"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines.

Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." -Mark Twain

Puerto Rico Adventures

>> Sunday, November 18, 2012

Puerto Rico has been a wonderful conclusion to our adventure. After just under thirteen days underway, we anchored in Vieques. There we enjoyed swimming, snorkeling, and dining in an open air restaurant. We completed the last final exam of the trimester.

The highlight of Vieques, however, was kayaking in Mosquito Bay, which is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most bioluminescent bay in the world. We enjoyed bioluminescence throughout our experience, observing the glittering in the sea surrounding the ship as we sailed at night. On special nights, we even were able to watch dolphins streaking through the water in the bioluminescence. We thought we were prepared for the wonder of Mosquito Bay.

It was truly magical to observe the bioluminescent glow of our kayaks and paddles cutting streaks of light through the water. As we dipped our hands, they created a glow that outlined our fingers. Lifting out hands out of the water, they glittered and sparked for a few seconds. As fish moved a few feet below our kayaks, we could see the trails they created.

The next morning we were up before dawn and back underway for Culebra. Culebra is a quiet island with a number of beaches. We sailed into the protected harbor and then headed ashore where we were able to walk around the sleepy town. Although Culebra sees its share of tourists, most of whom arrive by ferry, this time of year it is quiet enough that a number of shops and restaurants close for vacations and maintenance. Once we had explored enough of town, we made our way to Playa Flamenco, listed as one of the top ten beaches in the world.

The waves were incredible and the combination of colors created by the sand, water, and tree covered bluffs were gorgeous. After we had our fill of swimming, we enjoyed a barbecue and sitting on the beach together before heading back to the boat to rest up for an epic competition: Schooner Olympics.

Setting the Inner Jib in a "Squall"
Schooner Olympics comprises a series of activities to determine the gold medal winning watch. Competitions included a pin chase and knot competition, a bucket competition, a coiling competition, a turtle relay, and the ship-wide relay which also included setting and striking the inner jib in a squall (despite it being a beautiful and sunny day). Teams started out creating uniforms for themselves before the competition truly began. Although we had planned on it being a half day event, the games were so fierce that the Olympics lasted into the afternoon before A Watch won the gold medal by half a point!

From Culebra, it was an overnight sail and our final watch standing to get to Old San Juan. In our last twenty-four hours, we packed in a celebratory lunch, exploring the streets of Old San Juan, visiting El Moro (a fort and National Park), and Field Day. We also celebrated Thanksgiving together for our final dinner, sharing a few turkeys, all the trimmings, and what we are thankful for this year.

After Thanksgiving Dinner, we had our closing ceremony and watched a slide show of photos from the last two months. In addition to receiving certificates for their hard work and more personalized yet goofy awards, two students were recognized with formal Ocean Classroom awards: the Williams-Mystic Award and the Alix T. Thorne Award. The Williams-Mystic Award honors a student who achieved academically and also excelled in all aspects of shipboard life. This award was given to Haley. Jackson received the Alix T. Thorne Award for being an incredible shipmate who shows diligence and eagerness in learning seamanship and participating above and beyond expectations.

Congratulations to both Haley and Jackson for their awards and congratulations to all the students of Ocean Classroom 2012 for their efforts and success!

Ocean Classroom 2012 upon arrival in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Fair Winds to all!
-Beth, Head Educator


Squall Thoughts

>> Wednesday, November 14, 2012

No matter how we try to avoid them, storms and squalls are as common an occurance at sea as on land. Unlike on land, however, we are unable to simply tuck ourselves away from the weather. During our passage from Jacksonville, Florida to Vieques, Puerto Rico, we encountered several squalls. Here are two student's reflections on squalls at sea:

“Wake up! Wake up!” Says a fellow student, “there’s a squall coming, you’re going to want your foulies.”
I rub the sleep out of my eyes as best I can and start to don my orange foulies, struggling to make room for both myself and my bunkmate on the sole.

I head up the ladder to deck and almost immediately I see lightning. I look forward and see that the on watch has already struck the two jibs. “Good” I think to myself, ”those can be a pain to take down in these winds.”
I then take a seat and wait for the storm to hit. I can see the rain approaching in the moonlight and I brace myself for it. Finally it comes upon us and it hits with force. Almost immediately my shows are soaked and the rain is stinging my exposed face. I see the ten foot seas only in blinding flashes of lightning strikes.

The command is give, “Hands to strike the staysail!” I rush forward. We ready the lines and I find myself at the downhaul. Now it is time to fight these forty knot winds and bring the sail in. As my hands grab on “Wand I haul like my life depends on it, I think to myself what fun this is. I am sailing through a squall in high seas when I could be at my home, fast asleep.” The thought makes me laugh out loud.
This is what I came on Ocean Classroom for; to test my limits physically and mentally and then to have myself overcome those limits. If I can fight a sail down during a squall, then I doubt there is a whole lot more of a challenge I will come by. This is why I grin and laugh as I pass through the storm, because I am able to meet and overcome a huge challenge that has presented itself to me.


For the most part, the weather we have had has been steady and calm while out at sea, but every once in a while there are rumors of a squall approaching on the radar. As this is passed around on the deck, everyone is a little more on their toes than usual. There is almost an eerie sense about the ship as clouds darker than the night skies begin to roll in. The tension is high as everyone prepares for the command to take in the headsails.
We have now come to the point where it is simply mechanical to strike sails when needed. Once everything is in order, it becomes a waiting game. Everyone stands aft of the break in the deck and watches the power of the seas.
As soon as there is the slightest pause in the storm, we are back in action; cleaning up, recoiling lines, and tending sails as necessary. This process can happen a few times before a squall is fully past.

