Shenandoah 2020 Update

We tried and fought as long as we could but today we are announcing the cancellation of the SHENANDOAH’s 2020 season.  Since the middle of March we have tried to gather information on the virus, piece together various possible schedules that would allow her to operate safely and responsibly, honor our commitments to customers, and keep her hopes of a 57th season alive.  But as the cancellations from understandably unsure customers and groups continued, combined with unclear advance guidelines as to how life onboard would take shape, a sailing season is no longer an option…

By nature SHENANDOAH requires her captain to be a conservative operator.  A 152’ ship without power or radar don’t allow him to set sail with a variable wind forecast and restricted visibility.  He must have a plan, the conditions to carry it out, and then three back-up plans for when things change!  Same goes for the costly, labor-of-love industry of the classic, wooden windjammer…  We cannot responsibly ramp up for a season when there isn’t any indication that we’ll be able to support her operation with customers onboard.  Our passengers sustain this ship and business, without them we cannot survive.

We will be contacting all of our reserved passengers soon to refund their deposits.  For those interested in making charitable donations to the Shenandoah Foundation we can do that with all funds being used for the critical maintenance that she will require over the coming months.

As for the Alabama, we will continue to be hopeful that the summer season will return to Martha’s Vineyard and that regulations will allow us to safely and responsible offer cruises, hopefully in July and August.

Shuttered for now, I ask that we honor the SHENANDOAH and the half century plus of experiences she’s provided, lifestyle, commitment and hard work that she represents with positivity, kindness and care for ourselves and those around us.  We’ll look forward to the next time we slip the mooring and get underway under clearer skies.  All the best until then.

I’ll finish by thanking all of my passengers of these past 56 seasons, for allowing me to live my dream and share it with all of you.


Robert S Douglas


“Creator’s Week” ~ July 7th – 13th, 2019!

The Black Dog Tall Ships is once again excited to collaborate with a team of talented educators and writers for the 8th year as the “Creator’s Week” program returns aboard the schooner Shenandoah in 2019. “Creator’s Week” brings together our popular and one-of-a-kind “Kids Cruise” camp program with daily writing workshops, creative activities, and personal feedback from professional editors to create an amazing experience and opportunity.

The writing is fun, the improv games are a highlight. Small group activities explore the writer’s craft—from practicing close observation and turning those observations into similes and metaphors that stick, to activities and games that help writers build interesting characters and create suspense. Best of all, the editors are on deck all day for individual mentoring, feedback, and sharing. Following breakfast and cleanup each morning–and again after the day’s sail–writers get together to share their work, journal-writes, and brainstorms. Sailing and swimming follow in the afternoon; each day is different!


Whether it’s poetry, stories, essays, fantasies, sci-fi, ghost stories, or one-act plays, “Creator’s Week” campers love to write! With personal and group workshops, campers will leave this program with sharper writing skills and wheeling imaginations.


Program Details

  • Passengers board vessel on Sunday, July 7th at 7:00pm and disembark on Saturday the 13th at Noon from the Black Dog Wharf in Vineyard Haven.
  • Cost is the standard Summer Camp rate – $1,200 per passenger. – All reservations made through the Black Dog Tall Ships office by calling 508-693-1699 or through online reservation request here.
  • “Writer’s Week” is suggested for passengers between the ages of 12 and 17 years-old (younger passengers may of course join as well).


“Writers’ Week” Sample Daily Schedule

7:00am – 8:00am: Wake Up and Deck Wash
Campers wake and join the crew for the daily deck scrubbing and clean up of the Shenandoah.

8:00am – 9:30am: Breakfast in the Main Saloon

10:00am – 12:00pm: First Writing Workshop
Campers are divided into groups to work with the Merlyn’s Pen teaching artist. The workshops are generative and immersive creative writing exercises for all genres. Each class focuses on a new literary technique to sharpen and explore. Exercises in metaphor, dialogue, stark imagery, personal narrative, the omniscient voice, and character development are introduced while toying with exciting prompts to inspire fiction, poetry, song writing or personal/comedic essay.

12:30pm – 1:30pm: Lunch Served on Deck

1:30pm – 2:30pm: Siesta/Personal Time/Swimming/Optional Mentoring Sessions
Campers are offered free time to take a nap, write on their own, meet one-on-one with the Merlyn’s Pen teaching artists, play cards, socialize or ask the crew questions about sailing.

