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A boat with no ocean: Builder hopes hillside pirate ship inspires kids to read

The Daily Courier/Jo.L. Keener
Mike Shepard, left, reads to kindergartners from the Prescott Frontier Rotary Summer School at Washington Traditional School.

The Daily Courier/Jo.L. Keener Mike Shepard, left, reads to kindergartners from the Prescott Frontier Rotary Summer School at Washington Traditional School.

PRESCOTT - It sounds like something out of the "Twilight Zone:" A pirate ship built into the side of a hill.

Believe it or not, people don't have to travel so far. Just take a trip down Robinson Drive in Prescott.

This vessel has everything: A mast, chests of "treasure," and a captain's quarters with a bed. Walking through it, one gets the feeling of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride at Disneyland.

Perhaps, the most interesting aspect is how 53-year-old Mike Shepard built the ship with his bare hands.

"I built it from junk laying around. I started with one board," said Shepard,

who plans to promote reading and literacy among children in the tri-city area with his ship.

All together, Shepard spent eight to nine years crafting the spectacle. His original inspiration came from a sailing trip he took with his best friend after college, from San Diego to the Hawaiian Islands. The ship he sailed on, a 20-foot boat called "Mini," belonged to his friend.

Shepard's wife, former Daily Courier reporter Sandy Moss, helped Shepard realize the importance of literacy in children's lives.

"Sandy has made me more keenly aware (everything) starts off with learning to read," he said. "This is the big gift you'll give yourself: You're going to learn how to read."

Shepard wants to play host to various school groups from time to time in his hand-made pirate ship. His first audience, a handful of kindergartners from the Prescott Frontier Rotary Summer School, visited Tuesday morning. Shepard dressed up as a pirate and read "The Wreck of the Zephyr," a story by Chris Van Allsburg about a boat on the side of a hill and how it got there.

"I was telling the kids we (pirates) hide things in secret places. We keep our treasure close," Shepard said. "I would hope this (experience) is one that'll stick with them."

Kindergarten teacher Jeannie Schmidt said the experience inspired her students to learn better vocabulary. She pointed to a group of sentences which the children wrote about the pirate ship on display at the front of the room.

"These sentences are the best we've had all summer," she said. "(Children) have a natural interest in pirates."

The visit encouraged her students to use their imaginations, she continued. When 6-year-old Dakota Shatzer talked about her experience aboard the ship, she could hardly contain her excitement.

"It looks like a movie, a movie ship," she said.

Besides reading to the kindergartners, Shepard talked about ocean currents and how to use a compass.

"(I learned) that when you go on a pirate ship, that wherever you go, (a compass) points the way," Dakota continued.

As a prize for remaining the quietest listener during the story, 6-year-old Isaac Lopez won a copy of "Gulliver's Travels." He did not say much about the book, but smiled while describing his adventure inside the ship.

"I saw two beds and a treasure chest," he said.

More information about Shepard's boat and literacy tours is available via

e-mail at

Contact the reporter at


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