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Schools & Program Visits - May, 2001 Issue #81 

“A Voyage of Self Discovery” 
on a Tall Ship
Catherine Freer 
Wilderness Therapy Expeditions

Shirley Rex, Admissions

A Visit on April 22-25 By Loi Eberle, M.A., 
Educational Consultant, 
Editor, Woodbury Reports

[Some excerpts from my journal:]
“We’re coming into harbor in pea soup fog, with no visibility - it’s good we have radar and a vigilant crew on watch. We listen for, and report the ringing sounds of buoys, ships, now cars, from overhead on the bridge. I’ll miss this brig!”

“Out of the fog emerges the Astoria Bridge, its green metal supports looming above, as our tall ship approaches from underneath. I peer through the ship’s eighteenth century rigging, marveling at the extreme contrast between the tall ship that has been home for three and a half days and the metal structure supporting scores of cars over my head. I find myself reluctant to return to the world of traffic noise and cell phones, though a shower would be nice…”

“I can understand why the crew stays on board for weeks and months at a time. And what an impressive crew! When I first boarded, I questioned whether they could manage this ship – they seemed so young and fresh. My experience with them taught me they were competent, responsible, kind and gentle, yet courageous; very good role models.”

“I am on the training cruise for an expedition that twelve carefully screened adolescents will have the opportunity to experience this summer. This three week “Voyage of Self Discovery, ” running from July 15 through Aug 4, will be offered by the Catherine Freer Wilderness Expedition program in collaboration with the sailing crew of the Lady Washington.”

The “Lady” is essentially a floating museum, a full-scale replica of an 18th Century brig. The largest square rigged sailing vessel currently operating on the West Coast, it is owned and operated by the Grays Harbor Historical seaport Authority. Its mission is to “enhance the public’s understanding of the importance of the voyages of Captains Gray and Kendrick and their significant contribution to the state of Washington, Oregon, the Pacific Northwest and the United States.” This summer, four therapeutically trained field staff field from the Catherine Freer program and eight professional crew of the Lady Washington, will accompany twelve adolescents on a therapeutic adventure circumnavigating Vancouver Island. 

This journey is a historical connection to our ancestor’s roots in many ways! The voyage will re-create parts of Captain Gray’s original trip around the Island. In addition, the Freer expedition will work with a cultural anthropologist and the tribal leaders on the Vancouver Island to teach this lucky group of adolescents some history and early rituals of the tribal peoples along the Vancouver Coast. [An interesting note, I thought, is that Will Twombly of the Freer program, who helped coordinate this expedition, is a direct descendant of Captain Gray.] 

The training manual for the Lady Washington staff describes the experience on their brig as a chance to practice “one of history’s most important endeavors; harnessing the wind by the combined effort of many hands. Enter a bygone era as you haul on lines, climb aloft, furl sails or haul away at the windlass. Each task carries with it the responsibility of learning to do it right for the safety of all on aboard, passengers and crew.”

[More journal notes]: “The sun has set, the deck is in almost complete darkness – I’m writing by memory rather than using visual feedback…the sky is Maxfield Parish blue, the masts are silhouetted in their full majestic beauty…the seas are now calm, after our somewhat tumultuous beginning and I am feeling full of potential. The longer I wait for my path to be revealed to me, the longer I wait. I realize now that I must chart my own course, rudder my own ship.”

“ I never climbed the mast, though I think I could have gone up the ladder – it was going out over the ledge that frightened me. I feel whimpish, watching the kids leaning over the sails, their bottoms in the air (in harnesses, of course) as they unfurled the sails, most of the Freer team up there with them. I used the excuse of physical exhaustion and yes, let’s face it, I was weak from having been quite seasick, though I realize that we were on rougher waters at a stormier time of year than the kids will be this summer.”

“Mainly though, the reason I didn’t climb the mast had more to due with gremlins of fear lurking from my past. What’s refreshing is that I felt okay about it – no pressure to do more than I felt ready to do, yet encouragement to try what I could. For example, I was invited to steer the vessel. It seemed like a major responsibility and was physically challenging using the rudder system, but I was urged to give it a try and given good instruction. I was then delighted to be allowed to steer for the next four hours, [as can be observed in the photo, dubbed “Zorro at Sea” by Ingrid Cooley.] I felt the compassion and clarity of the Freer staff, even in the wee hours of the morning, when we took our turn on watch. 

“On Wednesday we floated into harbor with great flourish, flying a replica of the flag used by the Massachusetts colony; the one with “13 stars, 13 bars” – not the one designed by Betsy Ross. The crew, now dressed in 18th c. costumes, once again scampered en masse up the ropes to unfurl the many sails of the Lady Washington. “John Boy,” wearing somewhat out of place but highly appropriate 21st century ear protection, performed the special ceremonial firing of blanks from the canons stationed in various portals around the ship. People lined the shores, excitedly watching us sail into port, awaiting their tour. 

“And then, all too soon, we were back on land, though I was still rolling and swaying slightly. How can I summarize this Journey? I think it could be could be a magical experience for those who can live with some degree of uncertainty (hey, life is like that)…some occasional discomfort, and have a willingness to put themselves out to some extent for the benefit of all concerned, for example, they will need to be on morning and evening watch, just as we were. I think of the tremendous sense of community I developed in this relatively short time span! I can imagine how much three weeks of such an experience, standing watch over the spacious seas under the starry skies, feeling the timelessness of elements and the concern and comradery of the team, could mean to the adolescent participants. What an opportunity! 

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