2:30pm – 4:30pm: Set Sail/Sailing Lessons
Wind permitting, campers take a hands-on approach to sailing. They work alongside the crew as we sail around the sound. Lessons on the basics of sailing include knot tying, line identification, chart reading and rowing.

5:00pm – 6:30pm: Second Writing Workshop
Campers are divided into groups to work with the Merlyn’s Pen teaching artist. The workshops are generative and immersive creative writing exercises for all genres. Each class focuses on a new literary technique to sharpen and explore. Exercises in metaphor, dialogue, stark imagery, personal narrative, the omniscient voice, and character development are introduced while toying with exciting prompts to inspire fiction, poetry, song writing or personal/comedic essay.

6:30pm – 7:30pm: Dinner in the Main Saloon

7:30pm – 8:00pm: Nightly Stories with the Captain

8:00pm – 10:00pm: Reading/Journaling/Personal Time

10:00pm: Lights Out

Schedule is subject to change due to wind and weather conditions, or trips to the shore. There will also be a Talent Show mid-week, and a Final Salon Reading of student work at the end of the trip.

Thankful notes from the BDTS…

November 29, 2016 – From the desk of the BDTS HQ…

Aside from the live blue spruce Christmas tree, some crows and seagulls the Black Dog Wharf is empty today.  No snow yet but winter weather arrived a little over a week ago with a prolonged cold west wind.  Once again its the “off season” here on the Vineyard Haven waterfront,  time to continue the planning for 2017 and beyond but also to look back on the time’s that have gotten us here and to give thanks.

Firstly, we are thankful for the continued support of our passengers and customers.  Our business of overnight camps, school programs, charters and daysails is the only thing that fuels the engine. As season number 54 nears I hope that all of our passengers, from 1964 until now realize they are part of the timeline of the Shenandoah and Alabama and collectively allow them to continue.  During my time back onboard in 2016 I made a point to tell each group of passengers this.

A massive “thank you” the the crew of 2016, hailing from Calgary, Washington, California, Ireland, Kentucky, Vermont, Montana and beyond…  Both returning and new arrivals they are the transmitters of the positive experience we aim for for all of our guests and passengers.  In exchange for their commitment, energy and hard work I hope that their time spent onboard our fleet.  Its a combination of things that make a crew member a great member of the team – a passion for the experience so that it can be felt by the passengers, a commitment to the company, their ship and shipmates and the consistent approach of a pro.  The 2016 team showed all of these and I am grateful.

Personally I am thankful for the opportunity to work within a family business with my dad.  I take my lead and direction for him.  His involvement with his ship and company is based in his passion for them – pure and simple.  Going into his 54th season he maintains the country’s longest-standing relationship with the Shenandoah of any captain and vessel.  Him and his vessel’s time together spans generations…  I realize that just as the Shenandoah and Alabama are the some of the few remaining ships from another era, so is Captain Robert S. Douglas.  The mold has been broken and there will not be another as genuine, committed and honest in his pursuit of enjoyment, both for him and his passengers as himself.  But the Shenandoah is not in a museum – it remains totally accessible.  It will be getting ready for 2017 over the coming months, and Captain Douglas will be there along the way and onboard when passengers step over the rail to kick of season #54.

2014 Season Wrap-Up

Its been one month since the final customers of the season stepped back ashore from the last sail of the 2014.  Since then, the ships have been “laid up”, undergone important maintenance projects, the crews have all departed, and daylight savings has ended.  Evenings come quick to the Vineyard Haven waterfront these days…

Reflecting on the 2014 season its worth mentioning:

The “Kids Cruise”‘ summer camp programs were at capacity this past season!  These six-day trips onboard the Shenandoah stand alone as the only camp in the country with this kind of access to traditional sailing for children.  Meals prepared on a coal stove and served on gimbaled tables (or during a sunset on deck), 7000 square feet of sail set by hand, pristine near-uninhabited neighboring islands and the best cruising waters and coastline for the season are some of the highlights of the experience.  But more memorable are the frienships made with their shipmates and becoming part of the crew of the 152′ topsail schooner – the only one in the country without auxiliary power.




The Sailing School series expanded once again as we hosted 10 separate schools onboard the schooners inn 2014.  A heavily-discounted set of programs catering to organizations and schools allowing for them to transport the classroom to the onboard experience, we look to continue our outreach to other schools beyond Martha’s Vineyard for the future.  Aside from the six elementary schools here from MV, we welcomed the Shelter Island Elementary back onboard for their 5th trip as well as new participants Upper Valler Waldorf and Monadnock Waldorf Schools.

