May 20th was windy and clear.  A great day for a boat launching, and an even better day for the culmination of over two years of work for Mark Jackson and his Vinalhaven High School marine technology students.

The boat in question is FREYA, the 30-foot steel sloop the VHS marine technology classes rebuilt, and which they plan to sail to Florida and back next school year.       

FREYA, an Al Mason-designed Intrepid sloop, has been rebuilt with many energy-efficient features, including a wind generator and solar panel to provide electricity, a small woodstove in the cabin and LED, halogen and fluorescent light bulbs instead of incandescent bulbs. “I want to use it as a tool for exploring limits with which we, as humans, live, but have generally ignored,” said Jackson. The limits of which he speaks are those of easily supplied energy.

FREYA will also be used to explore limits of space as she is sailed up and down the East Coast by Jackson and a rotating crew of students during the 2006-07 school year. The program, Vinalhaven Island Viking Adventure or VIVA, allows for up to four people to live on-board for a six-week period each. Jackson feels that “anything shorter is just a vacation — you can’t internalize the experience.”

Ideally, the crew will change four times over the course of the school year.  “There will be three to four people on board living in a small space for a relatively long time,” said Jackson.  “There will be complexities.  We will have to maintain flexibility, open-mindedness and a willingness to work it out.”

Electronics on the boat will be used for communication and education. “I am surprised how much electricity a laptop uses,” commented Jackson.  FREYA will maintain Internet connectivity via an air card and a cellular signal. The boat is outfitted with an antenna booster to improve the cellular signal. This will allow students on board next year to share their experience with their classmates on Vinalhaven, as well as keep up with their class work.

The rebuild was originally scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2005.  “That was a miscalculation on my part,” admitted Jackson. “In the middle of last year it became apparent that we would have had to work a lot of nights to finish the project. We would have lost a lot of the teaching value. I wanted to take our time so that we were using it as a learning tool, not just trying to get something done,” he said.  Jackson acknowledged that this was a much more complex project than he has done with past classes, requiring a higher level of skill.

In addition to boat building, there was still work to be done on VIVA as well. “Region 8 would not sign off on the trip, which was an appropriate decision,” Jackson said. (The Vinalhaven High School vocational program is an extension of Region 8 vocational school in Rockland.) The Vinalhaven School board of directors also had reservations at first.  According to Board chairperson Heather Reidy, “it was good they had another year to plan the trip.  Last year we could tell they weren’t ready.” 

During the 2005-06 school year, Jackson met every other week with students who hope to take part in the trip in order to design and plan an appropriate program. In addition, teachers spent two days after school was out designing a curriculum for students who will miss six weeks of classes next year. “We want to make it as seamless as possible for the kids returning to school,” said Reidy.  Jackson explained, “the high school teachers identified tangibles that can be measured so we can determine if this is a worthwhile experience. Journaling will be critical. Intangibles I’d expect students to experience are being able to sense movements of wind and becoming more aware of a marine environment by living in it.”

Now that planning for VIVA is in the final stages, the Vinalhaven School Board of Directors is very supportive of the program.  “Everybody thought it was a super thing to be doing,” said Reidy.  In fact, she and another board member expressed a desire to have their own children participate in the program when they reach high school.

The Vikings are scheduled to run from Vinalhaven to the Chesapeake Bay area, then to St. Augustine, Florida and back along the same route. The crew plan to use some of the Intercoastal Waterway and will never sail more than five or ten miles offshore. Jackson hopes that all participating students will have the opportunity to spend one or two weeks in the Chesapeake area due to the historical and cultural opportunities it offers, including North America’s largest estuary; Jamestown, VA, America’s first settlement; and Washington, D.C. and all its attractions.

This summer, Jackson plans to take prospective sailors on overnight trips on FREYA to get acquainted with the boat and to get a taste of what it might be like to spend a long period of time on her.  Chris Sawyer is a junior who spent his ninth and tenth grade years working on FREYA. He couldn’t fit shop into his schedule this year, “but I still do feel like I’m a part of it,” he said.  Sawyer expects to sail on FREYA next year.  “I’ve been sailing on the Harvey Gamage for two weeks and I did an Outward Bound program for 16 days,” he said.  “I’ve always enjoyed the sailing. Hopefully it’ll be a good time and I’ll be able to expand on my sailing ability and my general nautical experience and keep up with my courses all at the same time.  I’ll be doing the same thing I would in school, plus sailing.”  It’s likely to be an experience no other public high school in Maine can offer. q