Channel Islands Maritime Museum celebrates 25 years

By Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

The ocean has been a source of livelihood, as well as inspiration for art, music and literature, since the first human stepped foot on its shores. The Channel Islands Maritime Museum is a local treasure trove of art and artifacts that serve as testaments to this relationship. This year, it celebrates 25 years of providing visitors with an intimate glimpse of seafaring history.

The story of the maritime museum is inextricable from that of the Channel Islands Harbor, which celebrates its own anniversary — its 50th — this year. Harbor developer Martin V. Smith, known as Bud, joined forces with local businessman and marina owner Harry Nelson to establish the cultural center. Harry and his wife, Joyce, had been longtime collectors of maritime art. “Bud Smith built the building, and Harry filled it with art,” explains museum executive director Julia Chambers. Originally named the Ventura County Maritime Museum, its first location was on Fisherman’s Wharf. In 2012 it moved across the channel to Bluefin Circle and was renamed the Channel Islands Maritime Museum.

Today the museum houses paintings spanning nearly 500 years of maritime history (including a 16th century work by Dutch master Adam Willaerts), around 60 ship models depicting vessels that date as far back as 3000 B.C. and an exhibit dedicated to the history of Port Hueneme. A permanent exhibit dedicated to whales and navigation is slated to open later in the year.

As a repository of seafaring culture, lore and history, the Channel Islands Maritime Museum is unique in the county, providing a detailed, realistic and surprisingly exciting look at life on the high seas. “If adventurous sailors hadn’t decided to board these ships . . . we wouldn’t be here,” Chambers says. “I think [our collection] opens people’s eyes to this world of adventure.”