In 1936, a San Francisco police-boat captain gave a young boy a bronze bell engraved with “Adventuress 1913.”
Ten-year-old Nick Lemos didn’t know it, but the gift was a bribe. He was given the bell to keep his grandmother’s affair with the captain a secret.
Lemos, 87, held on to the bell ever since. He didn’t know what had become of the Maine-built schooner – that it had been classified as a National Historic Landmark and was now part of an environmental-education program for kids.
This spring, the San Francisco family did a quick online search and found Adventuress was still sailing – on Puget Sound.
“I think I have your bell,” is the message Lemos left on the voice mail of Sound Experience, the nonprofit that owns the vessel.
The old-fashioned yacht with its towering 133-foot gaff-rigged white sails and its bell were on display at the 38th annual Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival in Seattle.
Catherine Collins, executive director of Sound Experience, said no one knew Adventuress’ original bell was missing until her organization got the call from Lemos.
“We get to hear and touch a bell people heard a hundred years ago,” she said.
Adventuress was launched in 1913 in East Boothbay, Maine, for Arctic voyages with the American Museum of Natural History, and later used by the San Francisco Bar Pilots as a guide boat for ships maneuvering their way through treacherous waters near the Golden Gate Bridge.
The bell has been with Lemos throughout his life.
It stayed with him when he was drafted into the Navy during World War II. It followed him through his multiple homes in California, and it once was buried deep in mud for six months after a terrible storm.
During a recent family argument over cleaning the bell with household chemicals and whether the artifact could be significant, Lemos’ sons decided to Google it.
Mike Lemos, 64, stopped his father right before he could wipe away more than a hundred years of history.
“I didn’t know what it was worth, but I knew the value was in the age,” Mike Lemos said.
On all sides, the 15-pound bronze bell is covered with a bluish-green patina.
It’s believed that the bell went missing in 1915 after the San Francisco Bar Pilots were installing an auxiliary engine and a fire broke out. To save the vessel, the bar pilots sunk Adventuress.
During its restoration, the bell somehow landed in the captain’s hands.
Lemos, who is retired from his bookbinding business, kept the bell on the back porch of his vacation home in Clearlake, Calif.
The family would ring the bell to call everyone in for cocktails.
Collins drove down to San Francisco to retrieve the bell, and once she laid eyes on it, she cried.
Mike Lemos said as soon as he saw Collins, he knew they couldn’t keep it.
“The value was in the memories they had for the bell,” he said.