By Thomas N. McClellan

As a seven-year-old sailor at the Apprentice Shop, prone to most energetic actions without any consideration, my world was turned upside-down by the thought of the swim test. I had to swim from one end of the wobbly dock to the other. As a scrawny camper I knew the entire process sound horribly cold and not that important to me at the time. To quicken the process I attempted a running jump, fast enough to go fast, but not fast enough to be called out for running. I flailed in the murky green water where mackerel and seals might play with our toes. Once I surfaced there stood the instructors who wouldn’t let us back on the dock until we treaded water long enough to tell them a joke. But after a few seconds of freezing, I realized that I was perfectly fine and recited the classic how the chicken crossed the road. My jokes were rarely funny, but they allowed me to slow down while waiting to be pulled from the water.

Ten years later I am now an instructor. My Monday mornings are spent laughing at the recurring chicken jokes from my students that never fail to have a new twist. In the afternoons on Fridays I now present each of my students with their own hand-drawn awards. The ceremonies and morning sun-salutations are fun traditions that have brought back sailors of all ages to the Apprentice Shop for every week of the summer, and created friendships that last for years.

I’ve responded frequently to curious parents’ remarks of “How do you think of that!” and “How are the kids are having so much fun!” I’m answering, “Oh, we just get really creative.” I remember the Apprentice Shop instructors’ special twists and turns of sailing games we thought we knew how to play. And I’m now so grateful of how they would convince the students to learn while still allowing them to be silly, wild, and to have fun. The wonderful skill of making up rules on the fly was mastered by former seasoned instructors Aidan and Devon Gordon. They would normally turn the games into situations that seemed chaotic to bystanders, but were absolutely ingenious to me and my fellow instructors.

Many of the brothers’ teaching techniques are still used every day. This summer, after the sixth week of boating bliss, I too needed to spice up these kids’ experiences. I have continuously put my head together with my old friend Robby Carrol, who also grew up exploring the makings ofthe boatbuilding and sailing at the Apprentice Shop. We devised plans we knew would be enjoyed, because we remember what it is like to be curious little sailing campers. We now think like the instructors before us, who have all gained the creativity and imagination that only comes to those who have put hundreds of hours under the sun in the same little harbor.

Join us this Wednesday from 5 to 6 pm on WRFR’s Rockland Metro Show, for a conversation about experential education.
WRFR broadcasts on 93.3 fm in Rockland, and 99.3 fm in Camden,
and streams online at
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