Neither Garrod Clute (Bristol, Conn.), Ed Weschler (Chicago) nor Maggie Dunbar (Newport, R.I.) had ever been aboard a Tall Ship before, but when they arrived in Portsmouth, R.I. last week with over two dozen other teens aboard the 180-foot three-masted schooner Mystic one would have sworn they had been aboard for five weeks rather than five days.
The 180-foot Tall Ship Mystic berths next to the 200-foot SSV Oliver Hazard Perry at the Hinckley Boatyard in Portsmouth, R.I. When the Perry's main mast is stepped in September, it will tower 130 feet over the water; Mystic is 113 feet tall.
Mystic, which had departed from New Bedford, Mass. on August 17, was the platform for one of Oliver Hazard Perry Rhode Island’s (OHPRI) education-at-sea sessions and also carried aboard it a marine biology teacher, 13 professional crew (including a first mate and engineer), and the Captain, Richard Bailey. It docked at Hinckley Boatyard for an overnight stay next to Bailey’s future charge, the 200-foot square-rigged SSV Oliver Hazard Perry, which is soon to have its own three masts stepped in preparation for final commissioning and sailing next summer. The teens took a tour of Perry and immediately understood the possibilities of the larger floating classroom being purpose-built by OHPRI for experiences they had already grown to cherish.
'As soon as I get home, I’m going to ask my parents about a Semester at Sea on Oliver Hazard Perry,' said Clute, who is going into ninth grade next year at Bristol Eastern. He had boarded knowing no others but made friends the first day when he learned what is now his favorite nautical 'trick': making a Ballantine Coil. 'It’s a special coil you use so that a line can go free without tangling or becoming a mess; you can also leave it on deck, so that if what’s attached to it moves, it can be free and move with it,' explained Clute.
Teen students Garrod Clute (Bristol, Conn.), Ed Weschler (Chicago) and Maggie Dunbar (Newport, R.I.) became fast friends at Oliver Hazard Perry Rhode Island's most recent one-week teen camp aboard the Tall Ship Mystic.
Weschler, who will be a junior this year at Loyola Academy and came with his sister, said he was initially nervous being from the Midwest 'but everyone was so nice and calm and I made friends really quickly.' His favorite thing was flaking the sails on the head rig, because he liked being on the bow 'way out over the water.'
Dunbar, a sophomore at Northfield Mount Hermon in Mass., came with a few other friends and neighbors she already knew, and she also had known Captain Bailey, who worked with the teacher and crew to engage the kids in the operation of the ship, the learning of new things about the sea and marine life within, and sharing of laughs along the way.
'He (Captain Richard) is so fun to have onboard,' said Dunbar. 'He started a game where we try to clip people with clothespins without them noticing; once he clipped me five pins at once, but I got him back with six pins,' she laughed. She also enjoyed a stopover in Martha’s Vineyard where the crew and students went ashore for illumination night in Oak Bluffs.
Bailey said he has learned over the years that older teens, like this group of 14-19 year olds, are easier to 'wrangle' than the younger ones. 'They are noisy,' he laughed, 'but they come quickly when they are called, and they listen and execute duties with enthusiasm. They are still learning that responsibility is a privilege, really.'
Jillian Schneider, who teaches seventh grade at the Paul Cuffee School in Providence kept the young adults fascinated with experiments, including those for creating bioluminescence, which were the most popular. She taught two groups of students a day, each while they were 'off watch' for four hours and said she felt personal fulfillment when one student declared that he had experienced his 'best lab ever!' when he crushed up dried-out sea fireflies, added water and saw that they glowed brightly. 'With the Oliver Hazard Perry’s science lab and classrooms, there’s so much more we can do,' said Schneider excitedly.
Ed Weschler said that, as any teenager would tell you, it was tough to wake up in the middle of the night for anchor watch, 'but once you got past the initial five minutes of getting up it was good, because it was all so quiet, the stars were awesome and you always learned something when you did it.'
Students with Grab the Torch Leadership Initiative Programs set the sails on Mystic and conquer their fears going aloft. SSV Oliver Hazard Perry will engage a full spectrum of age groups.
Evidently, at some juncture Weschler, Clute and Dunbar also learned how to perform back flips off the Mystic’s rub rail, which they proudly exhibited during late afternoon 'swim call' at the Hinckley Boatyard. Later that evening, for their last onboard group activity, they would be learning sea chanties and sharing their own words, inspired by the sea, at a poetry slam. 'It’s a creative way of helping them feel they can take this shipboard life and make it their own,' said crew member Vincent Tavani, a Pennsylvania native who taught humanities at an Arizona charter school for fifth through 12th grades. 'It’s not just about using the ship as a platform for learning about other things but also about how to process what you learn and put it into language.'
For Weschler, his one-word description of his experience was 'insane.' In teen lingo, that meant really, really good.
SSV Oliver Hazard Perry is Rhode Island’s Official Sailing Education Vessel. When she is completed, she will be a 200-foot Coast Guard inspected and approved steel-hulled, technologically sophisticated 21st Century ship ─ the first ocean-going, full-rigged ship to be built in the U.S. in 110 years and the largest civilian sail training vessel in America.
Information outlining the history of SSV Oliver Hazard Perry and all of its Education at Sea opportunities can be found at OHPRI or call Jess Wurzbacher at +1 401-841-0080.