Portland students get up-close look at sailing, sustainability

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PORTLAND — The Maine Wharf may not be a conventional classroom, but that’s what it was for 150 students last week.

Students from four schools came to the wharf at 68 Commercial St. on June 9 to learn about sustainability, sailing, and the ecological challenges facing the ocean.

As part of the final leg of the biennial race that ended June 11 in Portland, the Atlantic Cup Kid’s Day was a chance for students to meet sailors, see the boats they sail, and learn about some of the challenges of sailing the ocean.

Hugh Piggin, a co-founder of the Atlantic Cup, said the kids’ program is an important part of the race – a way to convey information to the students and give back to the community. There were similar events at each stop of the offshore race in South Carolina and New York City.

“The kids’ program is something we really enjoy,” Piggin said.

Presented by 11th Hour Racing, the Atlantic Cup made its Portland debut this year. The race began May 28 in Charleston, South Carolina, and ended in Portland last weekend.

Dave Rearick, director of the Kid’s Day program, said the event is an opportunity for students to take what they learn in the classroom and see how those lessons can be applied to sailing.

In addition to meeting the sailors and seeing the boats, there were stations for students to learn about marine life such as plankton and whales, as well as stations on knot-tying and sustainability. Students from Presumpscot Elementary School also gave a demonstration on the life cycle of lobsters.

Rearick, who has circumnavigated the world, also visited the participating schools in March and the week before the race to talk about sailing.

Brian Funk, the sustainability coordinator for the event, said one mission of the race is promoting alternative energy sources. The whole event is carbon neutral, and Funk said the land-based events included lessons about composting and recycling as ways to improve ocean health.

About 150 students from Presumpscot, Hall, and Ocean Avenue elementary schools, and the Bayside Learning Community, participated in the Kid’s Day event. Tamarah Strauss, a spokeswoman for the race, said the event is important for students because they get to experience what it’s like to be a part of sailing and get a better understanding of eco-friendly sailing.

Mac Schwieterman, a fourth-grade student at Hall, said he and his fellow students learned about plankton, whales and tying knots before going aboard the boats. He said one thing he learned was that plankton move with the current. Schwieterman was also excited to see the boats.

Valerie Vassar, a fourth-grade teacher at Hall, said her students have a marine tank in their classroom that contains the same plankton. She said an event like the one hosted by the Atlantic Cup is a good way for students to connect lessons to outside the classroom.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Students from schools across Portland had the opportunity to see the boats competing in the Atlantic Cup at the Maine Wharf on June 9.

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.