On March 28, 2015, wind pushed against the seven sails of the new-to-racing Dirigo II, propelling the schooner to the fastest it has ever sailed. At 11.4 knots (roughly 13.1 mph), the ship and its crew crossed the finish line third, but as first in its division. Later that night it was announced at the awards ceremony that the newcomer, the Dirigo II, had won overall by 15 minutes (including handicaps due to the larger size of the Dirigo II) over the seasoned sailors in the America’s Schooner Cup.
This experience was one of many for Joe Woodard, 20, who took a year off after his freshman year at Western to sail. During this time away from his “normal life” he has gained new perspectives, especially on his education.
“[The trip] has offered me a chance to get in touch with myself and learn a lot about myself,” Woodard said. “It was probably the most productive time of my college career, and I’m not even in college. Its been incredible.”
Woodard is excited to go back to school, but instead of continuing with pre-med, which he chose as his original major, he will pursue a degree in Fairhaven College concentrating on areas such as permaculture, sustainability, civil engineering and music production.
“When I left, I didn’t know if school was going to be the right place for me, but I feel like getting that space to travel a bit and getting perspective really brought me to a place where I could see clearly what I was doing,” Woodard said.
The time away from the Pacific Northwest has given him a chance to be immersed in new cultures and see how they live, he said. Now, Woodard looks at his education as a way to sculpt a study that can help him make changes in the world.
When Woodard returns to Western for fall quarter 2015 he will be participating in an independant study where he will work on a local sustainable farm for four to five days a week until he can apply for winter quarter in Fairhaven College. The independent study will be with Western Professor Gigi Berardi, a family friend with whom he previously went on a study abroad trip to Florence.
That study abroad experience was Woodard’s beginning into learning about different cultures and agricultural processes. That, along with his time away from school, led him to realize that he wants to make a positive change in the world through being a resource for others about alternative ways to live that are better for the environment.
Woodard, along with his best friend Ian Allaway, interned with Arthur Lohrey, owner of the Dirigo II, last summer to learn the basics of caring for and crewing the schooner, which makes chartered excursions out of Friday Harbor.
On October 3, they set south for Mexico along with six crewmembers, including some of Lohrey’s family and a few kayak guides. It was two months later that Woodard and Allaway got a month of shore-leave in Mexico, where they explored the peninsula, Woodard said.
By March they started to head back north toward San Diego, where they would be invited to join the race that they would later win. At that point in their trip, Woodard, Allaway and Lohrey were the only crew. None of them had ever raced, and in order to compete they picked up extra crewmembers who had never sailed together before.
Gigi Berardi, Allaway’s mother, was in San Diego and was on the ship during the race. She said it was amazing that they were able to beat Dennis Conner, four-time winner of the America's Cup and a bronze medalist at the 1976 Summer Olympics.
“Dirigo II was very good at managing in areas with no wind,” Berardi said. “They made some critical decisions on when not to tack. It saved time.”
Currently, Woodard, Allaway and Lohrey are in Long Beach, Calif., working on the Dirigo II and trying to charter the ship. The schooner and its owner Lohrey may stay in California after Woodard and Allaway return to Washington in June to reintegrate and start school.