Triple-masted schooner to sail into Grand Traverse Bay, expand schoolship program

SUTTONS BAY, MI – The Inland Seas Education Association, known for its popular schoolship program for students as well as its short, themed cruises for the public, is adding to its fleet. This summer, a 105-foot, three-masted schooner called the Alliance is set to sail into Grand Traverse By officially joining the expanding program.

The nonprofit’s team is really excited about the addition. They say it will open the door to a lot more programming for students in Michigan and other Great Lakes cities – allowing them to answer a growing pile of requests that until this year had to go unfulfilled. Having another boat will also allow ISEA to build on its current work of deepening people’s understanding and connection to the freshwater system that surrounds us.

“The demand for ISEA’s unique programs continues to grow and has exceeded our current shipboard capacity,” said Juliana Lisuk, ISEA’s associate director. “The addition of the Alliance will allow us to deepen our impact by providing programming to more partners in Detroit, Chicago, Houghton, Green Bay, Cleveland, and other ports around the Great Lakes, while simultaneously having a larger presence throughout the sailing season at our home port in Suttons Bay.”

Currently, the program uses its flagship 77-foot Inland Seas, along with another boat, the Utopia. It also leases the schooner Manitou for several weeks a year from the bay’s nearby Tall Ship Company. By bringing in the much larger Alliance, the hope is that programming and capacity can really expand to meet demand.

But finding the Alliance wasn’t as simple as cruising the boats-for-sale ads. Executive Director Fred Sitkins said his team was looking for something very specific: a big, safe vessel in good condition that was already licensed with the US Coast Guard. They found the Alliance in Virginia, where it had been used to run day cruises.

“We feel so fortunate,” Sitkins said. “We had been looking for about a year, and literally this was the only boat that came up that fit our parameters. We just got so lucky. It’s the perfect fit.”

The public will get its first chance to see the Alliance on June 24, when the boat is planned to motor into Grand Traverse Bay accompanied by its new maritime sibling, the Inland Seas. Special activities will be planned for the welcoming celebration.

The Alliance will be able to carry 54 passengers and right away will allow ISEA more flexibility with its planned summer and fall programming for 2023.

The Alliance is a three-masted schooner set to join the Inland Seas boat, expanding the popular schoolship program based in Suttons Bay. Photo provided by ISEA.

More Than Three Decades on the Water

ISEA’s schoolship program, based in Suttons Bay with an education center and small dormitory there, has been active for 33 years. It has invited children in elementary, middle and high school classes to climb aboard and experience the Great Lakes up close. Kids learn about their water-based ecosystem, environmental issues, conduct experiments, and just learn to love the feel of being on the water. “People protect what they love, and they love what they understand,” Sitkins said, echoing the words of the famous ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau. “We want kids to understand the lakes … so they feel connected to them.”

Being aboard a boat as it’s skimming across a Great Lake is an experience that sticks with kids. It also offers them a chance to do the hands-on work of scientists and engineers – perhaps sparking an interest in a future career. “It’s a really good real-world work experience for students,” he said.

More than 10,000 people participated in ISEA programs last year. About half of those were students from more than 150 different schools in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Illinois. Other passengers were adults or family groups who toured one of the boats, went on their roster of ticketed summer cruises for the public, or just stepped on board for a look around as they stopped in a Great Lakes port.

ISEA has deep connections around the lakes. It works with colleges, environmental groups, foundations and other nonprofits. The year-round work follows a seasonal structure: Schoolship programs start in May and stretch into June. Summer is for traveling, sailing into four of the five Great Lakes for educational programs. Past port stops have included Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland and into Lake Superior to drop anchor in Marquette, Houghton and Duluth. Then its back to the fall schoolship format once classes are back in session.

This summer, the Inland Seas is slated to dock in Chicago, part of ISEA’s intentional focus to reach more underserved children with their programs. “While we’d love to bring them to Traverse City and Suttons Bay, it’s not always possible,” Sitkins said. “So we need to bring the schoolship to them.”

While Alliance will turn ISEA’s boat fleet to a trio, eventually the group plans to sell the Utopia

About Alliance

The big schooner was launched as a superyacht in 1995 by Treworgy Yachts in Palm Coast, Florida. Initially named Kathryn B., the boat was launched just a year after the same yard put out the Inland Seas. The Kathryn B. ran as part of a windjammer group in Maine, then in 2005 was renamed the Alliance and was run as a daysailing boat in Yorktown, Virginia.

The Alliance will leave southern waters in early May and make the trek north into the Great Lakes to arrive in time for the June 24 celebration.

For more information about ISEA’s schoolship program, check the website here.

To follow ISEA on social media, check out its Facebook page.

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