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Five Fun Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About The Challenge

The Challenge has been part of Discovery World since almost the very beginning, and serves as centerpiece for the museum’s Aquatarium building.  But there are a cargo holds worth of facts that most people might not know about one half of Discovery World’s fleet, and here are a few of them to put you in the mood for maritime adventure!

  1. The Challenge was constructed by a team of sixteen volunteers in 2006, including a Master Shipwright named Rob Stevens, who was also one of the builders for the S/V Denis Sullivan.  If 2006 seems a little recent of a construction date for such a majestic (and large) sailing vessel, that’s because this Challenge is a replica of the original, which was constructed by shipwright William Wallace Bates in 1852.
  2. William Wallace Bates built the Challenge at the age of 25 with only an eighth grade education!  However, before you tell kids to drop out of school and focus on building ships, it should be noted that Bates was from a family of shipbuilders, and had spent much of his life around ships and shipbuilding.  He was able to design the Challenge to be a fairly advanced vessel for its time however, including specialized design elements to let it go into the many different water depths all over Lake Michigan.  But only Lake Michigan, as the Challenge was specifically designed to face the challenges of that particular august body of water, and not the different obstacles that the Atlantic Ocean presented.
  3. Discovery World’s team of volunteers were able to create such a lifelike replica in part because of the records that Bates left behind, including an article he wrote in 1856 about the Challenge. The modern day builders were able to match the size, type of wood used, and even the same type of planking design.  They even used period formulas to mix the paint, and the color scheme is taken directly from paintings of Great Lakes sailing vessels of the same type.  However, some aspects of the Challenge necessarily had to be changed.  Its scale is only about 85%, and the masts are only 22-foot tall instead of the 90 ft that the real Challenge would have possessed.  But even the design of the spine of the ship – the keel on the bottom – is accurate to the original vessel.
  4. Speaking of the original Challenge, Discovery World hears a lot of guesses as to what its role was on Lake Michigan – everything from passengers to food to pirate treasure (this last mainly from our younger guests).  But very few guess that its main cargo was wood products.  The growing communities of southern Lake Michigan, including Chicago and a little town we all call Milwaukee, needed huge quantities of planks, raw lumber, and even shingles to keep up with the demand from various builders and architects, and the Challenge was a part of the infrastructure that kept those demands fulfilled.  The Challenge was designed to go at a speed of fifteen mph without any cargo, and drop to nine mph when loaded with lumber.  And while this doesn’t sound very fast compared to our modern modes of transportation, in 1852 this speed was fast enough to earn the Challenge the nickname “The Belle of Lake Michigan” due to her speed and the regularity of her deliveries.
  5. While the Challenge was certainly a valuable and reliable part of Lake Michigan’s trading web, the vessel would experience her fair share of troubles.  Steering a sailing vessel is no easy task, and the Challenge did sometimes run into problems.  Sometimes literally.  She did run into other ships on rare occasions, and while many vessels can lay claim to the dubious honor of having run into (sand)bars, the Challenge is probably in a smaller category that have run into saloons.  While being towed up the Menominee River, the Challenge struck a riverside saloon and carried away 20 feet of the building!

Bonus Fact:  While the Challenge does sometimes look rather precarious hanging from a set of ropes attached to the ceiling, don’t worry!  Those are mainly for stability and decoration, and the ship is actually resting on a set of three concrete pillars attached to the building structure, giving it a much more secure perch while you explore!

The Challenge reopens on Saturday, October 24th!

Your entire family is invited to climb aboard the replica of a Great Lakes Schooner that sailed from 1852-1889. And because The Challenge will be unveiled during our Halloween celebration, you can be sure it’ll be decorated with fun and spooky decorations for all ages.

This blog was written by Discovery World’s Leif Mogren.

Love Your Great Lakes with Fund For Lake Michigan

Alright friends, it’s about time we talk about the Great Lakes. They’re not just your usual body of water, they’re so much more. Please read along as we take a few minutes to explain why we love the Great Lakes here at Discovery World.

Did you know that the five Great Lakes are home to 3,500 different species? Did you also know that they hold over 23 quadrillion liters of water? That is enough water to sustain 2.3 billion people for their entire lives (if they live the average 78 years and use 34 liters of water a day). But, let’s not steal all our water from the Great Lakes. We wouldn’t want them to dry up now, would we? The lakes already provide 40 million people with clean drinking water and 212 billion liters of water a day for farming and industry.

With the Great Lakes being such an abundance of fresh water, many humans are relocating their homes and businesses to the surrounding areas. This move is great for the businesses, however, there is a great concern with pollution in the lake water. The Great Lakes are so big that less than 1% of water leaves the system every year. This allows pollution to stay in the water, harming the animals, plants, and water supplies.

Here at Discovery World, we educate our guests daily about the Great Lakes. But we realized we wanted to create even more awareness. Luckily, we have some amazing friends and partners. With the help of Fund for Lake Michigan, Discovery World is excited to host Love Your Great Lakes Day, a day solely focused on community efforts to revive, sustain, and admire the Great Lakes.

At Discovery World’s Love Your Great Lakes Day on Saturday, February 11th, you’ll have the opportunity to learn about ways people are inspired by the Great Lakes, whether artistically or scientifically.

What can you do at Love Your Great Lakes?

(Image courtesy of JMKE Photography)

Membership pays for itself in just two visits!

Membership is the best (and most cost-saving way) for your family to enjoy fun and learning throughout the year!

With all of our memberships you’ll receive free admission, program discounts, special member-only events, and more!

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Getting Here

We are located on Milwaukee’s lakefront with easy access on and off of the expressway.

500 N Harbor Dr
Milwaukee, WI 53202
Get Directions

General Admission

Adults $20
Child (3-17) $16
Child 2 & Under $Free
Senior (60+) $16
College Student* $14
Military Active and Veterans* $14

*Valid ID Required.

Prices are subject to change. Click HERE to buy tickets and for important information you need to know before visiting. 

Current Hours

Wednesday-Sunday: 9am-4pm
Tues-Fri -
Sat & Sun -

Getting Here

We are located on Milwaukee’s lakefront with easy access on and off of the expressway.

500 N Harbor Dr
Milwaukee, WI 53202
Get Directions
Adults $20
Child (3-17) $16
Child 2 & Under $Free
Senior (60+) $16
College Student* $14
Military Active and Veterans* $14
Military* Active Duty & Veterans $14

*Valid ID Required.

Prices are subject to change. Click HERE to buy tickets and for important information you need to know before visiting. 

Current Hours

Wednesday-Sunday: 9am-4pm
Tues-Fri -
Sat & Sun -
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