The Dreambuilder was making slow progress. The 35-foot-long sailboat meandered in the waters off Annapolis on Wednesday as its teenage crew stood on deck and watched in dismay.
“I don’t think I’ve ever gone so fast,” Tommy Pipher, 16, said dryly from the helm.
“I think the rudder’s broken,” said Ellie Wood, 16.
Pipher and Wood, rising juniors at South River High School in Edgewater, are part of a group of 13 students who have been learning the ins and outs of sailing and navigation over two weeks at the National Sailing Hall of Fame, a sailing education nonprofit in Annapolis.
The program for science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, students is a 4-year-old collaboration between the hall of fame and Anne Arundel County’s public schools. The program aims to get high school students to apply math, engineering and physics lessons by sailing the Chesapeake Bay.
Though Dreambuilder lagged in calm waters Wednesday, instructor Geoff Cuneo gave his students patient encouragement.
"Look up, you’re starting to turn into the wind,” Cuneo told Pipher. “You don’t want to be glued to the chart.”
The students had already spent almost two weeks learning how to navigate a boat using a ruler, protractor and compass — a trigonometry lesson with real-life stakes.
The session — one of three being conducted this summer — continues a curriculum taught by sailing hall of fame instructors during the school year in South River and North County high schools in Glen Burnie. Both schools have STEM magnet programs.
The STEM students must complete a “summer bridge” program after their freshman and sophomore years; one option is to continue the sailing curriculum in Annapolis. For students who choose to sail, Wood said, the program is considered a review of information learned in the classroom as well as an opportunity to put that knowledge to work.
“I learned a lot more here than in the classroom,” said Nick Krycia, 15, as he sat on the stern.
Other summer bridge programs include music mixing, robotics and quilting. The sailing program is the most popular, Cuneo said.
“It’s more popular because it’s the only outdoor one,” said Maryam Chaudhry, 15, a rising sophomore at South River.
This past week’s lessons included planning the route of a trip through the British Virgin Islands. Students crafted their route for a specific boat model and eight days of recorded weather.
“The point was that if we did go down [to the British Virgin Islands], we could do it exactly as we planned,” Krycia said. His grandfather owns a 42-foot catamaran in the British Virgin Islands, Krycia added, so that possibility is not as slim as one might think.
For the times when students are on the water, the program borrows boats from Annapolis residents; Dreambuilder belongs to Pam Ray and Dick McSeveney, who were married on the boat two years ago.
Ray, sitting near the mast Wednesday, said she heard about the STEM sailing program at a career fair where she was working.
She praised the hands-on program, saying, “it makes you think differently, connect differently, it’s more exciting.” But she worries more students want to do the program than are able to. The program is only open the STEM magnet students, who register in the spring.
As the boat picked up speed, Ray brought out cookies and ice-cold drinks from the cabin. The students cracked cans of lemonade and sat in shady spots on the deck. To the north was the Bay Bridge; to the west, the domes and steeples of Annapolis.
Cuneo said when students are unplugged from their phones and thrown together on a boat, “you talk about whatever comes into your head.” Wednesday’s topics included creative alarm clock designs and the merits of different brands of trash bags.
As the students directed the boat toward city docks, it reached its top speed for the day — 51/2 knots. The crew was in good spirits.
“It’s not every day you get to go sailing for two weeks for free,” Wood said.
For more information about educational programs and offerings at the National Sailing Hall of Fame, go to nshof.org or call 877-295-3022. The hall is located at 67 Prince George St., Annapolis.