Know a school or youth organization that you think could be a potential match and Sailing School customer?  Weeks are still available for 2015 – contact us anytime at

Daysails & private charters were busier than ever in 2014.  From couples and families, to large groups, family reunions, company events, weddings and more the Alabama kept a busy schedule going throughout the season.

Winter 2014 Down the Homestretch…

photo of the bd tall ships an moorings in evening

A full moon shot of the fleet from January

Ice coats the waterlines of the schooners Shenandoah and Alabama out on their moorings on a calm and clear winter afternoon.  We’ve got a nice window between the steady parade of storms and arctic blasts that have been routine this winter.  The ferries and tugs servicing the island make steady runs, but generally it is a quite harbor and waterfront this time of year…  With roughly three months left until the start of the 2014 sailing season, most of the preparation is done indoors during this time of year, but the work is steady and points towards a promising season for the BD Tall Ships…

The Sailing School program continues to expand and we welcome in two new schools this coming season who will both sail onboard the Alabama this season.  Combined with our returning schools and we’re looking forward to hosting 9 groups of students and staff onboard for overnight and week-long trips during the coming season.  Proudly discounted versus out standard charter rates, these programs bring experiential learning out of the classroom and onto the schooners and allow what we believe are truly once-in-a-lifetime experiences for these students and their classmates to share.  Visit our webpage on the Sailing School program here –

The “Kids Cruise” summer camps remain a consistent and popular part of each season.  These week-long cruises for all young sailors of any ability stand along in their accessability for youngsters from anywhere to step onto a living piece of sailing history and enjoy the pure experience of life onboard.  We return with 4 programs scheduled for this summer – July 13th, 20th, 27th & August 3rd.  Registration has been open since the 1st of the year but space remains for each trip.

Frozen pilings here on the BD Wharf but the clocks turn ahead this weekend as we come down the homestretch of the 2014 winter.  Enjoy winter while you can because just like a Vineyard summer, it will be over before you know it!

Winter Weather & Summer Camps

Vineyard Haven, MA – A coastal storm passes through New England today and as I’m typing here at the Black Dog Tall Ships HQ wind and gusts from the SW are shaking the building, howling and blowing spray downwind across Vineyard Haven harbor… Shenandoah and Alabama are secure on their moorings. The New England fishing fleet is now dealing with 50knot+ winds offshore – a classic winter afternoon with ferry service to Woods Hole shut down…

A far reach from a picture perfect summer day out on Vineyard Sound, heading out for a week-long adventure with a boatload of excited youngsters. With that in mind, the schedule for the 2012 “Kids Cruise” summer camp has been released and familes have begun making reservations. The weeks being offered are as follows:

July 15th
July 22nd
July 29th
August 5th

These are amazing opportunities for children between the ages of 9 and 16 years old. Onboard the Shenandoah, these six-day sailing adventures are experiences that really can’t be duplicated anywhere else… Our passengers get to become part of the working crew of the ship, learning the basic skills of sailing and seamanship, make great friends and sail onboard the world’s only square rigged schooner that operates without an engine while having the best week of their summer vacation! A literal time machine, the Shenandoah continues a type of traditional sailing that was once so common, but now has almost completely vanished with time.

Our passengers are kids and sailing needs to be FUN above everything else! The Black Dog Tall Ships embraces this which is linked directly to the success of the camp program. For those whose children have sailed with us before, we look forward to having them come onboard again in 2012 (when the weather will be far from what’s rolling through Vineyard Sound today). For those who are interested, please visit for details on the “Kids Cruise” Summer Camps.

Happy New Year everyone!

The Alabama competes in the Fisherman’s Cup

“The Alabama rested quietly at Cruiseport Gloucester, rocking gently on the harbor waves after five days of racing and schooner tours. Only the gulls and a cool breeze stirred the early morning air. However, it was a different story a half an hour later. At 4:30, the crew of Alabama awoke to the roaring sound of a generator. Groggy from little sleep, they rolled out of their bunks and ran on deck to start the third annual Fisherman’s Cup race from Gloucester to Provincetown. The sun was just rising red across the sky.”

Read more: Schooner Alabama takes on one more race – Gloucester, MA – Wicked Local Gloucester

The BD Tall Ship Alabama in the film Sea Wolf

Check out the trailer from the film Jack London’s Sea Wolf and see the Tall Ship Alabama in costume!