American teens take to high seas for unique twist on summer camp
There were no swashbuckling sword fights, no on-deck lashings. Nor did anyone have to walk the plank.
But for the 46 American teens who took part in a tall ship sailing program at the end of July, there were high-seas adventures — along with a lot of work and a boatload of fun.
As part of this summer’s Camp A.R.M.Y. Challenge, two groups of teens sailed the waters of the Baltic Sea off Germany’s northeastern coast. Each spent six days under the watchful eye of a German crew, learning what goes into sailing a three-masted topsail schooner.
“When I first saw the ship, I thought it was almost something out of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’” said John Reynolds, a 16-year-old from Schweinfurt, Germany. “It was like something from about 100 years ago.”
The cruise took the ship and its young crew in a circle of approximately 180 nautical miles — about 210 land miles — around the Baltic, with a stop on an uninhabited Danish island.
After boarding, finding a bunk and being introduced to the captain and crew, the teens were divided into three teams, one for each mast. Each was issued a hard hat and a climbing harness, the safety equipment for the voyage.
The mast captains, members of the German crew, gave their teams a tour of the ship, and then began teaching the secrets of sailing. For most, it began by working the ropes that control the masts’ yards and unfurl the sails.
Camp A.R.M.Y. Challenge is conducted by the Child and Youth Services branch of the Installation Management Command European Region’s Morale Welfare and Recreation division. It was designed for youths with a parent or parents deployed, formerly deployed or soon to deploy, with the idea of relieving stress and taking the youths’ minds off deployments.
It appeared to work, said John, whose father is deployed with 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment to Iraq. “[The deployment] was usually left unspoken, but it was comforting to meet people with the same experience. You knew more about that person,” he said.
A.R.M.Y. stands for adventure, resilience, memories and youth — and the youths on the first voyage got their share of adventure and memories. On the fourth day, the schooner hit a storm that sent 9-foot waves over the ship’s desk.
“It was fun,” recalled Sean Ledbetter, a 15-year-old from Baumholder, Germany. “I sat and waited with friends and watched the waves hit the boat.”
Even though almost everybody got at least a little seasick, Brittani Rideaux, 14, from Illesheim, Germany, said: “When the boat was rocking, it made a great experience.”
The teens spent much of their time working aboard the schooner. When the ship is under sail, there is a lot to do. Pulling ropes to brace the yards, unpacking and packing the sails, swabbing the deck, preparing meals, washing dishes and keeping watch on deck.
With the schooner gliding across the Baltic, one of the highlights of work, and the voyage, was scrambling up the rigging to the ship’s 100-foot-tall masts. Another was, when the ship was at anchor, diving into the Baltic from the ship’s bow, and swimming in the blue-green water.
Aries Quintero’s favorite job was the watch. While it “was a lot of hard work,” it didn’t always feel that way. “The mast captains were fun, very encouraging and gave us help,” noted the 18-year-old from Würzburg, Germany.
Living in close proximity with a boatload of other teens could have caused problems. But except for a lack of privacy, there were no real difficulties.
Aries said that an individual’s bunk was the only personal space on ship, but instead of that being a problem, “we all got very close.”
John, who didn’t know anyone when he boarded, said that being cooped up was “strange at first, but you learn to live with it. You find a spot for yourself. There were no arguments or fights.”
Then he added: “We got close. We learned together. We made friends.”
And the teens learned to function as a team. As Sean pointed out, there was a lot of work to do and “we all had to work together. If someone slacked off, everyone had to work to make up.”
By the end, Jens Koch, the ship’s captain, was proud of his young crew. “They were great, really great,” he said. “They were disciplined, no problems.”
Besides new friends, everyone seemed to take away something from their time at seas when they returned to shore.
“I learned a lot about sailing and tying knots,” said Brittani. Sean said he learned about longitude and latitude.
But John summed things up best when he said, “I learned a lot about sailing. I learned a lot about myself. I didn’t think I could climb the rigging and pack the sails.”
He, and the rest of the crew, had met the challenge.