Thompson Island’s Nautical Heritage   Leave a comment

March 18, 2011

By: Paul Lamoureux, Program Director

As the snow finally melts and Spring rapidly approaches, the entire organization at Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center is kicking into high gear.  Pre-expedition, preparatory classroom sessions for the Connections program are occurring in middle schools throughout Boston and surrounding communities. The operations department continues to work tirelessly preparing the island and its facilities.  The development department is humming with activity preparing for the Annual Gala on April 14 at the Seaport Hotel, a huge event that seems to grow in size and donor generosity every year.

In the midst of all this activity, the waterfront department’s work on our marine vessels signals, for me, the onset of Spring more than any other sight. With an island operation, it is absolutely crucial that we have fully operational motor vessels to move staff, equipment, food and waste to and from Thompson Island.  Our motor vessels are also crucial for transporting students and clients to and from other Boston Harbor Islands for various programs, events and projects.  Further, our motor vessels are used for resupply, as well as to transport staff and students to and from our sailing and kayaking expeditions.

Our marine fleet includes the 65-foot, 149-passenger Motor Vessel Outward Bound (MVOB), the 30-foot Invictus, a reliable workboat that is also capable of carrying cargo and passengers, and a 19-foot, outboard-powered Carolina skiff for nimble, light duty.  Our expedition vessels include six, 30-foot sailing vessels referred to as “pulling boats,” and twenty, 19-foot sea kayaks.

As this blog is being written, word has just been received that the backbone of our island operation, the MVOB, has just received United States Coast Guard approval, following an exhaustive hull survey that received no recommendations for improvement.  This is the third consecutive year that she received a result that amounts to “passing with flying colors” and is a testament to the hard work and professionalism of our waterfront department.  It won’t be too long now, before the MVOB makes her annual pilgrimage back to Thompson Island from her Gloucester marine yard dry dock where all of the off-season maintenance occurs.

Motor Vessel Outward Bound at the Thompson Island Pier

Motor Vessel Outward Bound at the Thompson Island Pier

The workhorse of Thompson Island, the Invictus, is crucial to Island operations as well.  She bears the brunt of the workload during the winter months, while the MVOB is being serviced in Gloucester.  She is also crucial for all of the other jobs where a flexible workboat is necessary. The poem “Invictus,” by William Ernest Henley, is mounted on a plaque in her pilothouse serving as inspiration for generations of Thompson Island staff and students.  This timeless poem ends with the powerful words, “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

Throughout Thompson Island’s educational history of nearly 180 years, there have been numerous motor vessels (some steam powered) that have moved people and goods back and forth to the island.  Vessels named Pilgrim I, II, III , IV and V served admirably for most of these years, navigating through New England storms and fog to keep the island operational and serving the youth of Boston.

Pilgrim II at the Thompson Pier in the early 1900s

Pilgrim II at the Thompson Island Pier in the early 1900s

Invictus at the Thompson Island Pier, March 2011

Invictus at the Thompson Island Pier, March 2011

Pilgrim III and IV at the Thompson Island Pier in the 1960s

Pilgrim III and IV at the Thompson Island Pier in the 1960s marking yet another transition in Island transport.

Pilgrim I (steam powered) leaving Thompson Island for the mainland in the late 1800s.

Pilgrim I (steam powered) leaving Thompson Island for the mainland in the late 1800s.

The value to the island of fully operational motor vessels that serve passengers and “deliver the goods” is almost incalculable.  In addition, however, sailing vessels for both recreational and educational purposes have played a significant role in the history of Thompson Island.  During the Farm and Trade School era, sailing on the school’s schooners was often an earned privilege and a day of fun and recreation.  This was a respite from working on numerous other island tasks, including maintenance and repair of her transport vessels.

Since Thompson Island became an Outward Bound center in 1988, the proud OB sailing tradition has been upheld.  Sailing programs on our historic “pulling boats” hearken back to the nautical roots of Outward Bound in Britain in the 1940s. I am reminded of this tradition now as I see these vessels poised upon the beach.  The melting of snow on Thompson Island marks the beginning of preparatory work on our pulling boat fleet.  Laborious work will now begin in order to ensure that they pass Coast Guard inspection and are “ship-shape” for our Summer expeditions.  No rest for the weary, as our waterfront department ends their tireless work on the MVOB and begins the project of pulling boat preparation.

Waterfont Director, Capt. Nate Puritz, Asst. Waterfront Director, Capt. Bob Connors, and Winter caretaker Sam Blodgett prepare to work on the fleet of Pulling Boats.

Waterfont Director, Capt. Nate Puritz, Asst. Waterfront Director, Capt. Bob Connors, and Winter caretaker Sam Blodgett prepare to work on the fleet of Pulling Boats.

People working on Thompson Island boats circa 1920.

The tradition of working on Thompson Island vessels in this beachfront location is a long and proud one, (Circa 1920).

For me, it’s official: the sight of pulling boats on the beach at Thompson Island marks the beginning of Spring. Regardless of the date on the calendar or whether Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, I now feel the imminent approach of the thousands of students and guests who will soon come to our island home.  I am thankful that throughout the entire organization, we have a well-oiled machine of professionals in our various departments and board committees that are also tirelessly preparing the way for the coming season.  I am heartened to see these dedicated professionals are perhaps even more “well-oiled” than the MVOB herself.

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