One of the hands-down coolest cruises I took last year was the one I had the most doubts about initially: a three night wine cruise aboard a 160-foot long Schooner originally built in 1924. But the Schooner Zodiac is no ordinary cruise experience: it is a fully immersive sailing adventure through Washington State’s San Juan Islands that will win your heart over in no time.

The 1924-built Schooner Zodiac has been lovingly restored and preserved and sails short cruises throughout the San Juan Islands. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

The 1924-built Schooner Zodiac has been lovingly restored and preserved and sails short cruises throughout the San Juan Islands. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

This year, the Schooner Zodiac returns for another exciting season that begins with an evening cruise on Saturday, April 27th and concludes with a three-day “San Juan Islands Getaway” voyage on October 11, 2013. For the full-immersion experience, though, I’d pin my sights on the massive, 13-day voyage to Desolation Sound.

With sails fully up, the Zodiac heels over and catches the strong wind blowing from the north. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

With sails fully up, the Zodiac heels over and catches the strong wind blowing from the north. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Part of the charm of sailing aboard the Zodiac is her fabulous team of volunteer crew members. These people not only know how to sail, they’re enthusiastic about it, too. And you’ll get the chance to have as much hands-on knowledge as you could ever hope for during your time aboard her: multi-night guests will have the chance to stand on bow watch, assist with navigation, learn about charts and radio communications, and yes, even swab the decks.

Step onboard for a truly classic sailing experience! Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

The cozy – and nautical – seating area just off the kitchen! Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

But it’s fun – trust me. I spent some enjoyable time making the brightwork on the ship’s engine telegraph sparkle, washed the decks, climbed up on the sails, and even assisted in navigating the ship around a lighthouse. I doubt they’ll let me do that on the bridge of my next mainstream cruise…

Inside, the Zodiac is charmingly cozy, with a main kitchen, wood-panelled seating area, and a fabulously nautical lounge.

Read our Live Voyage Report from onboard the Schooner Zodiac’s Wine Cruise last June!

There are a handful of staterooms onboard, but to really get the true nautical experience, I recommend booking a berth. What’s a berth, you ask? In this case, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a single berth situated in the ship’s main lounge.

A few guests set out in the Zodiac's sailboat for a short evening cruise around the ship. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

A few guests set out in the Zodiac’s sailboat for a short evening cruise around the ship. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

And it’s an awesome experience! Very cozy, very comfortable – just don’t sit up too quickly. Personally, I brought my iPod, loaded it with music, and enjoyed three of the best sleeps I’ve had in a long time.

If you’re in the Bellingham area this year – perhaps to take in an Alaskan cruise from either Vancouver or Seattle – the Schooner Zodiac is now offering a series of “Winemaker’s Dinner Sails” that complement the line’s “Schooners on the Schooner” beer-themed sails that highlight a different Bellingham brewery on each trip.

While night falls on the Zodiac, her lower deck is still warm and inviting.  Follow along with our entire voyage, with recap coverage beginning tomorrow! Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

While night falls on the Zodiac, her lower deck is still warm and inviting. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

On-tap (no pun intended) for 2013 are:

  • May 25th, 2013, 5:30 – 9 p.m. “Winemaker’s Dinner Sail” –  Cost $95 per passenger, includes wine tastings, dinner and complimentary Zodiac Wine glass. (Wines are available for purchase onboard from the vintners).
  • June 11th, 2013 5:30 – 9 p.m. “Schooners on the Schooner” (featuring Boundary Bay Brewery) Cost: $95 per person – includes dinner and beer, with complimentary Zodiac schooner glass.
  • July 30th, 5:30- 9 p.m. “Winemaker’s Dinner Sail” – featuring Lopez Island Vintner Brent Charnley. Cost $95 per passenger, includes wine tastings, dinner and complimentary Zodiac Wine glass. (Wines are available for purchase onboard from the vintners).
  • August 27th, 5:30-9 p.m. “Winemaker’s Dinner Sail” – (featuring Masquerade Wine Company).   Cost $95 per passenger, includes wine tastings, dinner and complimentary Zodiac Wine glass. (Wines are available for purchase onboard from the vintners).
  • September 17th, 5:30-9 p.m. “Schooners on the Schooner” (featuring Chuckanut Brewery) Cost: $95 per person – includes dinner and beer, with complimentary Zodiac schooner glass.
  • October 24th, 5:30-9 p.m. “Oktoberfest Dinner Sail” (featuring Kulshan Brewery). Cost: $95 per person – includes bratwurst dinner and beer, with complimentary Zodiac schooner glass.

“The Pacific Northwest is world-renown for several things, and foremost would be our San Juan Islands, our seafood and our award winning wines. These cruises will highlight all three,” said Chris Wallace, Port Captain for the Zodiac.

“The Schooner Zodiac will be celebrating her 90th birthday at next year’s Bellingham Bay Rendezvous. We’d like to help and make sure that it’s a successful event,” continued Zodiac’s Steward Jacki Roberts.

After having discovered this ship last year, I couldn’t believe the Zodiac existed just across the border, literally in my own backyard.

I know I plan to be back for 2013 aboard the Zodiac. Will you?

Dusk falls aboard the Schooner Zodiac. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Dusk falls aboard the Schooner Zodiac. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

More information on the Schooner Zodiac and her 2013 itineraries can be found by paying a visit to their website.

 

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