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My Field Studies, sailing in the San Juans

We appreciate your contributions to support Field Studies

To all auction participants and paddle raise contributors: Our students have returned from Field Studies, voicing strong appreciation for each excursion. They have shared that the options were rich, challenging and enjoyable. And comfort zones were certainly tested. Our students and staff greatly value your contributions, which will enable us to continue with the high-quality range of offerings we provide each year, and also allow some the flexibility to create temporary options based on a group or teacher’s passions. We are incredibly thankful to you all.

To illustrate just how valuable this program is for our students, we share this testimonial of one student’s rewarding experience during this year’s Field Studies:

My Field Studies, sailing in the San Juans

By Benjamin Goldberg, class of 2017 

I wish I could tell you that I signed up to do Field Studies in the San Juan Islands because of some grand predilection for nautical adventure. The truth, though, is that when the Field Studies form went live, I knew I had to pick something fast so I didn’t get shoved into my fifth-choice slot, but I didn’t know what. When one of the people I happened to be hanging out with at the time said “I heard sailing is a lot of fun,” that was that. Four months later, by the time the bus let us off on the dock in Bellingham, I had managed to leave my coat in a Five Guys and spill a milkshake on myself. With this less-than-auspicious start, I was afraid I had made some grave mistake, and laying eyes upon a top-level bunk with no ladder to speak of besides the bunk below it, and being told I was to sleep there, didn’t allay my apprehension. 

No, it is not on the basis of amenities that I recommend the San Juan field study option to you. Sleeping conditions are tight, the restrooms are tiny, and the icy wind is a force to be reckoned with. Yet, that is all beside the point. Said point is, as I perceive it, the people. Wildhorse may cement a cohesive class that can remain together for four years, but I can say without hyperbole that the Zodiac forges bonds that are absolutely permanent. I counted among my fellow sailors some who had been dear friends of mine since I was a freshman, and as close as I may have been with these people beforehand, I feel more connected to them now than ever before. Others among our group I had barely spoken to, and I feared that my lack of physical strength and undisciplined nature would draw their judgment. This, too, proved unfounded. While on the ship, no student was singled out; all events, bad or good, were shared, and it is that experience that allowed me to develop a connection with those shipmates from whom I had previously felt distant. 

I would be remiss in describing the deep personal connections that define the San Juan experience and not refer to the Zodiac crew. One would be inclined to assume that a group of men and women who routinely embark upon voyages such as our own would become an unbreakably tight-knit group, and though this was clearly the case, it did not prevent them from enthusiastically embracing a group of high schoolers whom none of them, to my knowledge, had met before. They were patient with and accommodating towards our lack of prior knowledge, while still maintaining the regimen of challenging work that was necessary to develop our skills. Though the cry of “sailing stations!” may have elicited a fair few groans, we never had cause to doubt the Zodiac’s crew. I suspect they were as pleased with us as we were with them. In one particular incident, the enthusiasm I expressed for the relatively mundane duty of charting moved Captain Tim to personally guide me, which is, according to the faculty members who manage the trip, an exceptionally uncommon occurrence. 

I cannot name a single Riverdale student who I wouldn’t recommend the San Juan field study to. Though I may be graduating in two months, I believe that Riverdale should preserve this field study option for years to come, and I hope that my description has led you to feel the same.

students handle the sail on the schooner Zodiac  students hosting sails on deck of the schooner Zodiac

students build a mini ship on board the schooner Zodiac  students wait on shore for the schooner Zodiac