By Amanda Burdette
ANNAPOLIS – “I want to steer. Can I steer next?”
The sixth-graders shouted for turns at the helm of the 44- foot sloop cruising down the Severn River. One student gazed in awe at the wheel and said, “It’s taller than me.”
Students from Kingsview Middle School in the Montgomery County community of Germantown sailed for two hours Wednesday on eight Navy yachts, with midshipmen and Naval Academy staff serving as their captains.
The 160 students are tracking the Whitbread Around the World Race on the Internet. The Living Classroom Foundation, headquartered in Baltimore, designed the curriculum.
As part of the program, Kingsview’s youngsters “race” other schools’ “boats” online in their own Whitbread. Activities on the Internet and in the classroom combine geography, science, math, reading and writing skills.
Ted McDonald, a sixth grade teacher at Kingsview who coordinated the trip, said that as far as he knew, Kingsview is the only participating school taking an actual sailing trip.
“I am lucky enough to have some sailing friends in Annapolis,” he said.
Dan Rugg, master of sailing at the Naval Academy’s Robert Crown Sailing Center, stressed to midshipmen volunteers before the children arrived that he wanted the students to “feel teamwork” on the ships. He wanted them to raise the sails and steer the boat.
McDonald divided the 10-student crew on the “Restless” into sub-crews — the bow crew, the middle crew and the aft crew.
The middle crew was directed by their captain, Ralph Narango, to “hoist the sail into the wind.” Five students pulled the line — called the main halyard — to raise the sail as the entire crew yelled, “Heave ho, heave ho!”
The aft crew turned a winch to take the sail the final inches to the top of the mast, while the bow crew stood look- out.
“I’ve always liked being on the water,” said Katie Unger, a sixth-grader. “I think it is a good experience. When you go out and do something, it is much more exciting. It makes you want to learn more about it.”
A group of the students aboard Restless called out to fellow classmates as they passed them on another sloop. Sportsman’s pride took over, and one student asked, “Can we go faster?”
Other students filed one by one down a ladder into the cabin. “It smells down here,” one complained.
McDonald seized the moment to teach: “For kids down below — This is [the Whitbread crews’] whole environment for nine months.”
“I don’t think I would like that,” Katie said. “I’d be pretty cooped up and be sick of it after a while.”
A student worried what would happen if one went overboard. Narango replied, “We’d be back to pick you up. But the water is cold.”
Narango, Naval Academy sailing standards advisor, said safety was his main concern. Each student wore a life jacket and was instructed to hold on to the lifelines on the side of the boat when walking around.
When the boat heeled in its turns, children screamed and giggled. A chaperon said, “It is like a roller coaster.”
Two groups of students praised the outing. “This is a good experience to feel how it is to be on the Whitbread Race,” the girls agreed. The boys were an echo: “This was cool. All kids should have a field trip here.” -30-