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Working Retirement Awaiting Storied Craft Sea Dart Will Help Teach Boater Safety To Children

The Sea Dart still has a few firsts left to come.

The little sailboat made world famous by the adventures of Tristan Jones will make its first voyage up the Columbia River next summer when it sails to its retirement home - Idaho.

It won’t be a full retirement, however.

The new owner of the boat, the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, intends to put the little craft to work inspiring children and teaching boater safety.

And when the 37-year-old boat isn’t traveling the state, it will rest in dry dock in a Kootenai County facility where people can visit it year-round.

Agency officials announced their plans Friday in a four-city news conference. In Coeur d’Alene, they chose the Lake Steamers historical site along the Coeur d’Alene Parkway to share the news.

“Normally we try to get the message across with boating accidents,” said Rick Just, department spokesman. “But we don’t believe children respond to doom and gloom.”

They believe that children will respond to Sea Dart’s rich history.

The Sea Dart was built in England in 1960, designed to handle the northwest passage between Alaska and Greenland. It weighs one ton, and with its bow sprit, it’s 27 feet long - small enough to tow behind an average pickup.

Author and adventurer Tristan Jones heard about the boat in 1973 while looking for a small craft to take to Lake Titicaca - the highest lake on earth.

While anchored off the shores of Bequia, a small island in the West Indies, Jones found the Sea Dart anchored in the same bay.

At that time it was owned by Ron Reil, who now is an earth sciences teacher at West Junior High School in Boise. Reil purchased the boat in 1968 while stationed at a naval base in Barbados.

Reil sold the boat to Jones, and thus began the Sea Dart’s odyssey to Lake Titicaca, described in Jones’ most famous book, The Incredible Voyage.

Later, the Sea Dart, with Jones as her captain, was the first boat to sail through the Panama Canal, and the first to ply the waters of River Paraguay and the Mato Grosso.

Jones sailed more than 4,000 miles, wrote 16 books about his adventures and died in Thailand in 1995. He sold the Sea Dart about 15 years earlier for $5, with the caveat that she be used for the education of children.

But when sailing buff Rick Segal found her a year ago, she had sunk to the bottom of Puget Sound at Gig Harbor, Wash. Segal raised the boat and decided to fulfill Jones’ wishes.

Segal made contact with the Sea Dart’s former owner, Reil, through the Internet, and asked him to help decide where to donate the boat. Reil brought Segal and the Parks and Recreation Department together.

Because of the “vastness of what could be accomplished,” the Parks and Recreation Board approved the deal, said Bob Haakenson, a board member from Coeur d’Alene.

Segal also has donated $2,500 to the restoration of the Sea Dart, and the agency is looking for donations to pay for another $9,000 in work.

The agency doesn’t plan on losing any money with the Sea Dart. Marketing plans are in the works, such as selling T-shirts, golf shirts, caps, Tristan Jones’ books and scale models of the boat.

For the voyage up the Columbia, the department is looking for corporate sponsors. The biggest corporate sponsor will get its logo on the Sea Dart’s main sail.

“We’re not afraid of that,” Just said. “Jones once said he’d sponsor a hanging off the mast if it would help tell the story of the Sea Dart.”

Kootenai County was chosen as the Sea Dart’s permanent home because a third of Idaho’s boaters are from Kootenai and Bonner counties.

Temporarily, the boat will be housed in the old brig at Farragut State Park, which already has a small museum in it. Alternatively, the state might build a classroom facility to house the boat along the Coeur d’Alene Parkway, east of Coeur d’Alene.

A full-time boater education specialist will be hired to manage the Sea Dart educational program. Along with boater safety, the Sea Dart can help teach geography, English, astronomy, and the basic message of “triumph over adversity,” Just said.

Coeur d’Alene sailor David Lindsay, who attended the news conference, hopes it also will spark interest in sailing as a sport.

“Our numbers have been going down as the motorboat industry’s gone up,” Lindsay said. “We think it would be neat to promote sailing on this lake, and get them to see the peacefulness of it.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo


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