Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

St. Marys Welcomes Return of Teaching Ship; the Schooner Westward Left the U.S. Virgin Islands with 22 Students on Feb. 2

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

St. Marys Welcomes Return of Teaching Ship; the Schooner Westward Left the U.S. Virgin Islands with 22 Students on Feb. 2

Article excerpt

Byline: LIZ HAMPTON, Times-Union correspondent

ST. MARYS -- After an ocean journey that began in the U.S. Virgin Islands and went as far south as Venezuela, St. Marys became the first "welcome home" stop for the Westward, a teaching ship from New England.

The Ocean Classroom Foundation, with its three sea vessels, offers semesters at sea for high school and college students. The Westward, a 125-foot steel staysail schooner, was originally built as a private yacht for around-the-world sailing. The ship has served as a classroom afloat for a year now.

The Westward is spending this week in St. Marys. The ship's captain, Tony Arrow, credited Jerry and Gaila Brandon of St. Marys for welcoming the boat, providing transportation and offering other help to make shore tasks easier.

Coming from all regions of the United States, 22 students boarded the ship in St. Thomas for a spring semester at sea. Their journey began on Feb. 2 as they set sail along with eight professional crew members and three full-time teachers.

Once aboard, each student is slowly transformed into a sailor. They stand watch and sail the ship in fair and foul weather alike.

"There is a lot of simple, hard work, and attention to detail," Arrow said. "Teamwork is a must. There is no midground. . . . After four months aboard ship, students leave with a different outlook, something they'll never lose."

In addition to learning all aspects of sailing through hands-on experience, students attend classes daily where their studies are either sea-related or specific to the area being visited.

For example, lessons this week will include the history of the Southeast, some local history, studies of salt marshes and barrier islands, and a field trip to the Okefenokee Swamp.

Ocean Classroom is accredited by Proctor Academy of Andover, N.H. Students get credit at their home school for each course completed in marine science, maritime history, maritime literature, applied marine mathematics and navigation.

Ryan Qualkinbush, a junior from Sister Bay, Wis., said he was amazed at how much work they do on board. Besides their studies, they are assigned to boat maintenance and cleaning, learning about repairs and overall operation of the boat. …

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