Captain Robert Douglas, founder of Black Dog, celebrates his 90th birthday

More than 100 people representing three generations gathered recently to celebrate the 90th birthday of Captain Robert (“Bob”) Douglas. The party was held under a decorated tent in a field beside a small pond at Arrowhead Farm, Douglas’ home in West Tisbury.

Douglas is the founder of the Black Dog, and the designer and mastermind behind Martha’s Vineyard’s iconic educational tall ship, Shenandoah. According to a press release, “in his 57 years as captain of the tall ship, Bob’s influence has impacted many lives,” as his former mate, Gary Maynard, explained in his speech in honor of Douglas.

Douglas and his ship have welcomed more than 10,000 people, mostly young people, on week-long voyages from the port of Vineyard Haven since 1964. Voyages aboard the Shenandoah are considered adventures, where young people drop technology and busy schedules, and “immerse themselves in a world of sea shanties”. and the sun, where the vessel and the day-to-day activities of its operation dictate the days,” the statement read.

As Douglas’ friend and understudy, Ian Ridgeway, explained in the statement about his first trip with Douglas, “I remember what it was like to embark on a great adventure, pack my bags and climb on the rail of a huge sailboat and walking through a new world full of new terminologies, new rules and new ways of doing things. I remember a stoic captain with an exceptional posture that radiated confidence and I remember the crew taking me under their wings, guiding me through my experience and showing me the ropes, and I remember the feelings of pure joy and elation.

Along with the history surrounding Douglas’ efforts, the anniversary celebration looked to the future. Ian Ridgeway, along with Casey Blum, LCSW, co-founded the nonprofit Martha’s Vineyard Foundation for Ongoing Experiential Learning (FUEL), and Douglas donated Shenandoah and its educational mission to FUEL in 2020.

FUEL’s mission is “to inspire young people to improve the world through adventures at sea,” the press release reads. FUEL argues that to improve the world, people must change the way they interact with themselves, with each other, and with the planet.

Blum said in the statement, “People need to know how to identify, understand and communicate their emotions. They need to experience wonder and wonder to develop empathy and become inspired. They must unleash their courage and confidence through challenge and adventure. We offer our trips to prepare our youth for adulthood. We teach them to be confident, empathetic and inspired.

FUEL is working on a new training ship — designed by Douglas — to provide the next 100 years of service to Island youth.

“I maintain that she will be, without question, the best boat with her rig afloat,” Douglas said in the statement. “I’m a little biased, but her design will embody the universal requirements that ships must have – to be knocked down, to drag beautiful, and she must sail like a witch and steer like a dream.”

The Shenandoah will operate as long as possible, but its retirement is on the horizon, the statement said. Meanwhile, plans for the new ship were finalized, with several shipyards bidding on the project. FUEL has embarked on a $7 million global campaign named Shenandoah, The Next Generation to raise the funds needed to build and staff the new vessel.

For more information about FUEL and the Next Generation Shenandoah Campaign, contact Ian Ridgeway at [email protected] or visit