Children from Roye-Williams Elementary near Aberdeen had boned up on state history, wrapped up a week of standardized tests and arrived ready yesterday to assess their seamanship during a one-hour tour of Maryland's famous tall ship.
With the waters of the Susquehanna River glistening in the background and a stiff breeze blowing through the rigging, the crew introduced the children to the Pride of Baltimore II, which had docked in the harbor at Havre de Grace for a four-day visit.
As it makes its way to various ports along the Chesapeake Bay and beyond, this symbol of maritime heritage offers children hands-on learning aboard a Baltimore clipper, which was the fastest ship of its era, said Linda Christenson, executive director.
"Some never have been on a ship before and this is a chance to be on a historic replica of the ships that succeeded in disrupting the British navy," she said.
Children pull on lines, experience life in a cabin and see how hard sailing is, she said.
"Wow! This is a war boat," said Jack Hicks. "I see cannons."
Chase Thomason said, "This is the same kind of boat they had in the War of 1812."
The 157-foot-long tall ship, called Maryland's goodwill ambassador, will mark the 20th anniversary of its commissioning in October. It will offer school tours this spring as it sails to Washington, Solomons, Annapolis, Cambridge and Chestertown, before it sets off for the Great Lakes in late May.
"The great thing about this boat is the public relations it does for Maryland and the Chesapeake," said chief mate Michael Fiorentino.
Sailors took the students through the cabin below deck, let them hoist a sail, schooled them in the ship's navigation charts and compass, and cheered them on during a tug-of-war.
The field trip complemented the fourth-grade social studies curriculum on Maryland history and gave the class a break outdoors after the Maryland School Assessment testing schedule, which ended Friday, said teacher Allison B. Clark.
As they crowded into the ship's cabin, the children peered into sleeping quarters, sat at the captain's table and watched the cook flipping pancakes, all while wondering about seasickness.
"The smell of food really makes me hungry," said Aaliyah Tisdale.
"I would like to live on here and learn all about how they live."
The children asked where were the windows, the TV, the DVD players. One child mistakenly thought the mounted speakers for the ship radios would provide surround sound.
"This is our house, where we all live without cable TV," said deck hand Charlie Adams.
The Pride II, a replica of the topsail schooners known as Baltimore clippers, would originally have been built with a much lower ceiling and would accommodate a crew of about 60.
"I'd be squashed," said Adams, a 6-footer.
Another wanted to know the origin of Pride II. Adams explained how the first Pride of Baltimore sank in a squall off Puerto Rico in 1986.
"School groups, just like you, helped us build another Pride," he said.
As long as the visitors promised to cover their ears, Fiorentino allowed a crewman to fire a cannon.
"It was so loud it shook the boat through and through," said Dominic Cason.
As they debarked, Haberman handed each student a commemorative wooden coin imprinted with the ship's image.
"They think it's pirates' booty," she said. "They seem to know all about pirates."
Hope Corey said she would like to take a trip on the Pride II.
When asked where she would sail, the little girl answered, "Wherever the wind takes me."