By Michelle Cartwright Soverino, Director of Development
During the peak of Nantucket’s whaling days it was a normal occurrence for island youth to head out to sea aboard a ship. Indeed, some might even say for the young men of Nantucket, it was expected. Slowly as the industry dwindled and whale oil was no longer in high demand, Nantucket’s seafaring young men traded their nautical miles for land-based industries and activities. Young men from Nantucket are no longer regaled as great mariners, but Egan Maritime is slowly changing that while also welcoming young women to the maritime world.
Since 2014, Egan Maritime has sent a total of 59 local students out to sea aboard the Tall Ships Lynx and Fritha as part of the Sea of Opportunities Maritime Education Program. These sails, offered at no cost to the students and their families, are fully funded by the organization’s leaders and patrons. The sails are split into two groups: students who just completed middle school at a private or public island school and students from Nantucket High School. Middle school students partake in a weekend sail to Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts, and back. High school students partake in a weeklong sail that takes them far beyond the Vineyard to Mystic Seaport, Connecticut, or a little closer to home to Fairhaven, Massachusetts. Aboard, they are expected to be a learning member of the crew working the sails, standing watch, and helping with the upkeep of the ship while also getting a rudimentary knowledge of Tall Ship sailing. When the students complete their sailing assignment, they are known as Egan Maritime’s Student Mariners.
In addition to the hands-on educational component, these sails have also proven to be unique community building exercises. Egan Maritime’s Manager of Maritime Education Evan Schwanfelder noted, “The students begin their journey as outsiders and really begin to integrate while under sail. Through the process you see growth. They begin to adapt, to expand their comfort levels, and they become integral members of the crew and each other’s experience. Student Mariners leave with not only new friends, but a new network of support from Egan Maritime’s staff and the ships’ crew they sailed with.” 2018 Fritha Student Mariner Tadhg shared his perspective, “I think that at the beginning of this sail we didn’t know enough about each other to build the trust needed to work well as a crew on a tall ship. But working with each other through the wet and the fog the first days brought us closer together and helped us understand each other more and started building trust in the people around us.”
Thirteen island youth participated in the 2018 Student Mariner sails: eight aboard Tall Ship Lynx and five aboard Tall Ship Fritha. 2018 Lynx Student Mariner Garner reflected on his experience, “I had so much fun and learned so much on the amazing Lynx Journey to Martha’s Vineyard. I loved the activities we did during the voyage. I also loved the crews’ eagerness to help us learn how to sail. My favorite part of the trip was working hands-on during our voyage. I liked working night shift and making bracelets, as well as setting the sails and playing on the rope swing. I personally gained so much knowledge and had a great experience on the Lynx.”
“We at Egan Maritime derive great satisfaction from the fact that many of our Student Mariners have chosen to pursue higher education in the marine field,” remarked Egan Maritime’s Executive Director, Pauline Proch. By the fall of 2018, there will be eight Egan Maritime Student Mariners who have graduated from Nantucket High School and are enrolled at maritime academies and educational institutions. Three of those eight were on the first Student Mariner sail in 2014. “If you had told us this outcome when we launched in 2014, I might not have believed you,” said Proch. “Making mariners was never our intention. We wanted to give local students an experience that would foster growth while also applying the science and knowledge they learned in our Sea of Opportunities classrooms to real-life experiences.”
Egan Maritime collaborates with all island schools to provide a STEM-based maritime curriculum as part of the Sea of Opportunities program. At Nantucket Public Schools, Egan Maritime partners with Cyrus Pierce Middle School (CPS) to sustain the Sea of Opportunities Oceanography and Maritime Studies class, a core required class for all eighth grade students. “Investing in Nantucket youth through Sea of Opportunities has become a large part of Egan Maritime’s mission and purpose,” noted Proch. Egan Maritime invests a lot into Nantucket youth at all island schools thanks to the support of their leaders and patrons. Each student in the CPS eighth grade oceanography class is a $1,000 investment, and Student Mariner sails are zero cost to the youth who particpate. “We know that Student Mariners are transformed by their Tall Ship experiences and that their lives are shaped by them. When we see the future seeded with a new generation of island mariners, we know that what we are doing is important. We know that Nantucket’s seafaring legacy and traditions will continue.”
There is no question that Egan Maritime’s Student Mariners go through a sea change when away from the safe harbor of Nantucket. Schwanfelder noted, “The sails open up a world of opportunity that most of these students had no idea existed. They see teamwork in action. They see how what they do affects the next. They see practical application of what they study in the classroom on the water and in the world. They realize there is a whole path to growth and success that is accessible and ready for them.” Said Proch, “It is remarkable to have a new generation of mariners from Nantucket out in the world that includes young women as well as young men.”