We are all connected in some way or another, and it is so meaningful and powerful when those connections magically appear in unexpected places or at unexpected times. Philosopher William James wrote: “We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep. This imagery is compelling to me, and I have found this to be true several times in the past few weeks.”
Last weekend, Jim and I took a sunset sail on the Elsworth to celebrate our 32nd wedding anniversary – which is actually today. Owned by Echo Hill Outdoor School (EHOS) and captained by Andy McCown, the Elsworth is one of only a handful of Chesapeake Bay skipjacks still in use. Built in 1901, the 40-foot skipjack was designed to dredge oysters – which it did commercially between 1901 and 1996. The last seven of those years were with EHOS, which acquired the Elsworth in 1988. EHOS began rebuilding the skipjack in 1996, and the boat is now used exclusively for educational programs, helping students, including Kent School, connect to the ecology and history of the Chesapeake Bay.
Without a doubt, Captain Andy is connected to the sea, in fact, I am sure it flows through his veins. For 40 years he has helped students discover their own inner strengths while educating them about the life of watermen on the Chesapeake Bay. His poetry and music belong to the Chesapeake Bay. And, it is simply one of life’s great pleasures to go along for a ride with him, and share his joy.
On August 28, the Kent School employee group voyaged on the Elsworth and the oyster buy boat Annie D., just like our 7th Graders did on Monday. We met a commercial fishing boat and aided their efforts to haul fish and crabs. We learned so much, ate two bushels of crabs that we watched come from the Chester River, listened to poetry and music about the Bay – some written by our Captain, and sailed into our new academic year with a deeper appreciation of the watermen on our beloved Chesapeake Bay.
In one of life’s unexpected connections, upon randomly boarding the Annie D. that morning, I noticed a plaque in memory of my dear friend’s daughter, Cameron O’Neill-Mullin, who died in 2011, in a boating accident in Goondiwindi, Queensland, Australia. Cameron was visiting Australia as an exchange student from St. Paul’s School for Girls (where my daughters attended middle and high school with Cameron and her sister, Kylie). I had forgotten that Cameron loved her summers spent at EHOS and that her family had created a scholarship fund in her name. Later in the day I texted my friend Tricia, and sent her the photograph of the Annie D. plaque. Although I saw Cameron’s date of birth on the plaque, it did not quite register, until her mother noted, that I was on the Annie D., Cameron’s beloved buy boat, on what would have been her 25th birthday. The universe and the sea collided in an incredible moment of connection for me. It made me pause and I took the time to reflect upon my life as an educator, and the importance of connecting with students and helping them find their passions.
Our trip on the Chester last weekend was peaceful, fun and informative. Of course, in small-town fashion, there were a few connections made while under sail. We met a couple whose two children had graduated from Kent School, and I enjoyed learning about the lives of purpose our alumni were leading. We talked with the owner of The Fish Whistle, a face we miss in Chestertown. We had a lovely time getting to know the couple who were assigned to be our mentors at CRYCC when we arrived in Chestertown – although it took us three years to have this chance meeting! As the Elsworth docked at the Chestertown Marina, no one moved. We simply were not ready to disembark. So, Captain Andy and his mighty crew, regaled us, again, with a song. We were all connected by music and love of the Chester River, and I know we will long remember our Elsworthy Evening.
And, to Captain Andy and the Elsworth crew, we will be waving at you from the red roof inn during the Tall Ships Parade on Sultana Education Foundation’s Downrigging Weekend!
The Cameron O’Neill-Mullin Scholarship Fund for Annie D Trips provides scholarships to deserving children for a 5-Day trip aboard the buy boat Annie D each summer. The family and friends of Cameron O’Neill-Mullin established this fund in her memory.
Nancy Mugele is the Head of School at Kent School in Chestertown, a member of the Board of the Association of Independent Maryland and DC Schools, a member of the Board of Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s, a member of the Board of Chesapeake Charities, and a member of the Education Committee of Sultana Education Foundation.