Treasure hunt clues kids into history

Aboard the skipjack Martha Lewis, a captain and his pirate sidekick lead a search for hidden loot as they teach children about the Chesapeake Bay and basic navigation.

July 03, 2005|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

"Aye, aye!" exclaimed Nicholas Paone as he swaggered aboard the ship. The 6-year-old swirled his sword in the air and snarled, "Arrrgh! I'll find the treasure, and then I'll be captain of this ship."

Nicholas joined a six-person crew and 21 other young pretend marauders for the inaugural voyage of Treasure Hunters aboard the skipjack Martha Lewis in Havre de Grace.

Designed as an educational outing for children, the narrated, two-hour trip combines Chesapeake Bay history and landmarks with rudimentary navigation to search for buried treasure.

"This is going to be so much fun learning about history and looking for buried treasure," said Ashley Beyer, 9, as she waited to board.

After everyone was on deck, the boat pulled away from shore and parents shouted, "Don't bring back any pirates!" and "Bring back the treasure!"

Cindi Beane, executive director for the Chesapeake Heritage Conservancy, the nonprofit corporation that owns the skipjack, had the idea for the program, but she asked conservancy staffers Byshe Hicks and Jake Samberg to develop it. Hicks serves as captain on the cruises, while Samberg plays the role of "Pirate Jake."

"They created the map, the riddles, the route and the treasure," Beane said.

The children sat quietly as the captain navigated the boat out to sea and past the wildfowl congregated by the dock. Beane shared the history of the Martha Lewis, named for its first captain's daughter.

The skipjack was built in 1955 and is one of about 15 of its kind remaining in the United States. It was purchased by an Alabama physician who, according to Beane, donated it to the conservancy in 1994 with one stipulation: that it be used every season for oyster dredging, regardless of other uses.

Although the boat hasn't missed an oyster season yet, dredging doesn't bring in enough money to maintain the vessel. So Beane initiated environmental programs and, later, children's programs, including Treasure Hunters.

"This boat is very costly, and these programs help us maintain it," said Beane. "Although we bring in about $170,000 a year, it costs about $10,000 a year for standard maintenance, and we have to make costly repairs. Last year we spent $22,000 on a new engine, and this year we spent $30,000 on repairs."

Beane was interrupted when suddenly, a yawp signaling the start of the excursion caused gasps and giggles.

"Captain! Captain! I've found a note," said Samberg, as Pirate Jake, as he ran toward Hicks. "There be treasure out there!"

The 22 children squirmed with excitement watching Samberg -- clad as a buccaneer in black-and-white striped pants, a ragged vest and a long auburn wig. A theater student at the University of Delaware, Samberg created the character for Treasure Hunters, and his debut was a hit with the kids.

"I like watching his hair when it blows in his face," said 7-year-old Ann Zumbrum. "He makes lots of funny faces, and he teaches us to talk like a pirate."

Learning on board

Samberg read the note and first riddle with an exaggerated accent. Then, in a more serious tone, he continued with some bay history.

"We be lookin' for the treasure of Lieutenant John O'Neill," said Samberg. "During the War of 1812, he led Havre de Grace against Admiral Cockburn with one cannon and a gun until he ran out of ammo and started shooting potatoes. He was wounded and captured.

"His daughter Matilda went to Cockburn and demanded he be released. Cockburn was so impressed with her bravery, he released her father and gave her his gold snuffbox and sword. It's his treasure we be searching for."

The clues they sought were hidden at 8 a.m. that morning by Hicks and Samberg in handmade buoys floating in the bay and tied to weights. The kids verbally navigated the boat, finding the clues along the way.

"I feel really good each time we find a clue," Ashley said. "It makes me feel so smart to know how to read the clues to find the treasure."

Then Pirate Jake shouted, "I see a Jolly Roger! It's another clue!"

The kids cheered as he used a pole with a long hook at the end and pulled the flag and buoy into the boat. The youngsters grabbed at the container filled with copies of the treasure map.

"I've had enough of these notes, I want me treasure," said Pirate Jake, anxiously passing out the maps.

Daniel Schoeberlein, 11, patiently waiting, said, "This is a good program for kids because it's exciting and we get to learn neat stuff, like navigating the boat. I'll recommend it to my friends."

Striking gold

The kids gathered around Pirate Jake as he read the final riddle:

"You've been very close and come very far, you didn't get snagged or hit a sandbar. You crossed through two counties and our borders. But, the treasure waits in the ..."

(For the purposes of this article, the exact location will remain a mystery to preserve the surprise for future treasure hunters.)

The kids, with Nicholas in the lead, rushed to the divulged destination and searched for the loot.

Nicholas filled his arms with items including binoculars and pirate attire and started back to his seat.

"I'm sure Nicholas has a little pirate in him," Hicks said with a laugh. "I have so much fun doing this, and the kids are having a ball and that makes it all worthwhile."

Hicks looked back at the children and watched as they received their share of the chocolate "Aztec Gold" treasure.

"This treasure hunt was a little bit good," said Nicholas. "But they should let us pass out the treasure. I'd like to make the whole crew walk the plank so I can be captain of this ship! Then we'd have the loyalty of pirates and the treasure of pirates! Arrrgh!!"

Treasure Hunters

When: 10 a.m. to noon, July 22 and Aug. 5

Cost: $10 per child

Reservations required

For more information on this program and others, visit the Web site www. skipjackmarthalewis.org.

Other children's programs include character lunches with Bob the Builder and Dora the Explorer, as well as discovery classes for older children.

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