By John Foster, Ballard Maritime Academy
Dozens of students from the Ballard Maritime Academy at Ballard High School had the unique opportunity to take an educational cruise aboard the historic steam ship Virginia V last week. The ship is the last surviving relic of the Mosquito Fleet era on Puget Sound, and a registered National Historic Landmark vessel. Mark Miller of the Virginia V foundation described the ship as a cross between a metro bus and a UPS truck, delivering goods and people all over Puget Sound in an era when travel over land was slow and unpredictable at best. The Virginia V is one of only two operational wooden, steam-powered, propeller-driven vessels in the United States.
Thanks to the generosity of the Virginia V foundation, the Ballard High School foundation and the families of former BHS students Spenser Millard and Kellen Jones, the students had an opportunity to “stand watch” aboard this historic vessel and learn about her history, as well as the history of the Lake Union/Lake Washington Ship Canal.
The cruise through Lake Union was narrated by local historian Jules James, who described for the students how the lake and surrounding neighborhoods had changed since the boat was built in 1922. He also described some of the ship’s history, which included a long career on Puget Sound and the Columbia River, as well as delivering generations of Camp Fire girls to Camp Sealth on Vashon Island.
Once on Lake Washington, the students had an opportunity to rotate through different “watch stations” aboard the boat, steering her from the pilot house, oiling and adjusting the triple-expansion steam engine, and learning about charting and navigation. There were also representatives there from the Youth Maritime Training Association explaining career and educational opportunities available to the students after high school.
The trip served as an opportunity for sophomore, junior and senior students in the academy to come together on the water, experience life aboard a steam vessel and apply some of their classroom knowledge in a real world setting. The students were enthralled by the rhythmic movements of the ship’s triple-expansion steam engine, and thoroughly enjoyed the heat put off by the ship’s boiler, which keeps the vessel toasty even on a cold December day.