Friday, February 19, 2016

High Schoolers Work on Deck, Dream of Sailing

Last week aboard Adventuress, Port Townsend High School students from Kelley Watson’s Marine Trades class donned respirators and gloves and varnished one of the topmasts on deck. Since late December, they’ve visited the ship every other week, helping with projects and developing their maintenance skills. In alternate weeks, Adventuress winter crew worked with the students on ship projects in the high school woodshop.

Now, as Watson and Sound Experience begin the process of fundraising for a 3-day overnight trip that will accommodate all of Watson’s classes
Marine Trades, Vessel Operations, and Maritime Manufacturing—students are excited by the possibility of sailing on the very ship they helped to maintain. As they discussed their time aboard, it became clear that they represented a spectrum of maritime experience: from one student who had never before set foot on a boat to another who hoped to develop her power tool skills for the summer work she does at Haven Boatworks. Despite this range of experience, all were excited for the trip, and all spoke with eloquence and urgency about the value of “hands-on” work. 

Alisabeth took a break from chipping paint off of a cleat to express her appreciation for a different type of learning environment: “In my other classes there are so many students, all sitting down in a small enclosed area. In [Watson’s] class, you get more of a chance to move around and learn one-on-one.” She adds, “It’s more hands-on… For me it’s an easier way to learn.” Asked about her hopes for the overnight in spring, her first answer is short and sweet: “I really hope [the overnight trip] happens.” Pausing for a moment, she continues on: “I’ve never even been on a boat, so to be able to go out [for an overnight trip] would be amazing. It would be great life experience. I just want to go out and see what everyday life is like on a boat.”

The leather that Ismay sewed onto  Ayashe's
oarlocks prevents the metal from damaging the oars.
Alisabeth’s classmate Ismay had finished varnishing a portion of the topmast assigned to a small group of students; her team made quick work of the task, proving true one of the most valued expressions aboard Adventuress: “Many hands make light work.” For the rest of the hour-long period, she sewed new leather onto Ayashe’s oarlocks to keep the metal of the locks from damaging the oars. She describes a very different experience with the maritime world as she threads the needle in and out. “I’ve been exposed to boats my entire life,” says Ismay, adding that she spends her summers working at Haven Boatworks. As she puts it, “I do finish work. Painting, varnishing. Basically anything that doesn’t need a power tool or experience.” 

Although Ismay recently transferred into Watson’s class, she still has a lot to say about her experience. She describes a learning environment that offers the freedom and mentorship to develop real-life skills: “It’s just a lot more hands-on. You’re doing stuff every day. [Watson] has more trust in us than some teachers have in their students. We are learning things that we can actually use in life. You can never go wrong with a basic knowledge of building and constructing.” In Watson’s class, and in her time on Adventuress, Ismay sees the chance to develop skills that will serve her well in her summer employment—and if she chooses to pursue a maritime career: “I’m actually quite excited about this class. At Haven Boatworks I’m not allowed to use power tools. So far it’s my fourth day in this class and I’ve already had basic training on the bandsaw.” Of the upcoming overnight trip, she says, “I think it would be lots of fun to be able to go out on the water.”

Students "suit up" with gloves and respirators
as they prepare to varnish one of the topmasts.
Sean, a senior, has already sailed on  Adventuress. Several years ago, he stepped aboard for our Fantastic Voyage 6-Day for teens. Describing the trip, he says, “My favorite part was sailing around the San Juans and seeing the islands from a different perspective”—an experience he hopes to repeat this spring. Of Watson’s class and Adventuress, he says, “It’s hands-on. We’re working with tools and building skills that we can actually use later in life, even right out of high school… I think it’s really cool that we can help repair [Adventuress], keep her afloat, and connect with our community.” 

