Two school years with Class Afloat have come and gone. What a ride!
Asta and Andrew are now processing the experience of a lifetime aboard the Tall Ship Gulden Leeuw.
by Asta Mail Murgatroyd
September 14, 2017
It's hard to put into words what reflecting on an experience of this magnitude is like. Some days, it feels a bit like the last two years of our lives were a dream.
A long, exhausting, mentally complex dream!
When I was a kid, I used to watch a TV show called "Breaker High". It was all about a group of teens (including the adorably awkward Ryan Gosling) who went to school on a cruise ship and sailed country to country while taking classes and experiencing plenty of dramatic social situations.
I remember thinking to myself, "That's going to be my life." It was so easy then to choose life goals. I wanted to swim with sharks and dolphins, and I wanted to live on a boat while seeing the world.
I never thought I'd be playing the dorky teacher role, but hey, I knew what I wanted.
Knowing what I want in life has always been a struggle for me. It took me forever to decide what really ignited my passions and made me want to work. All I knew, for most of my twenties, was that I couldn't do a regular 9-5 job. I had to do something that I truly loved, something that made me get out of bed in the morning and really appreciate my life. It was only when I went back to the memories I had from childhood of my big dreams that I realized what I truly wanted to do in my career.
After a lot of time and energy was spent trying to "find myself", I forced myself to consider what deep down I knew I had always really wanted. That consideration made me want to make a dream as crazy as Class Afloat a reality. I fought through a lot of doubt, apathy and laziness to make it happen, but I am so glad that I did.
Having a life long dream come true is never quite as you expect it to be. There were moments where I was in bliss, the happiest I have ever been, seeing the world and allowing it to see me.
Then, there were other moments. Hard, challenging moments. Moments where I wasn't sure we were going to be all right. Moments where I worried for the safety of the many amazing students on our ship.
Looking back on it now though, the experience feels like a wave. There were ups and downs, peaks and crests- an experience in many ways similar to the ocean itself.
One thing I know now about this experience is that I am so blessed to have found a partner who shares the same crazy dreams. Andrew is truly my hero and someone I look up to daily as a source of inspiration. As shipboard director for the program, his strength and quiet compassion is what got all of us through some very difficult and challenging experiences. I can't tell him enough how proud I am of what he's accomplished.
Andrew and I put our heart and soul into the Class Afloat program. We whole heartedly believe that experiential education is the key to true growth and learning. I think we probably learned as much as the students did about life and education. We learned it not only by being bound to our students in a classroom, but being bound to one another as a community; a moving universe surrounded by water and sky.
I know now more than ever is that life is your best teacher, and experience is your chance to practice being yourself.
I also know that being a teacher is often really the practice of being a student.
I hope to share some of our experiences on Class Afloat in upcoming blog posts. My apologies if the posts are not regular as I am just returning to the blogosphere.
If you're interested in attending, Andrew and I will be hosting a talk on the evening of October 3rd, 2017 about our experiences. It's called "Life on an Angle" and it will take place at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club in Victoria, BC.
Here's a link to our Facebook event. The event is by donation and proceeds will go towards supporting a student on the sail education program of their choice. Hope to see you there!
Asta and Drew spent two summers in the Caribbean with Broadreach Global Educational Adventures! Drew was a skipper of some beautiful boats including Lagoon 450, Nautitech 441 and Fontaine Pajot catamarans for the Underwater Discoveries SCUBA Voyage and Beneteau Cyclades monohull for the Caribbean Sailing Adventure. Asta was a marine biology instructor for the Marine Biology Voyage which included a stop at the Saba Ecolodge!
It's organized madness on the dock of Tsehum harbour marina in Sidney BC, as 30 grade 9 students pile off of the bus and onto our 2 ships. These Calgarian students have just visited the Royal BC museum and our good friends at the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre and now join Captain Martin Pepper, Captain Pete and myself aboard the 52' wooden ketch A Fine Madness and Captain Mike Hobbis on the 70' wooden ketch Duen.
For the next 5 days these students and their brave, committed, and enthusiastic teachers will call these ships home as we explore the waters of the Salish Sea!
