Now police and the ship's crew are searching for the unique 3-foot-diameter wheel in hopes of finding it before a scheduled sailing on Monday.
The 99-year-old Adventuress, owned by the nonprofit Sound Experience, serves as an education platform for some 3,000 children and teens each year.
The historic gaff-rigged schooner is in Olympia this weekend for public dockside tours and public sails. On Monday, it is scheduled to sail with 24 young students on a three-day program.
Catherine Collins, Sound Experience's executive director, said the crew is trying to find a replacement wheel in case the original wheel can't be found.
"We are doing everything we can to come up with a loaner wheel," said Collins. "Our incredible maritime community from Olympia to Bellingham is working hard to help us come up with a solution so our kids can sail tomorrow."
The ship's wheel was stolen from the 133-foot schooner as it was moored at Olympia's Percival Landing, where it has been docked this weekend for public tours.
Olympia police have been notified and the Adventuress' crew is combing the area surrounding the waterfront in hopes that the wheel was stashed by the thieves somewhere nearby.
The organization is asking the public for any help they can offer, including checking with local thrift and second-hand stores. Sound Experience is offering a $100 cash reward with no questions asked.
The Adventuress, a Puget Sound icon, was voted most popular historic site in the region in the National Trust for Historic Preservation Partners in Preservation online competition in 2010.
"It's hard to believe that this could happen," said Collins, "But there are so many folks who love Adventuress that I know we'll find a solution. I just hope it's soon enough."
For more information about Sound Experience and Adventuress, visit www.soundexp.org.