Teaching ship captain has summer of thrills Under her command, Lady Maryland faced squalls, lightning


Capt. Pamela Tenner Kellett has found her first summer at the helm of the Lady Maryland to be no honeymoon.

Lightning struck her ship, the engine broke down often and her young charges got seasick. It's a good thing she began with a real honeymoon.

She and her husband, John Kellett, a shipwright, had a fine time riding mountain bikes down the Bolivian Andes after marrying May 25 and before returning for their regular jobs with Living Classrooms Inc., a Baltimore educational nonprofit group.

Pamela Kellett sailed the Baltimore Harbor and the Chesapeake in July, but this month raised sails for northern New Jersey. Four groups of students from Paterson and Newark, N.J., hiked in the hills and then sailed with the captain and her Maryland crew in three-day overnight voyages.

When they hit the open ocean past Sandy Hook peninsula south of New York Harbor, half the kids got seasick. Brisk winds and a couple of squalls added to the adventures.

Things were calmer when the students learned navigation and seamanship, made friends and weighed anchor at night off Coney Island or Staten Island, N.Y. Their voyages ended when they sailed the Lady Maryland to parents waiting at the Statue of Liberty.

"I've got the best job in the world," Kellett said. She winds up the month of sailing with New Jersey students in a joint program financed by a New Jersey foundation and operated by the Baltimore educational foundation's flagship.

Atlantic Highlands, N.J., on Sandy Hook Bay has been the August home port for the Maryland boat, in one of its periodic projects for students away from Maryland. Earlier this summer, it sailed with students to Gloucester, Mass. Two years ago, it sailed to the Great Lakes.

The lightning strike last month in Maryland was unnerving but not life-threatening. It hit the lightning rod atop the topmast during a storm at Long Point Island in the Miles River, near St. Michaels, where the sailboat had docked.

"All the kids were ashore," Kellett said. "I was in the aft cabin with Sean O'Connor, the first mate. We had unplugged the electronic systems. All of a sudden there was a CRACK.

"There was a circle of light around Sean's head and he saw a circle of light around mine. I had an electric feeling in my heart. We cussed. 'Oh, my God, we've been hit by lightning.'

"Everything that wasn't unplugged got fried destroyed the depth sounder, the battery charger, a diode on the port motor. They've been replaced. We weren't hurt."

The lightning may have been startling, but engine breakdowns were the most persistent problem and her main challenge. "There wasn't three days without engine trouble," she said. "I'd sit there with the manual in my lap, without any training in the machinery. I had to be mechanic, plumber, electrician. The ship's fixed now."

Students learned. One lesson and big surprise was that a sailboat can operate well with a female captain and occasionally an all-female crew. "A Newark boy said, 'Pamela, I never thought I could do this and I never thought a captain would be a female.' "

But she corrected him when he said women made better sailors. "This has nothing to do with gender, but who we are as persons," she said.

One duty Kellett can't perform is weddings. "Maryland law doesn't allow it," she said.

The Lady Maryland has sailed the Atlantic coastline for parts of the past five summers, teaching hundreds of students along the way as an educational equivalent of the Pride of Baltimore II.

Two years ago, it sailed to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and down the St. Lawrence River to 22 ports on Lakes Erie, Ontario and Huron before coming home by the Erie Canal, the Hudson River and New York Harbor.

After completing the New Jersey trip, the sailboat will begin a Chesapeake Bay voyage to the Eastern and Western shores with students from area schools, such as the Maryland School for the Blind.

"Most of our work is with Maryland kids," said James Piper Bond, Living Classrooms executive director, "but we also teach students from all over on sea and land. This is our busiest summer ever. We've had 106 staffers -- 65 last year -- for 7,500 students."

While the Lady Maryland was out of town, five other Living Classrooms boats sailed the Inner Harbor and the Chesapeake Bay. Other students learned from land programs such as a llama farm in Harford County.

Pub Date: 8/27/96

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