ISEA History



  • ISEA founded by Tom Kelly, John Elder, and Peter Doren
  • IRS 501(c)3 status granted
  • Established ISEA office in downtown Traverse City
  • First Schoolship programs begin aboard the chartered schooner Malabar
  • Over 1,100 participants this year


  • Zebra and quagga mussels arrive in Lake Michigan


  • National Geographic Society documentary film, Great Lakes – Fragile Seas, airs featuring ISEA


  • First six-day summer adult program aboard chartered schooner Manitou 


  • Fundraised $750,000 to build the schooner Inland Seas and cover initial operating expenses


  • Schoolship and summer programs aboard MalabarManitou, and Cygnet
  • Over 5,000 participants sailed with ISEA since inception


  • Treworgy Yachts contracted to build Inland Seas [View Ship Plans]
  • ISEA received ASTA “Sail Training Program of the Year” award


  • Inland Seas launch day in Palm Coast, Florida – May 18
  • Commissioning Ceremony for Inland Seas in Traverse City – July 30
  • First students sail on Inland Seas – August 2
  • Over 10,000 participants sailed with ISEA since inception


  • First Young People in STEM Program


  • New dock built for Inland Seas in Suttons Bay


  • First trip to Milwaukee with Inland Seas for the Wisconsin Lake Schooner Education Association teacher training class
  • Over 25,000 participants sailed with ISEA since inception


  • ISEA’s 10th anniversary
  • Students discover Cercopagis, fishhook water flea, in Lake Michigan during a Schoolship program


  • ISEA received ASTA “Sea Education Program of the Year” award


  • Purchased Northern Lumber property site in Suttons Bay and began renovations for new Inland Seas Education Center
  • First Invasive Species Field Program offered
  • Over 50,000 participants sailed with ISEA since inception


  • Opened Inland Seas Education Center
  • First boat building program offered
  • Governor Jennifer Granholm participates in the Schoolship Program aboard Manitou


  • First round gobies discovered in Grand Traverse Bay
  • First Great Lakes Discovery Program offered
  • Sloop Liberty donated to ISEA
  • ISEA received DTE Energy “Achievement in Excellence Award for Sustainability”


  • First sail training programs offered onboard Liberty
  • First family programs offered in Inland Seas Education Center


  • Opened Invasive Species Exhibits in the Inland Seas Education Center
  • Wetland Demonstration Project completed on Inland Seas’ waterfront
  • Hamm Outdoor Classroom Pavilion constructed


  • Began after-school boat building classes with Suttons Bay High School students


  • Over 75,000 participants sailed with ISEA since inception


  • ISEA’s 20th anniversary
  • Inland Seas participates in first Michigan Schooner Festival in Traverse City


  • Inland Seas sails to Chicago to take part in the Tall Ships Chicago 2010 event


  • Founder Tom Kelly retires at year’s end
  • Fred Sitkins hired as ISEA’s second Executive Director


  • ISEA’s 25th anniversary
  • Schooner Inland Seas turns 20 years old
  • Inland Seas Education Center building is 100 years old
  • Sold sloop Liberty to Whistling Winds Classic Yacht Charters in La Mesa, CA
  • Suttons Bay Visitor’s Center first housed in ISEA’s Education Center
  • Over 100,000 participants sailed with ISEA since inception
  • Founder Tom Kelly passes away in January
  • Young People in STEM trips become three days
  • Schooner Utopia donated to Inland Seas [View Ship Plans]
  • ISEA hosts the Grand Traverse Stewardship Initiative hub in Suttons Bay
  • Underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) programs developed and offered to schools and the public
  • Teachers from four Great Lakes states participate in a 4-day Great Lakes Watershed Field Course
  • Four new two-hour programs developed and offered
  • Education Center and Museum mortgage paid off (early) in December
  • Received Friend of Education recognition from the Delta Kappa Gamma Society International for “dedication in helping people, especially teachers and students, to experience the Great Lakes through hands-on experiential learning activities aboard a tall ship schooner”
  • Major retrofit of schooner Utopia made possible by grant from Impact 100 TC
  • Average number of public participants on public sails sets record at 25
  • Completed schooner Utopia retrofit
  • Grand opening of the Capt. Thomas M. Kelly Biological Station campus
  • The schooner Inland Seas participated in the Cleveland Tall Ship Festival and the Green Bay Tall Ship Festival
  • The schooner Utopia participated in the Green Bay Tall Ship Festival and the Duluth Tall Ship Festival
  • Over 130,000 individuals impacted by ISEA programs since inception


  • Developed digital resources for schools unable to attend in person due to COVID-19
  • Adapted Schoolship programs to serve individual families and smaller groups who were learning at home during COVID-19
  • Created digital volunteer training videos
  • Completed a significant age-related hull repair to the schooner Inland Seas
  • Formalized Early Elementary programs as a regular offering
  • ISEA purchases property directly adjacent to current campus


  • The schooner Inland Seas sailed in Lake Superior for the first time
  • Remodeled exhibits in the Capt. Thomas M. Kelly Biological Station Education Center to focus on the Great Lakes food web
  • Conducted Great Lakes programming with partners in four of the five Great Lakes
  • Teachers from seven of the eight Great Lakes states participate in the Great Lakes Watershed Field Course
  • Over 150,000 individuals impacted by ISEA programs since inception


  • Inland Seas purchases the schooner Alliance expanding their sailing fleet to further Great Lakes education
  • The schooner Inland Seas made two trips to Detroit in one year (Summer and Fall) for the first time in ISEA history
  • Introduced Watershed Exploration programs, adding year-round program availability


  • ISEA staff and volunteers bring schooner Alliance from Georgetown MD, to Suttons Bay, MI in 34 days
  • Began schooner Alliance retrofit to better serve participants by expanding available bunk space
  • ISEA furthers its partnership with the DRSL and our combined efforts on the Detroit River
  • Two full-time staff hires, Capt. Lily Heyns and Great Lakes Educator Liam Fries
  • Introduced the new “Great Lakes Challenge Station” onboard our programs


  • Presented 24 Watershed Exploration programs to 12 SEEDS sites across Northwest Michigan
  • Completed renovation of schooner Alliance main cabin to accommodate 18 overnight guests

Sign-up for news, events and other ISEA information