Fourth Grade Pilgrim Overnight Trip

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During the first Fourth Grade Local Geography block, we expanded our awareness of our place on earth by starting to look at our surroundings, including our desks, classroom, school and neighborhood. Each morning we headed out on a neighborhood walk to explore.  We learned about the native peoples in our area and the founding of California, including the expansion of Spanish missions into Alta California. As a culmination of these lessons, on October 17th, we headed south to visit the Mission at San Juan Capistrano. After a picnic lunch and a little playground time, the fourth graders headed over to Dana Point harbor to answer the call to sign on as sailors on the Brig Pilgrim for a voyage from Boston around Cape Horn to gather 15,000 hides along the coast of Alta California.

The Before the Mast overnight program is a period reenactment put on by the Ocean Institute on board a replica of the Pilgrim, the sailing ship on which Richard Henry Dana sailed in 1834. This voyage was the inspiration for his book Two Years Before the Mast, which unwittingly became a roadmap for travelers during the Gold Rush a decade later. To prepare for this trip, we read the abridged version of Dana’s account, learned shipboard directions and terminology, drew knots, worked with ropes and sang sea shanties.

We met out First Mate, Mr. Bludgeon on the dock, who quickly turned a collection of greenhands into a somewhat suitable crew to meet our Captain, Vera. Students worked in five groups experiencing all aspects of life on board a ship in 1834. A selected student mate led each group under the direction of a Pilgim crewmember. The galley crew, overseen by Gatsby, also called “Doc” because he was in possession of the ship’s knives prepared meals, served the Captain and went up the mast in the bosun’s chair. Mr. Hyde led the hidegatherers rowing the longboat over to collect hides.  Unfortunately, they collected only four, which raised the ire of Captain Vera, who was also busy trying to keep Mr. Hyde’s antics in check. The Boatswains worked directly under Captain Vera responsible for the ship’s maintenance, including keeping the ship’s bell time, raising and lowering the ship’s colors and going aloft in the mast. The linehandlers and riggers learned to coil ropes, rig a block and tackle, furl a sail and handle cargo. The crew roped and hoisted a barrel, moving it to hover over an onion on the ship’s rail.  In order to combat scurvy, the crew ate raw onions. Mr. Paull was hoisted aloft (by four 10 year olds) in the bosun’s chair and was only let down after the crew bargained for a recess in exchange for a clay modeling period!

After all work was completed, the crew had a dinner of hearty beef stew and spice cake (the Captain would not share his brownies) and headed below deck to the main hold for “Dog Watch.” The Captain went over various aspects of the voyage and read several crew letters, which allowed us to catch up on “historical” events back home. These letters were lovingly prepared by each sailor’s parents and took a year to arrive from Boston! Beginning at 10:00 pm, each group was responsible for a two-hour night watch shift on deck, with wakeup call at 6:00 am. Morning activities included swabbing the deck and polishing the brass fixtures.

A big thank you to our parent Safety Officers for coming along for this memorable voyage: S.O. Short (galley); S.O. Long (boatswains), yes we had the Long and Short of it; S.O. Madruga (hidegatherers); S.O. Heffernan (linehandlers) and S.O. Phillips (riggers). The students began as greenhands and were discharged to Mr. Paull as experienced apprentices…not quite “salts” yet. We all stepped aboard “getting off on the right foot,” “learned the ropes” and overcame individual and group challenges. You may notice the Fourth Grade stepping a bit more lively, walking taller and exuding a well- deserved sense of growth, purpose and accomplishment. Well-done Fourth Grade…“Carry On!”

Submitted by Howard Paull, Fourth Grade Class Teacher

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