(Note: I've got a new novel coming out in the next week or so. You can read about where it all came from at http://www.brothersofthefirestar.blogspot.com/)
The 131-ft. schooner, Harvey Gamage in Cape Charles, Virginia
I saw something wonderful last week. Something that ran counter to my notion that the youth of today have been disconnected from the natural world by their obsession with the digital age.
I got word that a tall ship, the one pictured above, would be calling at Cape Charles, the last town on the lower Chesapeake Bay before you reach the lovely bitter end of the penninsula. What I didn't notice in the announcement was that it was a floating classroom and this floating classroom was filled with teenagers from all across America.
Teenagers? On a tall ship? Learning to haul up sails, climb in the rigging, drop anchors, stand watches at sea at night? Learning to navigate with a sextant? All this while they continue their academic studies?
Indeed. When I stepped on board, I was greeted by what were apparently four hardened, seasoned seamen and one hardened, seasoned seawoman. They were smiling. We shook hands. I looked at them more closely: They were young--they were kids.
Well, blow the man down and I'll be a hornpipe-dancing swab--teenagers. And not your sulky, quiet, leave-me-alone-in-my-adolescent-misery-that-you-don't-understand type teenager, either. No, these kids were effervescent, bubbling over with enthusiasm, with firm, self-confident handshakes. They were obviously having the time of their young lives.
I quickly got over my flabbergasted, slack-jawed reaction and started asking questions:
How long have you been at sea? A month.
Where have you sailed? All through the Caribbean and then up here.
How much more time will you be on board? Another month until we get to Boston.
Do you actually help sail the boat? This is a big one. Sure!
And then one young lady showed me how they hauled up the huge and heavy, gaff-rigged missen sail, all working as a team, heaving away to the rhythm of a sea chanty.
Do you stand watches? Yeah, seven of us at a time, night and day. And we take turns at the helm, too.
I saw a sextant lying on a table in the main salon. We are all learning to use it, too. The captian covers up the GPS!
And the Harvey Gamage is no luxury yacht, either. It was built of wood back in the 1970s and has seen its share of the ocean.
The galley on the Harvey Gamage: You'll need to wear your sea boots, Martha Stewart.
On deck on the Harvey Gamage: I would have given my first whisker to have gone on such an adventure when I was a kid.
In the end, after an hour or so, I didn't want to leave. I wanted to be a part of this grand adventure of a floating school. I wanted to settle in, get my sea legs, maybe be one of the faculty that they have on board (there are eleven adults, too, crew and teachers). They said they were leaving in the morning, that they would sail back down the Bay and through the tunnel-bridge out to sea and then turn north for the voyage up the coast and back to New England.
Ah, glorious stuff, this--young people in full synchrony with the Earth and sky, adolescents who had gladly surrendered their ipads and cell phones to the captain when they had come on board, not to see them again until the semester at sea was finished and they once again stepped onto dry land.
Still, though this is a good indication that there are opportunities for today's young adults to stay connected with the real world and learn the huge lessons of teamwork and self-reliance, I suspect that for every kid that goes through a program like this, there millions who never will, millions who will stay holed up in their bedrooms playing digital war games.
To learn more about this ocean classroom go to: http://www.oceanclassroom.org/