48 Hours On The Lettie G. Howard

Maritime education is an incredibly powerful educational tool. While it does not necessarily have to be a path to maritime employment, it is always an effective path to provide Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, Philosophy, History, Language and Arts (STEMPHLA) education.

The Lettie G. Howard project has a straightforward focus: Provide students with a tool to learn as quickly and effectively as possible by bringing them aboard a very significant vessel in one of the world’s most stimulating maritime settings.

I recently joined the Lettie for a weekend cruise and was one of 21 souls aboard.

On my trip the vessel complement consisted of:

Two volunteer Masters

Two paid hands

Two volunteer hands

One high school instructor

Two recent high school graduates

Two experienced Harbor School students

Eight novice Harbor School and MAST high school students

One student sailing ship galley cook and educational observer (me)

One one year old toddler

Each and everyone aboard was both a trainer and a trainee. An instructor learns to be effective in a novel setting and to more effectively assess her students, while even the newest newbie aboard a vessel will still be a member of the crew and, even at the most basic level, will provide training support to his fellow newbies.

To provide a full report on the educational benefits of the 48 hour cruise would require a document that would take at least 48 hours to read.

The density of the educational benefits is related to the power of shipboard multitasking.

It is difficult to provide an accounting but this is a start:

21 students of the search for the real meaning of life

15 students in search of professional improvement

9 students in search of their first big sailboat experience

21 people simply enjoying a great weekend in one of the greatest ports on earth

21 people enjoying each other in all our social and background weirdness and variety

7 Students increasing their time for USCG license upgrades

More than 100 individual boat experiences (Time on Seastreak New York, Seastreak Martha’s Vinyard, Indy 7, Lettie, Privateer, Amistad, Lettie tender)

17 students resume building for better schooling or professional improvement

7 Education methodology researchers

8 Students first time to the main and foremast tops.

8 students starting from being rank beginners to starting on the course to able and fearless hands.

10 students learning that hard work is hard, but not necessarily unpleasant

15 people realizing that New York City is not just a city, it is a vast and powerful training ground that can best be accessed by water.

1 Empirical researcher of small craft/large crew/small galley procedures (me)

Multiply this by 48 hours (since aboard a traditional sailing vessel even what little sleep one gets is a learning experience) and very easily a 21 person 48 hour cruise results in close to a total of a thousand class room equivalent learning hours for the 21 souls.

In order to further support this notion I will resort to a sort of shorthand and will try to fill in the blanks with photos.

A typical MAST (or in slightly different form; Harbor School) first time student perspective:

Friday 1450 hours: board the Seastreak New York in Highlands, NJ

Practice ship terms on ferry

Enjoy great views of New York

Disembark at foot of Wall street.

Hump gear to South Seaport

Board Indy 7

Meet some of the crew

Cross East River in Indy 7

Learn a little about Indy 7

Board Lettie in Brooklyn

Take a quick peek at Amistad tied up alongside

Meet rest of crew

Receive watch assignment

Stow gear

Receive initial orientation and safety instruction

Get underway

Set Sail

Get ready for being underway at night

Enjoy great views of New York Harbor

Eat dinner

Dinner clean up

Take in sail

Anchor at West 79th street boat basin in the Hudson River

Anchor does not set, so haul anchor and re-anchor

Rig awning

Receive watch standing instructions

Stand anchor watch

Sleep a little

Wash up a little

Be really intimidated by the marine toilet

Figure out how to stay dry and keep away from deck leaks

Eat breakfast

Clean up breakfast

Rig the tender over the side

Go to shore

Walk to Museum of Natural History in foul weather gear

Dry up a little in the museum

Walk back

Take tender back to Lettie

Haul tender

Eat lunch

Clean up lunch

Take down awning

Haul anchor

Set sail

Take turn at wheel

Take trip to bowsprit

Keep cook happy by getting his camera from his bunk

Launch tender

Take photos of the Lettie under sail

Enjoy great view of New York and New Jersey

Take down sail

Anchor at Bay Ridge Flats

Check out commercial traffic anchored nearby

Figure out a way to stay warm

Eat dinner

Clean up dinner

Sing songs in forecastle

Get a little sleep

Stand watch

Check bilges

Try to get warm in morning

Watch sunrise in New York harbor

Still be intimidated by the marine head

Eat breakfast

Clean up breakfast

Deck washing and cleaning

Fisherman stow of all sails

Haul anchor

Under power through the buttermilk channel to meet up with Amistad

Take turn at wheel

Change in plans

Hold position at Atlantic Basin

Avoid other traffic in the channel

Launch tender

Berth at Atlantic Basin

Aloft instruction

First trip up to the main mast top

Pack gear

Eat lunch

Transfer gear to Privateer

Learn a little about Privateer

Under power with Privateer to Amistad

Visit Amistad and learn aboard her history

Take a quick peek at Baylander

Meet more Harbor School students

Say goodbye

Board tender and transfer to Privateer

Cross East River on Privateer

Drop off at Seastreak berth at foot of Wall Street

Board Seastreak Martha’s Vineyard

Sort of nod off on trip back to Highlands

Sunday 1640 hours, parent pick-up in Highlands, NJ

Every step above has some level of learning in some of the STEMPHLA categories, and the learning is immersive and direct with a lasting effect that feeds and supports class room learning.

It is the nature of maritime that everybody aboard has their own perspective, but you always have to function within the crew structure. Saturday afternoon the generator failed and one Harbor School grad and two Harbor School able hands worked together and fixed it with minimal involvement by the Master and mates who were adjusting the itinerary due to weather issues. The loss of the generator affected me as cook because for a few hours I could not meet requests for coffee with the equipment that was aboard. Meanwhile I was trying to figure out how to cook large quantities of rice and was cheerfully shown a simple approach by a Harbor School student who had experience cooking large quantities of rice for her family at home.

Cooking rice this way was not the only thing I learned aboard, it was simply one of many things I did not expect to learn. And that is what happens when you board a ship; you learn things that you did not expect to learn, but they are the things that will help you make the world your oyster.