Thursday, February 26, 2015

Hands-on Learning with Port Townsend High School's Maritime Studies Class

As part of the Maritime Discovery Schools Initiative, students from Kelley Watson’s Maritime Studies class at Port Townsend High School have come aboard Adventuress during the winter months to develop their maintenance and maritime skills. Each Wednesday, the ship transforms into a bustling dockside classroom full of students absorbed in hands-on learning opportunities and a multitude of projects related to the upkeep of a 102-year-old schooner.

Mechanic Walt Trisdale teaches about Adventuress' engine
Throughout the winter, four students have worked with mechanic Walt Trisdale to help realign the engine shaft. Today, before Walt arrives, crew member Chris guides them as they tighten hard-to-reach bolts. Wearing clear plastic safety goggles, students Ellis and Cameron lift up the galley soles and reach so deep inside the boat that their arms disappear as they lie on the floor. Although their task serves a practical purpose, it also functions as an unexpected team-building exercise–Ellis holds the bolt while Cameron, unable to see his hands, reaches in to place the nut.

On deck, a group of students interested in carpentry assists with the final steps in the placement of a “sister”–a beam designed to support one of the historic joists in the fo’c’sle. On deck, the fasteners holding the sister beam in place have been plugged with bungs. Now, the students take turns using a chisel to make the bungs flush with the deck. Gabe narrates the process, then points at older bungs on deck that are so well-disguised that they’re hard to see, using these as an example of what he and his classmates hope to achieve. Of working on Adventuress, he says, “We wouldn’t be able to learn this on campus.” He especially values the opportunity to engage in hands-on learning outside of a traditional classroom: “I’m really an active person. I really like doing things, more than just writing or taking a test.”

Crew Member Nikki helps a student measure his ditty bag.
Another group of students work with crew members Nikki and Gaia to cut and stitch ditty bags–a type of cloth bag that sailors often use to hold small articles and tools.  After carefully measuring on cloth spread across the deck, the students cut out their ditty bags and then begin marking the placement of their stitches. While this goes on, Atlas sits in the deckhouse with an alternate project: using a fid to interweave strands of rope, forming a loop in a piece of line. She learned about splicing a few months ago aboard Adventuress, and since then an interest in ropework and bosunry has completely absorbed her.

Crew Member Aimee gives advice on splicing.
Atlas loves that her time aboard Adventuress connects her to Port Townsend’s maritime history and to the possibility of a career in the maritime industry. This summer, she hopes to work for a company that runs whale-watching boats out of Port Townsend, and she believes that her time aboard Adventuress will give her an advantage: “Saying that I’ve been working on this hundred-year-old schooner looks good. If I was just in a class about boats I would have less credibility.”  Summing up her time aboard Adventuress, she says, “I know that not a lot of people get this opportunity… I tell friends in other parts of the country, ‘Oh, it’s Wednesday, I’m headed to the boat,’ and they can’t believe it... I can go straight from school, walk fifteen minutes, and be able to apply my skills in a useful way.  There’s no substitute for experience.”  

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