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Sail-Tall / Sail-Small Curriculum

The following curriculum was piloted by John Maxwell and Michael Angell at Kensington Woods High School, Howell, MI in June 2012. The curriculum was implemented during a special 2 week block at the end of the school year, known as Project Term. The class, known as "Tall Ships" met for 3 hrs/day for 2 academic weeks and contained an overnight field trip. Enrollment was 10 students (co-ed, grades 9-12), with only one student having any type of prior sailing experience.



The purpose of this class was to introduce 9th-12th grade students to historical and recreational aspects of sailing. This included an introduction to the use of sailing vessels in Michigan in the 19th through 20th centuries, basics of boat construction (historical and modern), basic sailing terminology and sailing principles, and actual sailing experiences.


Principal sailing educational features of the course:

1.  Basics of wooden boat construction

2.  Basics of modern (recreational) boat construction

3.  Recreational sailing experience

4.  Historical sailing experience

5.  Overarching project


Pedagogy of the principal sailing features:

  • Basics of wooden boat construction - To obtain expertise in wooden boat construction, we contacted a local chapter of the Traditional Small Craft Association (TSCA). We were made aware of the TSCA through their participation in the annual Quietwater Symposium at Michigan State University. Several members of the local TSCA chapters were invaluable in their suggestions regarding the overarching project and in making additional contacts. The most tangible support was received by one of their members serving as a guest speaker on historical and lapstrake boat construction (complete with a boat model and a completed lapstrake-constructed wherry). Topics covered: Boat construction from dugout canoe through plank on frame, Detailed discussion on lapstrake construction, Types of woods used in traditional boat building, Sailing features of the wherry.
  • Basics of modern recreational sailing - To discuss the basics of modern (fiberglass / molded) construction and the basic principles of sailing, One of our personal boats, a 15' dinghy (Chrysler Mutineer), was brought to the class. This provided the contrast of a modern, mass-produced recreational boat vs. a traditionally-built work boat. Construction was discussed at a cursory level followed by a class-participatory rigging of the boat and discussion of boat components and points of sail.
  • Recreational sailing experience - To provide a recreational sailing experience, we contacted Ken Warshaw at the Michigan State University Sailing Center which specializes in this area. The MSUSC provided two 20-foot Flying Scots with skippers and additional support staff for 2 hours of on-the-water activity. This was more than sufficient for our 10 student class size. This activity was one of the highlights of the course for the students. Topics covered: An actual hands-on sailing experience, The variability in 20th century recreational one-design boats, Sailing basics. We highly recommend Ken and the MSUSC for this type of experience.
  • Historical sailing experience - To provide a historical sailing experience, we contacted Katie Bleil at the Michigan Maritime Museum. The MMM owns and operates Friends Good Will, an early 19th century sloop with extensive historical connections to Michigan. The MMM specializes in historical maritime education and arranged, not only for a 2.5 hr sail on the Friends Good Will but an organized tour of the museum and grounds. Topics covered: 19th century boat design and operation, Hands-on assistance with sailing a 19th century vessel, Naval battles of the War of 1812, Basics of plank-on-frame and wood-laminate construction, Knot-tying and 19th-20th century maritime lifesaving
  • Overarching project - For our overarching project, we decided to produce a large (1/4 scale) mock-up model of the Friends Good Will. This was enormously helped through the very complete website maintained by the Michigan Maritime Museum and the assistance of the local TSCA in obtaining a copy of the rigging plans for the ship. The mock-up model is akin to a theatrical model in that it does not float, is of relatively low complexity and is not absolutely accurate. Modern and inexpensive building materials (plywood, 2x4, 2x2, PVC) are used to provide the superstructure and to provide a prop for students to use in discussing their knowledge of sailing and the actual ship itself.


Daily Syllabus:

Day Activity
1  Introduction to Michigan maritime history & Principles of sailing
2  Introduction to Traditional boat design and construction (outside speaker)
3  Introduction to the Friends Good Will, Design of the scale model using ship's plans
4  Introduction to modern recreational sailboats and sailing (hands-on rigging)
5  Small-boat sailing experience (MSU) - Part of a two-day (overnight) field trip
6  Large-boat sailing experience (MMM) - Sailing on Friends Good Will & museum tour
7  Reflection on sailing experience.  Boat model construction (hull and spars)
8  Boat model construction (rigging)
9  Boat model construction (detailing/painting)
10  Experience presentation


Other considerations:

Assessments - In keeping with the philosophy of project-term experiential learning, assessments were largely informal. They consisted primarily of reflective discussions and engagement. There were no formal quizzes, exams or certifications.


Costs - An estimation of the nominal cost per student for this experience (independent of faculty time) would be approximately $50. This cost includes the fees charged by MSU and MMM for the excellent services they provide as well as building materials for the model. This cost does not take into consideration the volunteer time donated by organizations like the TSCA or parents/chaperones, any food or overnight lodging/travel to the sailing venues, or the use of donated tools and building supplies.


Model Building - Neither one of  us (the instructors) had model building experience or extensive contruction experience. Although a lack of model/construction experience should not deter anyone from attempting this, having the knowledge yourself, or drafting a knowledgeable parent or colleague would be worthwhile. We allocated 4.5 days for this activity, and this turned out to be the bare minimum needed to accomplish the model shown at the 11th hour. Building such a large model (1/4 scale) had the added benefit of introducing the students to tool use and building in general. Many high school programs no longer have wood or metal shop and as a consequence many of these students had never used a saw, drill or even a hammer. Although this lack of basic knowledge slowed the building process down (and limited the independent troubleshooting of problems), developing such skills could become another course goal. In the end, although our model was very simple, and somewhat incomplete overall, it did benefit from having an actual working mainsail, which could be raised and lowered. Having something on the model which could replicate an actual sailing activity or process was a good trade-off against having additional (static) detail.


Odds & Ends - Due to the location of the MSU Sailing Center and the Michigan Maritime Museum relative to the location of the high school, an overnight trip was deemed necessary. The evening before our sail on Friends Good Will, we decided to screen the movie "Master & Commander". The movie screening was prophetic in that much of what was observed in the movie was executed and commented on while sailing on the Friends Good Will and while at the museum. The time period of the movie (1805) was relevant to the period of the War of 1812 and sailing procedures at the time. It was subsequently remarked upon by museum volunteers that the technical advisor for the movie had actually been an advisor for the museum as well.


Other activities which were contemplated, but not actually executed this time were; a visit to an area sail loft, a visit to a modern boat production facility, a visit to the Michigan Small Boat Museum, and hosting a speaker from the area model sailboat association. Some of these may be considered for future course offerings as they all possess expertise relevant to the goals above. In addition, there is a wealth of regional expertise in the Northwest and Eastern areas of the state with regards to community sailing centers and Tall ship/educational institutions. These (which are listed on the relevant pages of the SailMichigan site) provide regional/local expertise for the replication of this curriculum in other parts of the state.


Comments and Suggestions - If you have comments or suggestions on the above information, please either send them directly to Michael Angell at [email protected]or begin a discussion thread in the Forum part of this website under the topic of  "Sailing education and the promotion of sailing". This latter method may be of greater value in stimulation a broader discussion about using sailing as an educational tool.



The Traditional Small Craft Association -

The Michigan Statre Sailing Center  -

The Michigan Maritime Museum -

Schooner Passage by Theodore Karamanski, Wayne State University Press 2000

Lives and Legends of the Christmas Tree Ships by Fred Neuschel University of Michigan Press 2007



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