by Sal Larsen
September 30, 2011
I truly love volunteering on the schooner, so I was delighted to get a chance to return. I was waiting at the dock in Whitehall when Lois and the crew arrived in the late afternoon on September 29th, and so was able to help with the usual flurry of chores that always happen when she docks. It is not just a matter of tying up – there are ramps to be put out, banners to hoist, power lines to be connected. Kerry, Len and Tom make it all look easy, but I can say from first hand experience that it is far from simple, requiring both brains and muscle.
One of the things I was looking forward to in Whitehall was being able to do school groups. I was lucky enough to be able to shadow experienced crew members during a previous school presentation, so I was prepared to jump right in.
The students’ visit is a highly choreographed affair. Because we were working in partnership with the Urger crew, the introduction was given on shore, then the students were divided in half, and while one group toured the historic tug, the rest came on board Lois. Here they were further divided into four smaller groups, and each of us got to take our new friends to our station. Two of us were below deck, one beginning in the hold, and the other interpreting in the cabin. The other two groups started on deck, one at the wheel, and the other manning the windlass to raise the anchor. After ten minutes or so, the ship’s bell would ring, and the groups would move on to the next station.
I was excited and more than a little nervous as my group followed me to the cargo hold. I felt as if had had a real opportunity to make a difference, and I wanted to be sure I did it right. The kids from Whitehall live in a place that is incredibly rich in history, and I wanted to help them to make connections, to see the importance of the place they live, and to help them recognize that the waterways are still a vital part of their lives. Maybe that seems like a large message to be presented in a short field trip, but it happens naturally on board the schooner. The past comes alive as the stories of the canalers are told, and the interconnectedness of commerce, land and water becomes quickly apparent.
Seeing the cabin really drives home what life in the 1860s was like, and raising the anchor gives the students an inkling of how hard people worked. I was impressed at how many insightful questions were asked, and was particularly moved when a young woman, on hearing that the supplies for building the railroad were carried on canal boats, said, “But that’s so sad! They carried the stuff that put them out of business!”
So thank you, Whitehall students. You’ve reinforced my faith in the future. Kids that are that thoughtful and empathetic make me confident that we’ll all continue to work together to find solutions to the issues facing the waterways today.