Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Girls at the Helm 2012

By Elizabeth Becker, Program Catalyst

 As we pulled up to the dock in Friday Harbor after four days aboard Adventuress, it was hard to imagine that only a short few days ago we were mostly strangers, many venturing out on a tall ship for the first time and feeling that mix of excitement and nervousness that accompanies a new adventure. As we handed sleeping bags and duffles down the ladder and on to shore, we were reluctant to follow, knowing that when we stepped off, we would be leaving behind a ship full of new friends.

The Girls at the Helm voyage, now it is third year, celebrates the legacy of Ernestine “Erni” Bennett and Dorothy Rogers, two “adventurous” women who brought their daughters and their Girl Scout troops out on Adventuress in 1962 and would go on to steer the ship and programs for more than twenty years. At a time when girls and women were not always welcome aboard tall ships, Erni and Dorothy ensured that girls had the opportunity to take part in the life-changing experience of taking the helm, setting sail, and learning from one another, and the two women proved to be exceptional mentors and role models.

In that spirit, the Girls at the Helm voyage brings inspiring women mentors aboard to share their knowledge and passion for the projects in which they’re involved and for life in general. As we did on the first three trips, we were privileged to host a great team of mentors:

Julie shares what we found in our manta net sample
Julie Masura is research scientist at the University of Washington in Tacoma and the Center for Urban Waters. She brought along a “manta net” which we deployed to collect samples for microplastics analysis. With concern growing about the possible harmful effects of these tiny particles on marine life, Julie has taken on the task of collecting background data all around Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands. The net she brought aboard will “live” on Adventuress and be used as often as possible to provide additional data for Julie’s ongoing research.

A bonus was having Julie’s intern Abby Ahlert along to tell us about her work on even smaller bits of plastics in the marine environment (bits too small to be captured by the manta net). A sophomore at the University of Maryland, Abby also shared advice with the participants on finding internship opportunities.

Jennifer Hempelmann is a molecular geneticist who works at NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. Her claim to fame is being a scientist who studies orca scat (affectionately referred to as orca poop). Jen asked the girls to analyze sequences of DNA found in actual scat samples collected from around the Salish Sea, with the goal of learning more about the feeding habits of Southern Resident orcas in our region. As we analyzed the results, we discussed ways in which food sources are impacted by human activities.

Jen leads an exercise in analyzing DNA sequencing data

We were extremely fortunate to have mentors Kristen Thompson and Nancy Richardson join us for the third time. Kristen, who works to advocate for people with disabilities, taught us about compassionate communication and gave us insights into the challenges faced in both giving and receiving information when speech or physical movement is impaired. Kristen, who grew up in the Pacific Northwest, believes so strongly in Girls at the Helm that she came all the way from Florida to join us.

Nancy first sailed on Adventuress 40 years ago with her troop of Mariner Girl Scouts and has been in love with the ship ever since. She’s gone on to sail on 85 different tall ships all over the world (except for the Indian Ocean, where she plans to sail next year) and works with the Los Angeles Maritime Institute to bring kids out on the brigantines Irving Johnson and Exy Johnson. She shared tales of her adventures, encouraged girls to explore and discover, and reminded us that no matter which ship you’re on, it’s your shipmates that matter.

Making this year’s trip extra special was our all-female crew. We welcomed Captain Korie Griffith back aboard after a three-year hiatus and were delighted when her two-year-old son Owen made a surprise appearance at the dock when we returned to Friday Harbor. Chief Mate Rachel Slattery, Program Coordinator Amy Kovacs, and Engineer Katie Giuliano--all veterans of previous Girls at the Helm programs--brought expertise and fun to the trip and all agreed that this program is one of their favorites. In addition to keeping everything running smoothly, all of the crew members did a stellar job of serving as great teachers and role models (and donned their fair share of costumes, as well).

The participants were an awesome group of 12- to 15-year-old young women from around Puget Sound and from as far away as Virginia and Pennsylvania. They brought great enthusiasm and energy to the ship and jumped right in to learn as much as possible from the mentors and crew. A highlight for all aboard was getting to know one other through our one-on-one “interviews” where we asked each other questions (like “Who or what inspires you?” and “How would you like to make the world a better place?”) and shared what we learned with the whole group during evening programs.

We couldn’t have asked for a better group of shipmates and I think all would agree that the only complaint was having to return to shore too soon.

ANCHOR WATCH POEM by Emma and Colleen

Calm and quiet, cool and still
we sit in silence and soon will

be following the other’s path
keeping her safe at last

till we hit Friday Harbor we will haul and heel
and haul and heel, haul away all

but now, now we are one
with the stars and the moon and the deep, dark sea

so we sail away into the horizon to make our own story

2012 Girls at the Helm...What an amazing group!
 P.S. During our last night’s anchor watch, we asked everyone to share their highlights of the trip. Here’s what they said:

  Climbing the rigging
  Meeting new friends
  Getting to know each other
  Going out on Ayashe
  Night watch
  Meal skits
  Having the opportunity to sail!
  Party Piece
  Hauling lines to see the sails go up
  Going out on the bowsprit
  Ice cream party
  Getting to learn awesome new stuff
  Learning neat stuff about other girls and seeing how many similar goals we share
  Cooking with Ani
  Laughing and singing
  Learning from amazing teachers
  Fan-cay pay-unnnts!
  Engine stuff with Katie and climbing the rigging
  Three Amigos (with a sassy first mate)
  At the helm
  Our last night together
  Meeting all the other participants, crew, and captain
  Servings of Cheesy Mac
  Having hot tea on cold evenings and being with all these amazing people
  Ten cookies!!!
  The amazing mentors
  Whale poop

See more photos of our 2012 GATH trip here:  2012 Girls at the Helm photos