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Partnership on the seas

2024 January 1

When the Denis Sullivan, a 137-foot replica of a 19th century three-masted Great Lakes schooner, left its Milwaukee, Wisconsin, home in 2022, the board of Discovery World museum, which owned it, made sure that it would remain connected to its roots. 

The ship, which was launched in 2000 after a massive years-long effort by more than 400 volunteers to build it, was the showpiece of the interactive science and technology museum, where it sailed Lake Michigan and beyond from docks overlooked by the museum’s expansive modern glass windows.

Teenagers Blue Madson and Luca Bargenquast were the first Milwaukee students to sail with World Ocean School on the Sullivan. 
Over the years, boat maintenance and staffing became a burden for the museum, a situation exacerbated by the pandemic, when the museum closed for a period. 

The boat found a new home with the Boston-based World Ocean School, which offers immersive on-board learning experiences for students of all backgrounds. The organization sails the boat in both Boston and St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.

But before the Sullivan sailed from its homeport, the Discovery World board hashed out a plan that ensured that Milwaukee students would have a place on the ship for its ongoing programs.

The Milwaukee Community Sailing Center, a nonprofit agency that provides sailing opportunities for people of all ages, joined the partnership in 2023, raising money for scholarships and recruiting and training Milwaukee students to sail the boat. Last summer, Blue Madson and Luca Bargenquast became the first two Milwaukee students to sail with World Ocean School on the Denis Sullivan.

Joining a sail out of Boston, they quickly became a part of the 15 students and 14 crew that kept the boat sailing. Each day included chores such as cleaning the galley and washing the deck along with standing an active watch, learning seamanship and other programming. 

“It was just phenomenal,” Madson, 14, said. “It was all so wonderful that it would be hard to pick a favorite part.”

Madson didn’t have a lot of sailing experience before the trip, but knew basic sailing terminology going in. The trip opened up a whole new world of adventure, not to mention the addition of many new friends, Madson said. 

“The crew were all so nice, and helped with our watch groups,” said Madson, who is eager to keep sailing.  “Working on a tall ship in the future or even staying in Milwaukee and working at the sailing center would be great.” 

And although Madson and Bargenquast didn’t know each other before the sailing trip, the two have become great friends.

It’s just the start for a partnership between organizations with a common goal and a shared pride in a beloved boat.

The Denis Sullivan left its Lake Michigan home in 2022 to join the World Ocean School fleet.