Written by educator, Isabelle Holt
It was my immense pleasure to be the educator on Women of Water (WoW) this year! An intrepid crew of ten high school aged women from up and down the east coast, a teaching assistant (Anna Bateman), and I embarked on a two week adventure that took us from exploring Hurricane Island to circumnavigating the Fox Island archipelago aboard the Boyd N. Sheppard.
Unlike most Hurricane open enrollment programs WoW is single gender - only female identifying students are accepted and enrolled. As a graduate of a women’s college I had been itching to lead an all-female trip for the past two years. I saw first hand during my undergraduate degree in Biology how transformational and empowering learning in a single gender environment - especially in fields such as STEM and nautical science that are traditionally dominated by men- can be for women. I saw this again a hundred fold in our WoW students.
One of the highlights of our ten days on Hurricane Island was an after dinner speaker series, which we dubbed Women of Hurricane or WoH, where different female identifying members of our community came to talk to the students about their lives and paths to where they are today. Each speaker was asked to reflect on four questions: 1) Why do you do what you do? 2) How did you get here? 3) How do you think identifying as a woman has influenced your approach to your life and work? And 4) What do you want to do when you grow up? By sharing our stories with the students, the students were able to resonate with us as well as feel more comfortable sharing their own thoughts and ambitions.
Another exciting feature of this program was how often we were able to deploy our Sea Rocket, an underwater ocean exploration tool developed by HAWX Open Ocean. The Sea Rocket works via a fairly simple mechanism. You attach a weighted bag to the bottom of the rocket itself so that when the bag hits the bottom it is released and the rocket floats back up to the top of the water column where it can be manually retrieved. By mounting a gopro and flashlight on the bottom of the sea rocket you can see exactly what is happening on the ocean floor, what wildlife is present, and what substrate you are above. We were lucky enough to be able to use the Sea Rocket both while we were on Hurricane as well as while we were aboard the boat.
Sailing on the Boyd N. Sheppard was truly a dream come true for me. Built in 1886 as an Oyster freighter, the Boyd N. Sheppard is a two masted, gaff rigged, schooner. While we were on the boat the students rotated through different watch stations: scullery, navigation, and deck watch. In the scullery, the students were helping our star chef, Adam, cook on an old fashioned wood fired cook stove, putting out three meals a day plus various baked treats that never ceased to amaze. The students on navigation watch were in charge of charting our course for the day using a chart of the Fox Islands and the process of dead reckoning, in which you determine your position using various fixed points such as marine navigational aids and your estimated speed over time to figure out where you are as well as where you are headed. The students on deck watch each day were in charge of actually sailing the boat: hauling anchor, setting sails, and managing all of our tacks and gybes. On our last day of sailing aboard the Boyd N. Sheppard the students ran the show completely as the educators and professional crew stepped back. Each student took the helm (steering wheel) of the boat for one nautical mile as they sailed us from Rockland back to North Haven and then back to Rockland again.
For me, WoW will remain a program to remember - the growth, determination, and openness shown by our wonderful group of students was extraordinary. Here’s to many more years of being WoWed by our wonderful young women!