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Sidelined schooner eyed for floating classroom

By Joe Wojtas

Publication: The Day

Published February 13. 2013 4:00AM   Updated February 15. 2013 10:53AM

Mystic - A Bridgeport nonprofit organization that exposes children and families to Long Island Sound and sailing wants to buy the schooner Mystic, which has sat idle for several years, and put it back to use as an education vessel.

Capt. Chris German, the founder and CEO of Connecticut Community Boating Inc., said Tuesday that his group would like to keep the vessel in southeastern Connecticut, possibly basing operations out of Groton.

He said his organization has developed a detailed business plan over the past four years and was looking for a vessel to serve as a school ship when it recently learned about the Mystic.

"This vessel is sitting in our backyard and it needs a home. And we need a vessel for our mission," German said.

The 171-foot-long, three-masted schooner has been for sale since 2009, when no one bid on it during a foreclosure auction. At that point, Lignum Vitae LLC, the local group that holds the mortgage on the boat, took ownership of it.

Lignum Vitae had foreclosed on the mortgage it made to Mystic Schooner Line LLC, which was unable to pay off the remaining $2.9 million in mortgage, interest and fees. The Mystic was built in 2007 in Florida and began operating day sails, evening cruises and multiday trips as part of Voyager Cruises on Holmes Street.

German said that when he came to tour the schooner here last week, he learned from the Newport, R.I.-based broker that there are some out-of-state groups also interested in the ship.

"That would be a shame," he said about the prospect of the Mystic leaving the area. "The broker would like to see it stay in Connecticut, but whoever comes up with the money will get it."

German said that the $2 million asking price has been lowered to $1.8 million. In its business plan, the group said it would put down a $1 million downpayment and then finance the rest.

 The group would need an additional $700,00 for operations, refurbishment and other costs. It has come up with a variety of fundraising options, curriculum and program costs, all of which are outlined in its plan.

"We have the structure in place. Now we have to come up with capital to make it happen," he said.

German is optimistic, saying that once a few initial sponsors come on board, they will encourage others to support the effort.

He said that unlike a luxury for-profit charter operation, his nonprofit group can seek out grants and donations as well as earn revenue from the trips it runs.

He said the schooner has 17 staterooms with 34 berths, which means it could take 30 students out at a time as well as host family trips and corporate outings.

Connecticut Community Boating's mission is to provide "access to boating and sailing for everyone in Connecticut. We believe everyone deserves the right to access the water."

The organization said the Mystic would serve to bolster that mission by allowing it to serve people across the state regardless of "residency, income or social standing."

More information about the group is at www.ctcommunityboating.org.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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