Friday, January 16, 2015

Poetry on Adventuress: High School Students Step Aboard to Write

In December, English classes from Port Townsend High School came aboard Adventuress to take inspiration for their writing. After exploring the ship to collect a list of eye-catching objects, students cycled through four groups as they worked to develop their objects and impressions towards a poem.

On deck with crew member Aimee, students sat against the rails with notebooks in their laps, expanding on the objects they had observed.  Many had a keen eye for the unique details of a ship that serves as a floating dockside classroom, a functioning historic vessel, and a home for winter crew.  One student’s list of objects included this motley assortment: “deck prism, fire extinguisher, lotsa coffee, brass insignia, Flash mug in Captain’s cabin.”

Although it was a time of quiet reflection, there were many questions about the particular language of the ship.  The unfamiliarity of the environment forced students to touch the objects that they wished to have explained–from cleats and futtocks to worm gears and king spokes. Later, cozy in the deckhouse, they were asked to select one of their objects and write a poem from its point of view.  To provide them with inspiration, crew member Lenny offered a series of thoughtful and humorous questions: “What did your object eat for breakfast?  What is it proud of?  What does it wish for?”

Chris Piersons English students sing “Acres of Clams.”
Groups continued below deck, first to learn about ballads and chanteys from guitar-wielding crew member Chris and then to meet with Gaia in the main cabin and continue to write and reflect.  At the end of their time aboard Adventuress, students gathered in a circle above deck to share the writing that they had produced: a Seussian poem about Adventuress, a poetic description of a sailor preparing to tack, a rap performed by a young man named Jordan with beatbox assistance from English teacher Chris Pierson, and a group sing-a-long of chantey favorite “Acres of Clams.”

Not only was a great deal of material produced, but many students noted the creative freedom of writing in an unfamiliar and history-rich space.  Says Koby, “Well, school feels more like a chore and we’re forced to be there.  I’m there to survive and get to the end of the day.  Here is different.  I’m still learning, but I feel like I’m here to actually do things.”  Asked about whether he feels differently about Port Townsend’s maritime history after coming aboard, he says, “You hear about it a lot, but you don’t actually know…[coming aboard] you feel less like a tourist.  Fewer generalized statements.  You get to actually have the experience.”  His classmate Elijah, who also sailed on Adventuress for the Marine Trades program last fall, echoes this idea of creative freedom, saying, “I feel a lot more at ease creatively and intellectually…headspace is a lot different here than in the classroom.”  Or, in McKinley’s concise words: “surrounded by walls it’s hard to have a free mind.”  

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Difference Adventuress Makes: Rob Upson

Rob Upson was transitioning out of a career in environmental chemistry when he came across Adventuress in Seattle. As so often happens, Rob fell in love with the ship. After several week-long stints as a volunteer, he came aboard to work in the galley in the winter of ’97 and as an educator/deckhand in the spring and summer of ’98. Of his time on Adventuress, he says, “I didn’t learn to sail on Adventuress, but I learned to be a sailor… [it was] such a formative moment in my life.”

Although initially reluctant to get involved in teaching, Rob felt galvanized by his time aboard Adventuress. He recalls that he “learned a lot about how people learn” on Adventuress. After leaving Adventuress, Rob went on to get his Masters in Teaching, teach science and math to high school students, and coach the award-winning Antilles Sailing Team. Because of his role as an educator on and off the ship, Rob says, “Adventuress affected not just me. I definitely would say it affected a lot of people.”

DeWitt's painting of Adventuress
hangs in Rob Upson's home.
Rob’s wife is related to well-known America’s Cup painter Jim DeWitt. Several years ago, after noticing that Jim painted mostly racing yachts, Rob suggested a painting of Adventuress. Rob now has a gorgeous painting of Adventuress hanging in his home. Thanks to Rob–and the link he provided to Jim DeWitt–Sound Experience reached out to Jim, who recently created two stunning paintings of Adventuress. Jim, an accomplished painter and sailor from the San Francisco Bay Area, has generously agreed to donate a portion of the proceeds from the paintings to Sound Experience. To find out more about purchasing one of the paintings, you can contact Pam at 510-236-1401 or

Although Rob now lives in the Virgin Islands, he continues to give generously to Sound Experience. He loves that the ship, which functions as a self-contained environment, teaches stewardship by acting as a metaphor for the planet. Despite his distance from Puget Sound, Rob supports Sound Experience because, “No matter where I am, I know it’s one of the best non-profits I’ve come across in terms of programming.”