She was built of steel in Scotland over a hundred years ago to fish for herring in the North Sea. The proud Alvei had defied the odds and survived when most of her kind were long gone, victims of shipwreck and storm or just dead from old age and rot. But Alvei, a beautiful one-hundred-foot topsail schooner, caught the eye of Captain Dan Mooreland of the Picton Castle. He knew a good ship when he saw one and wasted no time in emailing another captain, his friend Captain Geoffrey Jones, who he knew was looking for a ship.
Captain Geoffrey Jones grew up in Noank, Connecticut on the Mystic River and started working on boats as a boy. At sixteen he got his first paying job as a galley boy on the Shenandoah. “After high school, I went to the Massachusetts Maritime Academy and after graduating I started working on tankers and freighters but I kept coming back to sailing vessels.” In 1989 after receiving his sixteen-hundred-ton license from the Coast Guard he bought the schooner Sylvina W. Beal and did windjammer cruises and educational trips out of the Mystic River. He is a partner with his father, Stephen Jones, in several commercial properties including Schooner Wharf.
“He knew I was looking for a schooner or ship and Dan told me, ‘This is right up your alley. They’re going to take her out and sink her. The guy that once owned it died and it’s in Fiji.’ I’d never been to Fiji so I bought a round-trip ticket for three weeks and thought what the heck; if it doesn’t work out, I’ll have a nice time in Fiji. When I got there, she was anchored out in the harbor and was looking a bit rough. A ferry had hit her and part of her head rig was hanging in the water. I looked her over and contacted the brother of the fellow that had once owned her and one hundred dollars later I was her new owner.”
Alvei had been built for the herring fishery in Scotland in 1920 and fished up until WWII when she was drafted into the Royal Navy as a mine sweeper. After the war, she worked as a coastal freighter in Denmark and Norway. In the 1980’s she was sold to Evan Logan who converted her into a topsail schooner. Logan sailed her as an educational vessel for the next forty years before dying of pneumonia in Fiji. She had languished there until Geoff bought her.
Geoff knew that saving a one-hundred-two-year-old foreign-flagged vessel halfway around the world was going to be a challenge. “I called my friend Jeff Thompson, who I’d collaborated with on other crazy boat adventures, and asked, if I have a ticket waiting for you at the airport will you come out and help me with this? I think if he’d said no, I would have walked away from the project. He said yes.”
The Alvei was hauled out. Geoff hired a dozen Fijians and gave them all chipping hammers. He had the whole hull ultra-sounded, (called audio gauging here) and any steel less than 7 millimeters thick was strengthened. “I put enough steel in her to build a forty-foot cruising vessel. Fiji is the best place to do that because although it’s not the cheapest place or the best place it’s the best combination of the two. It would have cost over one-hundred and thirty thousand in the states instead of the thirty-two thousand it cost here.”
With the repairs complete Alvei’s crew loaded provisions and headed to sea on a voyage that would challenge them not only from the rigors of the sea but also with a global pandemic. The plan was to sail first to the island nation of Vanuatu where Alvei was registered and then on to New Zealand. When Alvei was within a hundred miles of the coast of New Zealand a series of fifty-knot gales out the south effectively stopped their progress for six days. It was while here in New Zealand the pandemic hit and Alvei and her crew found themselves refugees in, as Geoff describes it, one of his favorite and most beautiful places in the world.
After finally getting clearance to leave New Zealand, not knowing what ports might be closed due to the virus, Geoff loaded enough stores in Auckland to get them all the way back to Noank, Connecticut. The plan was to sail to Pitcairn Island, Easter Island, the Galapagos Islands, and finally to Panama. But Pitcairn closed before they left and after a series of gales, they arrived at Easter Island sixty-three days out only to find the island closed. They sailed around the island and then squared away to the Galapagos. En route, the steering broke and the crew had to improvise a repair that worked so well it’s still on the ship now, although Geoff is planning to replace it before the next voyage. Christmas that year was spent at sea and the voyage from Auckland to the Galapagos took one-hundred-four days without setting foot on dry land. “They made us sail out and clean the bottom before we could enter so I spent a total of one-hundred eight days at sea.”
After visiting the Galapagos, Geoff and the crew pushed on through the Panama Canal planning to stop in Mexico but a series of strong winds blowing on shore kept them from stopping. “We were on the home stretch now. I planned to stop in Key West but because I had foreign nationals aboard a U.S. customs regulation would not let us land. I sailed to Bimini in the Bahamas and took my crew without the proper visas to a ferry. I then sailed back to Florida and picked my crew back up in Fort Lauderdale. We stopped and visited historic Charleston, South Carolina before sailing directly home to Noank, Connecticut. We tied up at the Noank Oyster Hatchery dock on the Mystic River about four hundred feet from the house I grew up in.”
Alvei was almost home but Geoff’s father, Stephen Jones, had an idea. “My father told me they were shooting a documentary on the historic Mystic River Bastille Bridge. He said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have the one-hundred-two-year-old schooner go through the one-hundred-year-old bridge.’ So, we took her up the river where so many Mystic-built ships had gone before her to her berth at Schooner Wharf. Alvei’s incredible voyage halfway around the world, under the command of Captain Geoffrey Jones, was over.
Note: Alvei is now being readied for a new voyage this summer heading up to the Canadian Maritimes, over to Ireland, then on to Scotland where she was built. She then heads off to Scandinavia, then down the coast of Europe to southern Spain, arriving by next fall.
For more information about Alvei so can visit her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/2257968913.