2017-12-08 / Front Page

Tall Ships Portland plots course for Cuba

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer


Mitchell Rockenstire (second from left), an eighth-grader at Scarborough Middle School, poses with fellow youth sailors aboard the Lettie G. Howard last summer. Tall Ships of Portland has organized a sailing voyage for Scarborough and Falmouth students to Cuba aboard the Oliver Hazard Perry for February school vacation. (Courtesy photo) Mitchell Rockenstire (second from left), an eighth-grader at Scarborough Middle School, poses with fellow youth sailors aboard the Lettie G. Howard last summer. Tall Ships of Portland has organized a sailing voyage for Scarborough and Falmouth students to Cuba aboard the Oliver Hazard Perry for February school vacation. (Courtesy photo) Not many people can say they have sailed to Cuba, but a group of Scarborough students are planning the voyage through Tall Ships Portland.

Tall Ships Portland is a nonprofit devoted to maritime youth education. During the past several years has, according to Events Director Paul Wolf, provided students an opportunity to spend time on the open ocean “sailing by the power of nature and learning a whole lot of things they can’t at home.”

“There are physical challenges, some ‘I couldn’t do that before’ and many life lessons,” said Wolf, a retired United States Coast Guard Commander.

For the last three years, the organization has provided sailing trips around New England and the Canadian Maritimes during the summer for high school students, but during February vacation will be partnering with the crew from the Oliver Hazard Perry to offer a trip for 30 students from Falmouth and Scarborough from St. Petersburg, Florida to Cienfuegos, Cuba.

Wolf said as of Dec. 5, there were eight spaces available. If space runs out, he said a waiting list will be created and students are encouraged to look into one of the local trips Tall Ships Portland has planned starting in June.

Those two communities are being targeted, although the trip may be opened up to students from other communities as well. No sailing experience is necessary for the trip.

Falmouth students have taken part in Tall Ships Portland trips before and Wolf said Falmouth High School Assistant Principal Jon Radtke has developed a curriculum in which students participating can receive academic credit in subjects such as navigation and meteorology after completing the week of sailing. Students from Falmouth traveled on the Oliver Hazard Perry from Bermuda to Newport, Rhode Island last spring.

Wolf, who has lived in Scarborough for 20 years, wanted to offer the experience of sailing on a tall ship to Scarborough residents, an opportunity Scarborough Middle School eighth-grader Mitchell Rockenstire knows full well.

Rockenstire sailed on two Tall Ships Portland voyages last summer, a trip in July on When and If, an 80-foot ship commissioned in 1939 by Gen. George Patton, that sailed from Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia to New Brunswick, Canada and a trip in August aboard the 125-foot two mast Lettie G. Howard that sailed from East Greenwich, Rhode Island to Portland.

“It was something different. I love sailing,” said Rockenstire, who has participated several years with Sail Maine. “Not many people get to sail in these large, beautiful vessels.”

Rockenstire said through those trips he learned about responsibility and stepping outside his comfort zone and would advise other students to try tall ship sailing as well.

“Just do it,” he said. “Something like this may not pop back up later in life.”

He won’t be traveling to Cuba, but will be looking for additional sailing opportunities and dreams of sailing aboard the Pride of Baltimore II.

Wolf said during the Cuba trip, which takes place Feb. 16 to Feb. 25 or Feb. 26, students will assist the Oliver Hazard Perry crew with ship operations, as well as standing watch and ensuring the vessel is sailing safely. The Oliver Hazard Perry is a 200-foot, three-mast ship built in Rhode Island in 2015 and has made several appearances in Portland, most recently this summer as part of Portland’s Tall Ships Weekend.

“This is a great way for these teens to learn outside the classroom. Experimental learning has a profound effect on a student because they learn a lot about themselves,” Radtke, a coordinator of the Cuba trip, said in a press release about the trip. “The other great aspect of life at sea is that whatever group you belong to in school is left at the pier. Tall ship living is a great equalizer.”

Wolf agrees.

“Whatever you are, you leave that behind. It really pulls down a lot of those walls,” Wolf said.

The Oliver Hazard Perry won’t be the only vessel with Maine connections in Cuba this winter. According to Tall Ships Portland, the Harvey Gamage, which is based in Portland, “has made Cienfuegos (its) winter home, conducting oceanographic research with a local university. Crew from the Gamage has described the city as “safe and friendly.” Cienfuegos is a city of 150,000 located on the Cuba’s south coast, approximately 160 miles from Havana.

The community was founded in 1819 as a Spanish territory, but was settled by French immigrants and became known for its sugar cane, tobacco and coffee trade. The Urban Historic Centre of Cienfuegos describes it “as an outstanding example” of 19th century Latin American architectural design.

Wolf said the students would have several days to experience the culture of the city before traveling to Havana to fly back home.

For more information, or to see the traveling schedule and costs, visit tallshipsportland.org. More information about the Oliver Hazard Perry can be found at ohpri.org.

Wolf said the trip, which has been negotiated with the Cuban government, is expected to cost $2,600 per person and financial aid is available

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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