BY CAROLYN LUCAS-ZENK | WEST HAWAII TODAY
Waimea resident Woodson Woods dreamed of a tall ship with a sleek hull and rakish masts. This lifelong sailor and serious maritime history student fascinated by the War of 1812 decided in 1997 to build this ship.
“I wanted to create for others the rewards garnered from a deep interest in maritime history and the rich world of the sea,” he said.
Woods spent $3 million and four years to create a wooden boat designed after an actual privateer named Lynx, built by Thomas Kemp in Fell’s Point, Md. The swift, historical ship was among the first to defend American freedom by evading the British naval fleet, then blockading ports.
His modern Lynx, inspired by the original and completed in 2001, teaches American history, sailing, celestial navigation and environmental issues. To date, it has welcomed more than a million people aboard for adventure sails, sail training programs and dockside tours.
Recognizing the impact the Lynx has made, the National Maritime Historical Society is honoring Woods by giving him the 2011 Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Maritime Education. He will receive the award at a gala dinner Oct. 12 at the New York Yacht Club.
National Maritime Historical Society chairman Ronald Oswald praised Woods for “(his) design, building and crewing of the 1812 privateer Lynx, but most specifically for creating the Lynx sailing program to incorporate sail training with a hands-on educational experience of history.”
“The award recognizes work that teaches maritime history in a way that conveys the challenges, excitement and leading role of our seafaring past in creating today’s world,” he added.
Woods serves as president of the board of directors for the Lynx Educational Foundation, a nonprofit overseeing operations of the ship and its interactive sail training program designed to enrich personal achievement through team and discipline. He was “surprised, overwhelmed, honored and humbled” by the award.
“An operation such as ours is the work of many dedicated individuals who give of their time, energy and commitment — as is the organization which oversees it,” he said.
Lynx sails as “a living history museum,” sharing the story of America’s struggle to preserve its independence. Fitted with period ordnance and flying pennants and flags from the 1812 era, the eight-member crew wears period uniforms — striped shirts and bell bottoms — in keeping with the maritime traditions, Woods said.
“Lynx provides a training ground for children and adults, giving them the opportunity to learn the ways of seafarers in the 18th and 19th centuries,” he said. “Lynx explores the role played by privateers in American history, as well as teaches the important lessons of the Revolutionary War.”
A common misconception is privateers were pirates. Woods explained privateers were owners of private vessels who were granted special permission to take shipping from enemy vessels and given a portion of the profits.
Lynx was based in Newport Beach, Calif., from May 2002 until 2009, when the ship traveled to the East Coast through the Panama Canal. Lynx took six cruises from California to Hawaii during the summers of 2002 to 2007. After several years touring the West Coast, Canada and Hawaii, Lynx is now back east to celebrate the upcoming War of 1812 Bicentennial.
More than 10,000 students from 600 schools have stepped aboard the ship and explored its wonder. Proceeds from the training programs and tours, as well as donations, go toward maintaining and keeping the Lynx sailing, Woods said.
The most important accomplishment, Woods said, is “the Lynx changes lives.” He shared the experience of Karafaye Buffa, a teen who sailed from California to Hawaii aboard the ship in 2004.
“In the 18 days of the journey, I changed as a person. I became more passionate about sailing than I already had been. I learned to live life to the fullest and to take more risks,” Buffa wrote. “After feeling the sense of responsibility inspired by steering this huge ship, I now undertake more and different responsibilities and leadership roles than I would have ever considered previously. The experience taught me to deal with unexpected obstacles that have the chance to alter the direction of my life. I also learned to accept more challenges and face them to the best of my ability.”
Woods said three former students are now attending maritime colleges in California and Maine, including Joel Buffa who graduates this weekend.