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"Call of the Sea": Learning Science and Seamanship on a Schooner

SIASI youth on tall ship

Last Saturday, I had the opportunity to take a group of ten teenagers on an incredible educational sailing trip in the San Francisco Bay courtesy of the "Call of the Sea" educational nonprofit. For three glorious hours, our teens and chaperones got to voyage out into the beautiful Bay on an 82' schooner called the "Seaward."

We arrived at a dock in Sausalito, just across the Golden Gate Bridge, at about 9am.  Katie, the chief educator on the "Seaward" met us on the dock and briefed us on what the morning was going to be like.  She introduced us to the ship captain Ryan, and three other deckhand/educators.

fullsailThis wasn't a pleasure cruise, for sure. From the start, every teen was given a task to accomplish to get our sailing vessel out of dock and cruising on the water. They learned the kind of tasks sailors need to attend to keeping this ship afloat and moving, from raising the sail, steering the boat, adjusting the rigging, and dozens of other small but important jobs. Several of our kids stated later that the highlight of the trip for them was getting to steer this massive, 65 ton boat.

There was some solid science instruction as well.  The sailor-educators pulled out whiteboards and teaching materials to teach our teens about the physics of sailing, plankton ecology, and ocean conservation. The kids enjoyed dropping buckets into the ocean to bring in water samples and then examine them under microscopes to see the different kinds of zooplankton and phytoplankton. learning plankton ecology on Seaward

Beyond the science and seamanship learning, the kids got the invaluable experience of accomplishing something together, working as a team, and experiencing the ocean in a way that no digital technology or media can replicate.

The sailor-educators of Call of the Sea were great communicators and guides for our teens. They clearly seemed to love the subjects they were talking about, their excitement and passion rubbing off on our youth.  At the same time, we felt totally safe and supported the entire time, even when the winds kicked up and the waves rocked the boat. We got to see their living quarters and get a sense for what a life on sea might be like  -- lacking some of the comforts of modern life but gaining a more direct connection to nature.

By the end of the three hour voyage, I could sense a shift among our teens. Strangers to each other only a few days ago, they seemed kinder and more relaxed around each other.  Two of the boys sang a sea shanty and everyone cheered for them at the end.  The girls huddled together for warmth like kittens.  It did my heart good to see these friendships blossom and grow.

The trip was powerful for me as well.  I was reminded of all the things that I love about boats and the open ocean.  The sense of your own insignificance, the beauty of sea and the endless life contained in it, and possibilities for adventure and discovery before you.  And as someone with a fear of deep waters, it was a opportunity for me to confront my own nervousness and anxieties and not let them best me.

While mostly a land-lover, I can hear the "call of the sea," and I believe the teens we brought can hear it too.

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