner Martha to be “a big piece of Port Townsend’s maritime community” — her 100th birthday party was held in the city’s downtown — so too does d’Arcy see Schooner Martha as essential to helping preserve the heritage of maritime culture as a whole.

As a fourth-generation shipwright, d’Arcy grew up around boat-building, and came to appreciate the “science, engineering and art” that went into traditional wooden vessels, to the point that he described himself as “heartbroken” to witness the woodworking of previous waves of ships give away to assemblies of fiberglass components.

“I’m not against modernity, but I feel like that’s a metaphor for our culture,” d’Arcy said. “Those old-fashioned ships were designed and built well enough to last multiple generations. [Schooner] Martha has made it through two World Wars and two global pandemics.”

To that end, the foundation’s mission has been to complete the authentic restoration of the boat. It’s also devoted to providing hands-on youth sail training, for long enough that Knoblock noted many adults who sailed as children remain in contact.

“They grow up, but they come back and check in with us,” d’Arcy said. “There are a bunch of folks in their 30s now, who are riggers, sailmakers, shipwrights and captains, and they apprenticed with us during their summers as kids.”

Indeed, all the sailing, navigating and maintenance in the Schooner Martha’s youth sail training programs is done by the young sailors themselves, with scholarships available to those who cannot afford the cost.

“It’s a priority for our foundation to get young people out on the water, doing the work and learning maritime skills,” said Knoblock. She wants to give back to the maritime community for supporting the Schooner Martha, especially since the new main mast was placed “with help from our marine trades and numerous local helping hands.”

D’Arcy added, “It introduces kids to a way of life that they might not have known even existed otherwise. We give them an opportunity to experience maritime trades firsthand, in which many of them have found success, built beautiful lives for themselves and are proud of their work.”

For more information on the Schooner Martha visit