When Emilia met Dorjun, neither of them knew that seven years later, they’d be embarking together on a new adventure.
Once a shy and soft-spoken 7th grader, Emilia Ramsey first came to Northwest Maritime Center (NWMC) as part of Girls’ Boat Project, a program that connects middle schoolers with maritime skills both on and off the water. Working with educators Chrissy McLean, Lara Gaasland-Tatro, and Kat Murphy, Emilia and her classmates learned to sail, row, navigate, work with shop tools, and build wooden boats. She immediately felt that something clicked for her in the boatshop: “I remember feeling inspired and excited; I realized I could do these new things, and I could do them in community. Being at the Maritime Center felt like a breath of fresh air, away from school.”
These experiences led Emilia and her mom to reimagine her education—to leave a traditional classroom behind and enroll in OCEAN (Opportunity, Community, Experience, Academics, Navigation), Port Townsend’s independent study program that’s supported with classroom, experiential, and expeditionary experiences, and connections with families and the community. In OCEAN, Emilia thrived. She joined Bravo Team, NWMC’s after-school program for OCEAN students, and began to find her leadership voice. “The first time that I took the responsibility of being lead oar on one of the longboats, it was incredibly exciting. I felt like I’d unlocked a part of myself that I’d never reached before.”
A summer expedition to the San Juan Islands on Deep Green Wilderness’ yawl Orion, sailing trips aboard the schooner Martha, subsequent years in the boatshop as a teaching assistant for Girls’ Boat Project, and continuing work with Bravo Team further cemented Emilia’s love for the time-tested traditions and skills we celebrate at Wooden Boat Festival. “I just absolutely feel such a deep connection to wooden boats. And I feel just very dedicated to preserving them,” she said one sunny afternoon, days before her high school graduation, surrounded by her Northwest Maritime Center mentors (and a few other eager hangers-on), as she stepped aboard Dorjun, smiling broadly.
A Historic Boat
Dorjun, of course, is a few years older, and she came to Port Townsend with a lot of miles under her keel. She was built around 1905 by the Beebe Boatyard in Greenport, Long Island, as a surf boat—designed for rough-water rescues in treacherous conditions. A stout 26’ double-ender, her clinker-built design (white cedar planks over white oak frames) is rugged and self-bailing, and seemed just the right thing for an adventure when National Geographic writer, lecturer, and photographer Amos Burg bought her at auction in Coos Bay for $40 in 1933. He refitted the boat (naming it after friends’ children Dorette and Junior Fleischmann), adding a deck and cabin, a larger mast, rowing hardware, a centerboard, and an inboard motor well. Dorjun, Burg, and apprentice Roy Pepper headed south that fall, bound for Punta Arenas and the Strait of Magellan, and went as far as Cape Horn—documenting their epic voyage in the December 1937 issue of National Geographic.
Following a 1936 expedition along the Inside Passage from Seattle to Skagway, Alaska, Dorjun came to rest on the Columbia River outside Portland, and her next few decades were not as exciting. After being damaged in a flood and stranded on mudflats for almost two years, she was rescued by Burg and his friend, Andrew Yunker, who bought the boat for $1 and stored her at his home for nearly 40 years. In 1988, Yunker’s son-in-law, Bruce Garman, bought the boat (again, for $1) and brought her to Ed Louchard’s boatshop in Port Townsend for repair and restoration—she was re-launched at Wooden Boat Festival in 1992. In 2007, she was donated to the Northwest Maritime Center, restored again, and used for many years in education programs like the ones that so engaged Emilia Ramsey.
An Unusual Gap-year Project Idea
“When Emilia came to me wanting to take over the restoration of Dorjun, I thought she was nuts,” said Joel Arrington, NWMC’s Boatshop Manager. The boat had been hauled out during the COVID-19 pandemic and needed a lot of work to get back to adventuring condition. But Emilia persevered, working with Joel, Ed Louchard, and others to develop a comprehensive work plan including everything from replacing floorboards and tightening rivets to renewing finishes and polishing the brass. She imagined it as a post-graduation gap-year project—one where she could hone her skills, connect with her community, and sail beyond new horizons. When presented with the opportunity for a longtime student to become the new steward of this important community asset, NWMC leadership jumped at the chance.
On that sunny day this past May, Northwest Maritime Center’s Jake Beattie signed the original title over to Emilia, under the watchful gaze of Chrissy McLean, Joel Arrington, Sean Bunting, and other NWMC staff, all thrilled to see this poised and ambitious young woman united with this important and historic vessel. “I have a lot of really fond memories on this boat. It felt like throughout the past seven years that we’ve had a strong connection that’s been hard to explain,” she said, holding a bouquet of carnations in one hand and a folder of Dorjun’s history and rigging info in the other.
Since then, Emilia has been hard at work. She has begun work with Ed Louchard on the floorboard replacement and has outlined work to be done during this winter’s haulout, including hardening up the last strakes. This spring, she completed an internship with Force 10 Sailmaking and Rigging with Wayne and Nahja Chimenti, and will be working this fall with the non-profit Community Boat Project in Port Hadlock.
She aspires to get her captain’s license and one day host summer camp programs for girls and others who might not see themselves in the maritime field. “Sometimes for young girls and women and people who are nonbinary, it can seem a little hard to break into [the maritime field]. For me, almost all my teachers throughout my maritime experience have been women, and it’s taught me that anyone is completely capable of pursuing work in the maritime industry.”
Though there’s a lot of work ahead, both Emilia and Dorjun are thrilled with their new partnership. Dorjun will remain in her Point Hudson slip and is already floating a little higher from all the attention being lavished upon her. Emilia will be a regular fixture in the Northwest Maritime Center Boatshop over the next year as she works with her community of mentors to bring the boat back to adventuring condition. Beyond that, who can say? As Emilia writes in this 2019 poem, she’s looking forward to finding the answer.
I can sail
with the wakes and the mountains
undefined existence surrounding me
but at the same time not
my movements are partially my questions
but do they get answered
there’s all the beautiful scenery surrounding me
blues and greens and whites and browns
it calls for me
this world that I am hugged by