In the closing circle, all of Kelley’s students gathered on deck to share what they’re looking forward to and what they enjoyed from their time aboard. It was an amalgam of answers, from the broad (“I’m excited to learn more about boats”) to the specific (“I like scraping paint”); from a focus on the people who make learning possible (“I just like being aboard with everyone”) to an appreciation for the environment that allows learning to take place (“I just like being on a boat again”). 

One answer stuck out as the students filtered down the ladder, off the dock, and back to the high school. 

“I’m excited for the trip, if it becomes a possibility.”

Friday, February 12, 2016

Blue Heron Students Join the Fight against Ocean Acidification and Marine Debris

In early February, fifth graders from Blue Heron School stepped onto Adventuress to learn about ocean acidification, marine debris, and life aboard the ship.

When Winter Programs Coordinator Megan Addison asked students to guess the age of the ship, they proved themselves better guessers than their third grade counterparts a few weeks back (Adventuress is 103—a venerable and historic age that falls slightly short of a thousand). Climbing aboard, these twenty students had the chance to see Adventuress as she is in winter: topmasts laid across the deck, deck boxes shiny with varnish, and a sense of many tasks completed and many remaining as winter crew, volunteers, and high school students work together to prepare the ship for the start of the sailing season in March.

In the deckhouse, a small group of students gathered around Megan as she taught an interactive lesson on ocean acidification. During one of the most impactful portions of the lesson, she had students test the pH of two samples of water. The first sample, straight from Puget Sound, registered as a bright and cheerful blue, which the students identified as a nearly neutral 7.6 (seawater is slightly more basic than freshwater). 

Winter Programs Coordinator Megan Addison discusses the
pH scale with fifth graders from Blue Heron School.
Next, a student named Madisyn took the beaker with the second sample and blew into the water with a straw.  Megan explained that humans breathe in oxygen and breathe out CO2, and that Madisyn was adding high levels of COto the “metaphorical ocean” in the beaker.  When the students tested this sample, the water turned a light yellow-green, indicating a more acidic pH of 6.6.  Megan went on to pass around two oyster shells—a pristine shell in seawater and a shell with pieces flaking off in a more acidic solution.  She explained that the ocean takes up CO2 from the atmosphere and becomes more acidic, and that higher levels of acidity can harm marine organisms—especially larval shellfish that are just beginning to develop their shells.

Although the students entered with a working knowledge of the pH scale, testing the two samples gave them an understanding of what more acidic ocean water actually means for the health of Puget Sound. As with all environmental education aboard Adventuress, Megan and the students also discussed how they can make a difference for the future of our marine environment. Later, Finn recalled the lesson on ocean acidification as his favorite part of the trip: “I liked testing the acidity of the water, because it changed color a lot quicker than I expected after adding CO2.” His friend Joseph chimed in to agree. “I like science,” he said.

Elsewhere on the ship, volunteer extraordinaire Tom Weiner talked about marine debris and microplastics as he passed around a jar of plastic recently collected from a beach on Sucia Island. He described how a dead gray whale that washed up in West Seattle several years ago was found with a stomach full of garbage: 20 plastic bags, sweatpants, a golf ball, and a great deal more.  Asked what they would do differently after stepping off the ship, many students focused on producing less garbage. Said one student, “Try not to buy so much plastic, and if you’re buying a plastic bottle you should reuse or recycle, not just throw it away.”

Blue Heron students head below decks for a tour of the ship.
Below decks, winter crew member Kat gave a tour of the ship, guiding students through the main cabin, galley, bowling alley, and foc’sle. Reactions were split. One student said that he was surprised by how big the boat was below decks; another student was surprised by how small. This was Kyle’s favorite part of the trip.  After explaining that his only experience on the water was taking the ferry, he said, “I liked looking below decks and looking at the engine.” 

After the closing circle, students were a chorus of energy and excitement as they stepped off Adventuress and walked down the dock. Many had big ideas to take home. According to Angel, “If you see any plastic bottles or any garbage on the beach, you can help pick it up.” They returned to their classroom for the rest of the day, loaded up with a few more tools for protecting Puget Sound.