Another world: Our photojournalist Nicola Muirhead has been on board the Spirit of Bermuda these past few days and during some downtime she captured this amazing shot of a youngster diving off the rocks, with the sloop at anchor. *Photo by Nicola muirhead
Another world: Our photojournalist Nicola Muirhead has been on board the Spirit of Bermuda these past few days and during some downtime she captured this amazing shot of a youngster diving off the rocks, with the sloop at anchor. *Photo by Nicola muirhead
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During my early teens I challenged everything in the world around me — my family, my teachers, my friends… it’s that critical age when you start to test your independence and formulate who you are and who you want to become. 

Now imagine throwing twenty-two 13-year-old boys or girls onto a 112ft ship where they are expected to scrub the decks, clean the mess room, pull up the anchor, and hoist the sails for five days at sea.

Still drowsy from their anchor-watch the night before, where they spend an hour in the evening or early morning watching over the vessel — they rise at 6:30am for a full day’s work.  

As an outsider aboard the Spirit, I met the M3 boys from Sandys Middle School on their third day out on the water and I can tell you, it seemed to me like a bizarre social experiment.

I boarded the incredible Spirit of Bermuda on March 19 to witness first hand life on board.

Bermuda’s classic three-mast ship was recreated in 2006 from an 1831 painting by the Bermuda Sloop Foundation. The Foundation, which owns and operates the Spirit, was launched in 1996 by Malcolm Kirkland and welcomes every M3 student from the public schools out on the water for a five-day educational voyage.

Rite of passage

Karen McDonald, Captain of the Bermuda sloop, explained to the Sun: “This programme is really designed to be a rite of passage for kids in Bermuda, so that every kid gets five days out on the sloop and gets the experience of being out on the water.”  

This year, the Spirit of Bermuda fulfilled that mandate but the future remains uncertain. With little assurance of financial stability for the non-profit due to the current economic climate, Captain McDonald fears that next year might not be smooth sailing. 

“As it stands now, even though we have had massive support in the community, and we had the ‘Save the Spirit’ campaign last year, in these economic times, people can’t continue to support us at the level that we need, so the push is really to get government involved.”

James Baxter, the Educational Officer aboard the sloop, believes that the Spirit of Bermuda programme is one-of-a-kind experience for young people and he believes that the non-profit plays an important role in challenging young Bermudians to be more self-reliant and self-aware.  There is no better teaching vessel in the entire world, than on a boat,” stressed Mr Baxter.  

“You can’t get away from people — you have to deal with your problems and you have to face other challenges outside of that. Our job as a crew is to push young people outside of their comfort zone. They are going to get yelled at, they are going to get praised… they are going to get everything... I pride our crew on how unique we are — we all come from different backgrounds… and we all come together and show the true meaning of family and crew and working together.

“And as Education Officer on the ship, I put a lot of emphasis on the importance of the ocean in my classes. This year the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences wanted to get involved so there is a lot of focus on protecting the oceans and getting young people to experience that connection. I think to lose this programme would be a huge detriment to Bermuda.”

The Spirit’s larger goal is to align its classroom with the Cambridge Curriculum so that the progress of every child can be measured and communicated to the government.

Captain McDonald added: “I think that sail training is one of the best places to put kids in at any age, and adults, because everything has a direct and immediate consequence, and a direct and immediate use.  

Relevance

“Anything you teach, we go ahead and do. Anything we talk about has direct relevance to what we are doing everyday, and for kids in school these days I think they are getting less and less of that.”

Asked about the students that come onboard the sloop, Mr Baxter said: “We get kids sometimes who have never been on a boat, never seen a sailboat, let alone touched one.  So, it’s just exposure... we are exposing these kids to new things, we are pushing them outside of their norm.

“I say this to kids every time they step off, ‘I don’t care if you become a sailor, I don’t care if you become a mariner, I only care if you walk away knowing something more about yourself, or realizing something about yourself, or feeling more empowered about yourself. That’s all I care about.’  This isn’t about a sailboat this is about character education.” 

For more information about Spirit’s educational programmes visit: www.bermudasloop.org