Kids sail on the Mystic Whaler: connecting with the river

MD-Schooner rendezvous_2x kids

Dorchester Banner/Gloria Rojas
Local school kids went out with the Mystic crew on Friday and learned how to tie knots, read charts, and pull up the sails, above.

CAMBRIDGE — More than 100 schoolchildren from Dorchester County boarded the Mystic Whaler, the beautiful schooner from Connecticut that took part in the Schooner Rendezvous this past weekend. They didn’t just tour the schooner, they actually sailed out into the Choptank and learned about the boat’s workings. When Capt. John Eginton called out, “Who wants to sail?, they replied very loudly.

While the Mystic Whaler has a full and able crew, they nonethless recruited the youngest sailors to help raise the sails. Capt. Pat Beck taught the kids the rhythm and chant of hauling line with a chorus of “Heave, ho, heave, ho,” while the line was passed down the row of children and the sail rose up the mast.
They learned new vocabulary, like galley, hatch, chart, line, and of course, the head. I learned a new word too, bathymetry, which has nothing to do with tubs, but measuring the water in rivers and seas. The children learned about the topography of the Choptank River and were able to determine where the deep water was on the chart and below them.

The skill of handling lines and making knots was easy for many of the children; they produced loops and beautiful figure eights. They learned about life on board and cargo. Tyra Cannon of the Choptank Elementary School was curious about the storage possibilities. “I liked the way they put food and supplies under the seats. They are creative in the way they can store crabs.” While many of the children enjoyed the visit to the quarters and seeing the use of space, fifth-grader Evencia Amazan of Hurlock said, “I loved the rocking, the way the ship moves.” Me too.

Capt. John Eginton jokingly quotes an old hand who used to say as children boarded, “Time to fill their heads with nonsense and send ‘em home confused,” and we laugh. The truth is that in two hours, many of the children have experienced a new reality. Says Captain John, “Many of the trips I make with schoolchildren include a large number who have never been on a boat before. Many, like Cambridge children, live by the water yet have no connection to it. They need to learn about the history and ecology of their river.”

Every Spring, the schooner Mystic Whaler is the sister boat to the sloop Clearwater on the Hudson River. Forty-four years ago, I interviewed Pete Seeger, the singer-activist-ardent lover of the Hudson, as he was launching the Clearwater and a educational mission to clean up the Hudson River where fish had disappeared to be replaced by city sewage and industrial pollutants. Today, the Clearwater, the Mystic Whaler, fishermen, sailors, and schoolchildren have all been a part of that cleanup that depended on hands-on learning and love. Today the Hudson River is swimmable from its source, past cities and into New York Bay.

So why is this sail on the Mystic Whaler important? A trip on the Choptank can instill a connection to the river; these children who will be entrusted with its future, have had a headstart in its ecology and history on the Mystic Whaler.

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