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.”

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