© Ray Ewing, Courtesy of Martha’s Vineyard Magazine

The co-founders of the Foundation for Underway Experiential Learning (FUEL), a non-profit organization in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts, Captain Casey Blum, LCSW and Captain Ian Ridgeway offer young people high-adventure voyages of discovery, reflection and growth aboard a sailing ship.

“I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia,” says Casey. “My family vacationed on Cape Cod, and my mom was looking for summer camps that I would enjoy. She heard about weeklong voyages aboard Alabama and Shenandoah on Martha’s Vineyard and thought it would be a one-of-a-kind experience. My first time sailing was aboard Alabama when I was 9. I had the most amazing week of my life, and kept coming back every summer until I was old enough to work onboard at 17. I’ve sailed aboard Alabama every summer for the last 22 years (except 2020), eventually becoming First Mate and then Captain.”

“I was born in Connecticut,” says Ian. “My mother moved me and my two sisters to Martha’s Vineyard after she and my father divorced. My entry to sailing was voyaging on Shenandoah for a week with my fifth grade class. I met Captain Bob Douglas [the ship’s designer and longtime owner] as an 11-year-old learner and was completely hooked. We moved away when I was 12, but I returned every summer to work aboard Shenandoah and Alabama. I loved it, and Bob recognized that. We became friends as I climbed up the ranks, eventually becoming Mate and then Captain. Bob taught me how to handle a big vessel under sail. Shenandoah has no engine, so sailing on and off the anchor, off the mooring, etc. are standard maneuvers. He taught me that beauty is an important element of the design and maintenance of things, and to always seek perfection and put in extra work to get something right.”

Casey   © Ray Ewing, Courtesy of Martha’s Vineyard Magazine

“Ian and I met aboard Alabama when I was a kid and he was a teenager,” Casey recalls. “He was First Mate when I was a deckhand, then he trained me to be the Mate when he was Captain, and eventually Captain after him. Sailing together for over two decades has bonded us and allowed us to form a partnership with FUEL that’s built upon mutual trust, unwavering respect, and shared values. Aboard Alabama and Shenandoah, some of the most impactful programming we were delivering was overnight voyages with youth. Anecdotally, we’ve always known that getting young people out to sea for long periods of time can have a tremendous positive impact on their lives, their families, and their communities.”

“Our desire to start FUEL came from wanting to provide the most impactful voyages possible with the best learning outcomes,” Casey continues. “As an enrichment program with a focus on positive youth development, we’re confident that learners who sail with us will leave better off than when they arrived. Being in an unplugged, novel environment pushes people outside their comfort zone and into their growth zone. Hiding behind a screen isn’t an option onboard a ship. People must learn to communicate directly with one another, and must learn to build a kind and trusting relationship within themselves. Advocating for oneself, problem solving, and managing conflict are all that tools learners develop on our voyages that can help them live empowered lives.”

Captain Douglas (pictured with Casey and Ian) donated Shenandoah to FUEL last year, and the 108-foot schooner is being refurbished at Mystic Seaport Museum’s Henry B. duPont Preservation Shipyard in Mystic, Connecticut. “The shipyard staff, led by Chris Gasiorek, have been busy rebuilding her stern with new quarter knees, a new sternpost knee, a new section of the sternpost, a new stern-circle, and a new aft-most deck beam,” says Ian. “The new timbers, made from laminated Sipo, are being painted and bedded with tar before installation. All associated hull and deck planking is being replaced. New sails, being built by Sperry Sails in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts, are Oceanus with traditional vertical and miter seams. Other repairs include new chafe gear on the windlass, servicing the capstan, new covering on the aft-cabin-house, new navigation equipment, and fresh paint on all exterior surfaces.”

WindCheck readers can support our mission by signing up for a voyage with us at fuelprogram.org and by supporting our campaign to keep Shenandoah voyaging at Shenandoahfund.org,” says Casey. “We’re encouraging past alumni to fill out the alumni form on our website so we can invite them to special events and sails aboard Shenandoah.” “We must raise $360,000 by June,” Ian adds. “To learn about giving opportunities or make a gift with a credit card, PayPal or cryptocurrency, visit fuelprogram.org/donate. If you’d like to discuss a gift, please call us at (508) 560-9237.”

Ian   © Ray Ewing, Courtesy of Martha’s Vineyard Magazine

FUEL is planning to build a new vessel. “The preliminary plans for Shenandoah 2.0 are complete and ready for a new round of bids with shipyards,” says Ian. “The new ship will be more accessible and able to voyage offshore, enabling year-round programming that includes semester-length voyages with college credit.”

“A ship is a great space for community building because you are out there with your cohort and no one else,” Ian explains. “Voyaging amplifies everything we experience: conflicts, challenges, beauty, awe, learning, growth, and bonding.” “The best thing about sailing is getting the chance to connect with yourself and with other people,” Casey enthuses. “Experiencing all the elements and being in such a wild environment contributes to a magical experience.” ■

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