Membership - American Sail Training Association

Class Afloat
by Caleb Pifer

"As a North American society, we are constantly grappling with how to prepare our children for the future. The educational community is constantly trying to strike the balance between developing a student personally and academically so that they will become effective leaders and positive, contributing members to our communities in the future. Through a combination of rigorous academics, international travel, service, and blue water sailing adventure, Class Afloat strives everyday to cultivate and facilitate this positive growth in all students."

Mark Twain once said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Such a quote can be used to describe a modern sail training adventure onboard a tall ship. It has been said that a sail training experience is a powerful, formative event in a young person’s life. The experience provides the young person with an unparalleled opportunity to grow socially, personally and morally within the context of a small community onboard a tall ship that sails around the world. Now imagine if this powerful social experience was combined with a challenging, intellectually stimulating academic program that pushed students to analyze and defend their scholastic knowledge. This highly unique and exceptional program does exist, known as Class Afloat, and I have the privilege of serving as the program’s University Shipboard Director for the 2007-2008 voyage.

Class Afloat was founded in 1984 by Canadian educator and ASTA board member, Terry D. Davies. Inspired by a United Nations proclamation that declared 1984 as the International Year for Youth, Davies set out to create the first Class Afloat. Through the UN proclamation themes of “Peace Participation and Development”, the program was born, and has since served over 1000 high school, GAP and university students, who have earned both high school and university credits while sailing around the world.

Class Afloat makes its home in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada; a town steeped in maritime tradition and charm. High school students may spend their junior or senior years with Class Afloat, or both. Students rotate their time between one semester in the program’s boarding school in Lunenburg, and the floating campus, the square rigged tall ship, Concordia. University students have the option of spending either one semester or an entire year onboard and earn their university credits through Canada’s leading liberal arts school, Acadia University.

Since my very first sail training experience as a teenager, I dreamed about working on a tall ship professionally. After finding out about the Class Afloat program, I set my sights on one day teaching for the program. This year the dream is a reality. I am leading the university program onboard Concordia as we engage in a ten month, twenty five country voyage of education and discovery. One of the hallmarks of the Class Afloat program is the land-based experiential education learning element that compliments the formal onboard classes. In each port we have planned a program that will engage students in the local culture and customs of the country that we are visiting. We strive to make the programs not only applicable to the curriculum, but also try to avoid the traditional tourist activities that often prevent students from truly engaging in the local flavor. A few examples of what we have planned this year include, visiting a traditional Amazonian village in Belem, Brazil, and hearing a lecture on the “new Russian economy” in St. Petersburg, Russia. Additionally, all students will participate in Class Afloat’s West African humanitarian service-learning project in Dakar, Senegal.

Students onboard Concordia maintain a busy daily schedule. In addition to taking a full load of classes, students participate in all facets of shipboard life, including daily maintenance, navigation, sail maneuvers, and of course, galley duty. Since students stand watch twenty four hours a day, it is not irregular to see a student completing his or her homework at three in the morning!

In addition to my administrative duties onboard the vessel, I teach a high school level political science class, as well as a university level class on the Theories of Leadership. I can think of no better way to teach politics than to sail to foreign countries around the world where the students can truly see the political systems first hand. Additionally, the onboard marine biology classes engage students in a living classroom, where students conduct a plethora of experiments on the different waters that we visit.

As a North American society, we are constantly grappling with how to prepare our children for the future. The educational community is constantly trying to strike the balance between developing a student personally and academically so that they will become effective leaders and positive, contributing members to our communities in the future. Through a combination of rigorous academics, international travel, service, and blue water sailing adventure, Class Afloat strives everyday to cultivate and facilitate this positive growth in all students.

It is my hope that readers of this article will follow Concordia’s voyage via the Class Afloat website. Interested individuals can see our voyage chart and day to day progress. Additionally, the students will be writing articles and posting many of their pictures. In this way, even if you are no longer a high school or university student, you can be a part of our sailing adventure as we follow Mark Twain’s directive: explore, dream, discover!

Tall Ships America • 221 3rd St., Bldg. 2, Ste. 101• Newport, RI 02840 USA • (401) 846-1775 • asta@tallshipsamerica.org