From Lauren at Gordonstoun: Seamanship

Seamanship has been compulsory for all students at Gordonstoun since the school was founded and is one example of Kurt Hahn’s experiential education. The exchange students were all in one seamanship group.  On our first day, I admit we didn’t leave the harbor. We were broken up into two groups and talked for the majority of the afternoon about the history of seamanship, safety, our specific roles on the boat, and technical sailing terms. Most of us, including myself, had never sailed before and it was a lot to take in. My group was me, Kaleb (New Zealand), Kate (South Africa), Max (Australia), Bella (Germany), and Aidan (New Zealand). We were on Pole Star with our instructor Ed, who we quickly nicknamed Hagrid due to his hair, size and personality. One of the main goals for the first day was to master the art of tacking, which is essentially switching the side of the mast the sail is on. Pole Star is a 28 foot dip cutter sail boat with no engine and it takes about six people to sail. Our group nailed down tacking to a time of a minute-and-a-half, but learned the next day that there is more to sailing than just tacking.

Day Two was much more fun. The sailing conditions were ideal. It was a warm 8 degrees, the sun was shining, and there was a decent amount of wind. Our second day was a full day instead of a half. In the morning, after rigging up Pole Star and doing some tacking practice runs, we rowed out to sea. Once we were far enough away from the harbor and rocky shore, we set up our sail and began. The morning session was really fun because we actually got the boat sailing on our own. Ed’s goal was to give us more independence and he wanted us to rely on the members of our team instead of him. Once we got the hang of it, he started interfering less and less. After lunch we had our afternoon session. Unfortunately there was practically no wind, so we floated around until we decided that the wind wasn’t coming our way. We drifted pretty far from the harbor and had to row back.

After sailing with Ed for about half an hour on Day Three, he decided that we were ready for him to leave. I skippered once Ed left and I admit we made a bit of a fool of ourselves once our beloved instructor ditched us for the safety boat. After about 20 minutes of trying to tack, we eventually got it and started sailing at a good speed. For the rest of the morning we were sailing pretty well, but I hadn’t really appreciated the difficulty of directing a crew and the need to be a cohesive team while sailing until we were on our own. After lunch, Max had a go at being the skipper, but unfortunately we didn’t have much wind again, and it was even more difficult to get Pole Star moving.

Overall, seamanship was a challenging and fruitful experience, and I enjoyed it.