Hands-on-learning

by Steph Trott

Another week in Mystic has gone by, and S’11 is as busy as ever! I’m happy to report that everyone performed well at Moot Court last Thursday and learned a tremendous amount about the legal practice of Marine Policy. After a weekend to recoup and work on a short essay for Maritime Literature, it’s back to the weekly routines of class, work, and maritime skills.

One of the academic reasons I was initially interested in Williams-Mystic was learning in a hands-on, experiential manner. In addition to having guest speakers visit, we often hold class in a location pertinent to an area we’re studying. This particularly applies to the Maritime History class, for which we start every class at a new location somewhere in the Seaport to listen to a presentation from a classmate. This mini-lecture, called Material Culture, usually involves a specific object that’s related to our readings and acts as a segway into the main lecture. For my Material Culture several weeks ago, I presented the Temple Toggle Iron, used in the prime days of the American whaling industry. While I utilized first-hand written accounts in my presentation research, I learned even more about the harpoon from Bill Scheer, who works in the James Driggs Shipsmith Shop. Over hot cocoa at my kitchen table, Bill thoroughly explained hidden details about the harpoon, its creator, and its construction. Everyone here is so eager to share their knowledge, which I find truly enriches this already unique semester.

In addition to our usual Material Culture presentation yesterday morning, we went on a walking tour of nearby Stonington Borough. While I’ve been visiting Stonington with my family for countless summers and would like to think that I’m familiar with the area, I learned a great deal about the village that I had never before known. It was fascinating to learn more about the Portuguese community that once thrived there, as well as to see first hand Greek Revival architecture dating back to the early 1800s.

Another form of hands-on learning happens two afternoons each week, when my classmates and I head onto the Seaport groups to partake in classes about traditional maritime skills. These skills, which include Demonstration Squad, Music of the Sea, Boat Handling, and Shipsmithing, offer the chance to study with a member of the Seaport staff who excels in a particular maritime trade. My skill is Demonstration Squad, in which four of my classmates and I learn about maritime skills such as sail making/handling, traditional life saving, and knot-tying.

Yesterday we climbed aloft on the Joseph Conrad, a square-rigged ship maintained by the Seaport as an exhibit and used by local schools and summer camps. The view from the yards on the Conrad is breathtaking: you can see the entirety of the Seaport grounds in just one sweep! Once back on the ground, we headed out on the river to practice rowing in the 30-ft. whaleboat. I’ve had experience rowing in the past, but never in something that required five people to operate! It was great to be on the water, and I’m hoping that the weather holds up tomorrow so that we can head back out.

While aloft on the Conrad, I spotted the new Williams-Mystic sailboat, Snapdragon, as she sailed back up the river on her maiden voyage. The absolutely gorgeous Nordica 16 was built in 1976 in Exeter, Canada and was donated to the program by the family of a W-M alumna. She’s the perfect vessel for students to learn and practice sailing, and I can’t wait to take her for a spin.

Fair Winds!

Author: williamsmystic

A one semester interdisciplinary ocean and coastal studies program integrating marine science, maritime history, environmental policy, and literature of the sea.

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