Discovery World Won’t Sail the Denis Sullivan Until 2022

Discovery World launched the three-masted schooner with its distinctive green wooden hull in 2000.

It hasn’t exactly been in dry dock. But by the time Wisconsin’s flagship returns to the open waters, more than two years will have passed since its last excursion. 

The S/V Denis Sullivan has been moored on Downtown’s lakefront outside Discovery World since spring, a second season of inactivity for the educational sailing schooner. Discovery World leaders made that decision earlier this year when the coronavirus pandemic was still top of mind.

“The Denis Sullivan isn’t going to sail this season, but we have every intent of making sure that she is ready to return for 2022,” says Bryan Wunar, Discovery World president and CEO. “Even though most restrictions have now been lifted, so much of the planning for the sailing season happens much earlier in the year. We were in a very different situation then.”



The Sullivan typically has a crew of 11 or 12 who must live together in the vessel’s tight quarters, which caused considerable concern. Financial issues also factored into the decision; the museum did not fully reopen until July 10. “Every aspect of Discovery World was impacted when we had to close our doors,” Wunar says. “We didn’t have any revenue coming from any of our traditional sources and we went through significant budget and staff reductions.”

The Denis Sullivan, a flagship of both the state of Wisconsin and of the United Nations Environment Programme, first set sail in 2000. The green-hulled, three-masted wooden schooner is powered by two diesel engines and boasts a scientific laboratory, computer workstations and modern communication and navigation equipment. It’s designed to carry up to 50 passengers on day sails and 20 for overnight excursions.

On average, it costs about $500,000 annually to operate the Denis Sullivan, not including any long-distance voyages, according to Wunar. Discovery World has allocated funds for the Sullivan’s operation and is fundraising, including a GoFundMe campaign, for additional costs such as bringing back a crew.

Among those pandemic furloughs was the Sullivan’s longtime captain, Ti any Krihwan, who in February landed at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy on Cape Cod. There, she’s commanding the 127-year-old schooner Ernestina-Morrissey.

Discovery World hopes to have Krihwan’s replacement on board by fall. “It’s a very specific role. We won’t just post something online and see who applies,” Wunar says. “We are reaching out to the tall ship community and the sailing community.”

Despite the challenges, Wunar repeatedly expressed confidence that the Denis Sullivan will indeed set sail again in 2022.

“This is a chance for us to be creative with everything from adventure programming to developing an appreciation of the Great Lakes and looking at maritime history,” Wunar says. “The Sullivan is an essential part of Discovery World and is a really unique resource. It’s our obligation to care for it, and we’re doing that.”



Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.