Storms like this always bring out the best in people. No matter who is doing what, we always trust that person and trust ourselves with our own tasks. Through these squalls, we shipmates have built faith in one another and in ourselves.



The Final Stretch

>> Friday, November 9, 2012

Today is November ninth. We have been at sea for ten days now and everyone is in the flow of things. After leaving Jacksonville, Florida, we were all excited to finally be sailing again. Now, after being on the open ocean for some time, everyone has fallen into their own personal schedule.

Having four hours of watch, then catching up on sleep, having lunch, then doing homework, having watch again, and so on. Today is our last day of classes and everyone is trying to study for finals and finish their final portfolios before we get to Vieques. The main salon and cabin top are packed with off watch students trying to cram as much knowledge into their heads as possible.
The anticipation of being only three days from our destination is apparent and there are always excited smiles and eager glances around during almanac when the ETA is announced. Though we are excited to get to Vieques, the realization that we only have eight days left of Ocean Classroom is shocking. As we look forward to seeing friends and family, we dread the fact of having to leave Harvey Gamage.
We will no longer be sliding across midships in a mid-day squall. There will be no scramble to get the work gloves when Cap yells, “Fish On!” We can no longer laugh at our deckhands’ absurd senses of humor. Spoonfuls of peanut butter may be a figment of the past. So as we near the end of our Ocean Classroom experience, we students must savor the little things before being thrown back into life on campus. Our window of opportunity is almost at a close.


What a Catch!

>> Thursday, November 8, 2012

Being out at sea has brought a new sense of rhythm to the group. We have all gotten a chance to experience the pleasure of a full lazy watch and the hardships of dog watch. Classes are always at the same time, 1000 and 1400, and almanac is promptly at 1700 every day. Nothing interrupts our near perfect schedule. Except one thing…a fish on the line.

One word of a fish caught on our line sense the whole boat into a frenzy. Classes are stopped to check out the action, people wake up from their peaceful slumber. Nothing gets the boat going more than the prospect of catching a fish. Although, the true excitement does not start until it has been confirmed that there is indeed a fish on the line. People stand nearby, trying to hide their excitement. Too many times, bubbles have been burst due to false alarms caused by floating sargassum or fish taking a nip but nothing more. So the crowd waits and waits, until there is a clear indication that a fish is on the line.
People no longer can contain their excitement. A crowd gathers around the aft of the boat while others yell down hatches, bringing more people to the show. We have caught seven fish and have released four of them because they were too small. Once the fish is deemed too small, the crowd sadly slumps away in disappointment. These fish have been mostly fourteen to twenty-one inches long, so they clearly had more life to live. However, the three fish we have kept have not disappointed.
We have caught two Mahi Mahi and one Skipjack Tuna. Our latest and greatest was a 37-inch Mahi, not including the tail, which was 11 inches! It must be something imbedded deep down in our DNA that comes out at such times like catching a fish. Once the fish is good and dead, the person who reeled in the fish must eat the heart, which is usually still beating. This is to gain the courage of the fish that has given its life and to show respect to the ocean for giving us food.
As the fish is fileted, the excitement is not over, we resume out life and wait for another bite. After fish tacos or sandwiches, all that is left of the fish is its tail, tied to the end of our bowsprit.



>> Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The wind is lacking. The motor is on, heating up the below deck areas, forcing everyone to attempt to cool off on deck under the blazing sun.  This is a sailor’s kryptonite. So what is there to do when the wind is no good and the boat is slowly turning into a sauna? Swim Call!

As a native northern New Englander, I am used to the belief that swimming in the ocean, even in the middle of summer, can be a chilling experience. However, this swim call was chilling for different reasons.
When Cap exits his bunk in his sarong, asking, “Who wants Swim Call?” we know is it time to put our bathing suits and get our soap. As we trim the sails to “hove to,” the excitement builds. The “pool” rules are given lecture style by Captain Flansburg and we all line up by the starboard fore shrouds, ready to jump off the rail.
As I step up on the rail, maybe six feet above the water, I think for a split second about sitting in a classroom starting at a whiteboard. I step forward with a slight hop in my step and feel my body sink through the air and then splash into the water. As natural buoyancy takes effect, I scramble, eyes still closed to come back to the surface as quickly as possible. I do not know what is beneath me. I take a breath and wipe the salt water from my eyes.
At this time, we were around five hundred miles offshore and the depth finder was unable to get a reading. On the chart, the depth marked nearest to us was 17,925 feet, a depth that is almost inconceivable.
I look back at the boat for a view that is quite different as I am looking up at the boat from the water. It is a perspective rarely seen. Then, I glance down from into the water; water that is so unbelievably blue. This water is bluer than the sky on a cloudless day, bluer than a mini-golf course river, bluer than you grandmother’s toilet water. The blue is incomparable to any I have ever seen before. It continues on below me, never ending, unnatural almost artificially blue. To think that swimming five hundred miles offshore would be so different and so much more beautiful than swimming forty feet off the east coast is not first nature.
This is how the ocean should be experienced, not a hop, skip, and a jump from a coastal town, but it in the middle of the ocean; nothing but water, pure blue water around you.


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