Sailors for a day learn teamwork on Lady Maryland


April 25, 1993|By Karin Remesch | Karin Remesch,Contributing Writer

Billy Jackson was sure he was going to fall overboard when he stepped onto the Lady Maryland Monday morning -- after all the ship's rails consisted only of tightly stretched ropes.

But when he walked back on land after cruising the Chesapeake Bay for five hours, he had not only developed "sea legs," but had also learned about the history, economics and ecology of the bay -- and, most important, about team work.

"I never realized how much cooperation and team effort are needed to run a big ship like this," said Billy while he and a classmate were taking their turn at the ship's wheel, watching the compass and trying their best to keep the 104-foot vessel on course.

Billy was one of 30 Havre de Grace ninth-graders who boarded the "pungy" schooner replica for a sailing adventure that focused on environmental education and history.

The vessel, on its annual spring sail to the head of the bay, was docked in Havre de Grace for 10 days. Each day a group of 30 county students was invited aboard.

They would learn about boating safety, study the marine environment, perform water quality tests, find out what lives on the bottom of the Chesapeake using an Otter trawl net and experience what it was like to be a crew member on a workboat during the 1800s -- using early navigational tools, sweat and muscle.

Billy said he was not used to working in a group, but when it came time to pull up the main sail last Monday, he, along with his classmates, eagerly grabbed the ropes and pulled in rhythm to First Mate Willy Agee's chants.

"H-E-A-V-E," shouted Mr. Agee. "H-O," loudly replied the sailors-for-a-day while throwing their backs into it and straining in unison to hoist the 2,000-pound sail. Hand over hand, faster and faster they pulled while the sail hoops -- oak rings that attach the canvas sail to the 80-foot-high mast -- worked their way to the top.

Once that was accomplished, there was no time to rest -- next came the foresail, the jib, the topsail.

The hard work was all worth it, though, said the young deckhands. Within moments, a stiff breeze filled the sails, the captain silenced the motors of the two 85-horse-power diesel engines, and the Lady Maryland sailed under her own power majestically through the waters of the Chesapeake, leaving the Havre de Grace harbor in the distance.

Observe in silence

"Take about five minutes and observe in silence what's around you," the students were told by Jawad Abdulah, the ship's educational program director. "Use your senses -- your eyes and ears -- and become aware of the environment around you and think about what it was like sailing a schooner like this in Colonial times."

Houses on the Havre de Grace shoreline began to fade, the sun's rays reflected off the water like sparkling diamonds, a blue heron flew by, and all that could be heard was the sloshing sound of the ship cutting through soft waves.

Speedy vessels like the Lady Maryland used to ply the waters of Chesapeake Bay and eastern seaboard in the 1800s, carrying produce, shellfish and other products to market, Mr. Abdulah said.

He said that the Lady Maryland is the only authentic pungy schooner sailing today. The name may originate from the place where some of the first pungies were built -- Pungoteague Creek on the Eastern Shore.

The Lady Maryland, owned by the Living Classrooms Foundation -- a nonprofit, Baltimore-based organization -- was built in 1985-1986 for about $650,000, its captain, Chris Rowsom, said. Construction funds were donated by individuals, businesses and foundations with some aid from the state and Baltimore City, he added.

Educational experience

Captain Rowsom, a sailor on the original Pride of Baltimore, has been with the Lady Maryland organization since 1985, first working as a shipwright helping to build the schooner at its Inner Harbor construction site.

"The ship's mission is to provide hands-on, educational experience for students in the fields of history, sailing, economics, geography and ecology," said Captain Rowsom, a Bel Air resident.

The ship takes students on day excursions in the spring and fall and on weeklong "floating" camps in the summer, Captain Rowsom said.

Elizabeth Hejl, a Havre de Grace High School geography teacher who accompanied the students on Monday's excursion, was impressed with the educational activities aboard the floating classroom.

"I just wish all my classes could experience this," said Mrs. Hejl. "Kids that are only stuck in the classroom lose sight of the fact that there actually is a practical application to everything they learn."

She said it wasn't easy for her to pick 30 from a group of about 100 students to participate in Monday's sailing adventure.

Selection was based on grades, attendance and class behavior, said Mrs. Hejl.

The group prepared for the trip by staying after school and studying information packets sent to them by the Living Classrooms Foundation.

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