Argia Cruise Report

On September 19, at 11 a.m., the students in Professor Helen Rozwadowski’s MAST 1101 class gathered, as they do every Monday. The unusual part was that they gathered on the Mystic dock of the schooner Argia.
Class that day took the form of a three-hour sailing trip, an escape from the classroom that brought real educational value and a rare maritime experience.
The schooner pulled away from the dock, still moving under the power from its engines, and Captain Amy Blumberg began introducing students to the parts of the boat. Sails, spars, and lines she pointed out. “A halyard,” she said, pointing to the line that raises a sail by lifting the gaff at its top, “You can kind of remember it. A yard? Like on a tall ship? You haul the yard up.”
The students put this knowledge to use once the Argia reached the wider waters of Fishers Island Sound. There, the engines were shut off, and the students themselves helped set the sails. Two small teams, each led by a crew member, worked to raise one sail at a time. The crew set the jib, the triangular sail at the front of the boat.
Not only did the students get the opportunity to sail, the crew and their accompanying faculty pointed out significant sights along the way.
Before leaving the Mystic River, the Argia motored by the Mystic Seaport Museum. Blumberg introduced the vessels as they passed: the Emma C. Berry, a fishing boat with a live hold; the yacht Brilliant; the Joseph Conrad, a Danish training ship that writer Allen Villiers once sailed on; and the Grand Banks fishing schooner, the L. A. Dunton. The Seaport’s steamboat, the Sabino, cruised quietly past the Argia.
On the river, Professor Mary Bercaw Edwards talked about the area’s history. “The Mystic River was never that important as a navigable river,” she said. “What it was famous for is shipbuilding. Now more and more it’s becoming just set up for tourists, but still you can see shipyards and marinas.”
As they passed along, Rozwadowski asked the students to compare the environment they saw on the Mystic with their previous trip along the more industrial Thames River.
Rozwadowski seeks to provide the class with several hands-on experiences. “This is an introduction to the Maritime Studies (MAST) major, and one of the things we feel we can do by having a major where we are in southeastern Connecticut is to expose students to a lot of different maritime experiences,” she said.
While Maritime Studies programs in other areas often focus on one particular boat, Avery Point students can access many nearby resources. The Mystic Seaport alone provides a wealth of opportunities, and private boats like the Argia add still more. Without even leaving Avery Point, the class can take advantage of the sailing club’s little sailboats or Project Oceanology.
“The idea is that we try to expose students to as many experiences and technologies that are related to things covered by Maritime Studies, and, by the end of the class, they have this breadth of experience,” Rozwadowski said. Their hands-on encounters with the maritime world help students understand the content of the class. “So you take students out on a boat like this, and then when we read Captains Courageous [a novel by Rudyard Kipling] they understand what it is to maneuver the boats and raise the sails. But there’s also that moment when you realize, they’re sailing.”
The students themselves, who come from a wide range of backgrounds, certainly appreciate the chance to get out of the classroom. Some had maritime experience already. Russ Lycan served in the Navy for thirteen years. Other students, like Lauren Barber and Alyssa Potter, have joined the Sailing Club at Avery Point. “Same idea, but bigger,” Potter said of the Argia. “It’s really fun.” Their classmate William Stocker used to sail on the Mystic Whaler. Others had no seagoing experience at all, but all seemed to have a good time.
“This is great. This is exactly what I wanted to do in this class,” Lycan said. “I like not being in the classroom, and grabbing lines and doing stuff.” His classmates would certainly agree.