After loading the gear, after the safety talk, after the ever-so-important discussion about marine heads we depart the marina en route to Tod Inlet in Saanich Inlet. The students get the run down on how we set the anchor and we all hop in the zodiac for a nature hike in the stunning Gowland-Tod Provincial Park. Our knowledgable guide Krista, mate on Duen, explains everything from how to tell trees apart, to historical uses of Western Red Cedar by first nations people, to the history of the Buchart Gardens and the concrete plant that once operated in the park. Then we hit the snake and kayaks for an intro to paddling!
Phew! No rest for the weary at SEA Programs! We're up and breakfasted and ready to weigh anchor. Captain Pete leads us in a demo of how to tie turks head bracelets until all of a sudden the winds fills and we're ready to sail. We teach the students how to raise the #1 jib and cruise leisurely onwards to Musgrave Landing on Saltspring Island (see photo above).
Here's a track I made a little while ago and I thought that I would put it on my blog for MLK day. Enjoy!
41 groggy students from around the world stare sleepily at me from the banjer of Sorlandet, the oldest working fully rigged tallship in the world. The ship, built in Norway in 1927, is the home to the Canadian high school “Class Afloat”. They are en route from the Great Lakes, to the Azores and onward to Lisbon, Morocco, down the coast of Africa, back across the Atlantic to the Caribbean and onwards to the UK. I have met them here in Quebec City to teach them about ocean plastics.
I clear my throat and jump in the deep end.
As the educational coordinator aboard Sea Dragon it has been my job to design the curriculum for high school teachers (Educators on Board) and students (Young Adventurers). I am a science and math teacher from Victoria, BC and after becoming a little fed up with classroom teaching I have searched for ways to teach experientially (outside of the classroom walls) and incorporate sailing, ocean literacy, conservation and Great Lakes ecology into the high school curriculum.
Today’s lesson is about Sea Dragon and our mission to research plastics in the oceans and great lakes. I begin with a slideshow that shows off our incredible ship and explains how the long range and comparatively low operating costs of an offshore racing vessel made it an ideal candidate to be refitted for scientific research.
I continue by highlighting the research that we have done sampling for marine plastics in the 5 major ocean gyres, and the causes and effects of the problem. Although it is can be difficult to get teenagers fired up about anything at 9am, the students offer perceptive insight into the matter, and we have some great discussions within smaller groups.
Now for the real challenge!
We break into groups of 8 to begin our chemistry lab. This lab was originally designed by Dr. Lorena Rios Mendoza, a professor from the University of Michigan Superior, who came aboard Sea Dragon earlier this summer. I begin by showing the students a handful of plastic “sand” collected by Sea Dragon crew on Camilo beach in Hawaii, and go on to show them vials of “nurdels”. These are pre-production plastic pellets about 4mm in diameter. They are raw plastic, shipped from overseas and sold cheaply to North American factories where they are melted down into plastic products. A single pound of raw plastic contains around 25,000 nurdles. If they ever escape into the marine environment, however, they become a persistent and dangerous pollutant which can easily be mistaken for food by marine organisms and may absorb dangerous chemicals such as DDT or PCB’s.
In our lab we take nurdles of unknown plastics and observe whether they sink or float in different liquids. We then use the relative density of the nurdles to determine what type of plastic they are.
This hands-on exercise is an elegant way to learn about plastics we retrieve from the manta trawl and also adheres to the learning outcomes prescribed by the Canadian Government. It’s an approach to teaching that I believe creates meaning and reaches the greatest diversity of learners. As soon as we finished class there were some keen students ready to sign up with Pangea Explorations and join the crew as we continue our mission of exploration, education, and conservation.
After a day of exploring old Quebec, I returned to Toronto to meet a class from “City School”, an Ontario Eco-School to make another presentation and spark discussions about single use disposable plastics and how even in a seemingly land locked city like Toronto, we have a far reaching impact on the world’s oceans.
Late night musings on Sea Dragon as we sail across Lake Erie on our way to the Welland Canal.
Link to Andrew's Blog on the Pangaea website
In August 2013 I set sail on Pangaea Exploration's scientific research vessel Sea Dragon as the Educational Coordinator. I created curriculum for high-school teachers to incorporate ocean literacy, Great Lakes ecology and conservation into their classrooms. I spent nearly 3 months sailing from Chicago to Bermuda and had an experience I will never forget. Here is the first of my blog entries for the Pangaea Explorations website! Enjoy! www.panexplore.com
Link to Andrew's Blog on the Pangaea website