When I was a kid in the 70s I dreamed of chasing whale-killers from the bow of a screaming zodiac, fists and jaws clenched. As a staffer at World Wildlife Fund I befriended Greenpeace’s then director John Passacantando who gave me an insider’s view of the boathouse that held the organization’s zodiac fleet. Magical.
But not nearly as magical as my first two lessons with the college’s inflatables, led by COA’s boat captain Toby Stephenson. No whales, no tankers, but my jaws still clenched as I struggled with forward and reverse, with the prop tilt, and with all things relating to rope and knots. I’ve spent loads of time around kayaks and canoes in freshwater environments: but a powerboat in the ocean is an entirely different animal.
And it’s an animal that so many of the College’s students have become intimately aware of; a platform for experiential learning that is really hard to match. In just a few years here as president, I’ve watched so many students really blossom in the midst of boats and oceans and engines and ropes. I was tired of watching.
Toby is the best person imaginable for guiding people as they grow with such experiences. One of his best insights: piloting a boat is, as much as anything, a psychological experience — there’s just one pilot and oftentimes many judging, anxious onlookers. Confronting those minds is as much a part of the learning as is technique and Toby is the perfect blend of technician, sociologist, and psychologist. During a launch or landing, he noted to “Watch the waves; listen for the calm among the sets; be patient; and don’t be afraid to tell people to chill the %^**^^% out and wait for your command.”
I hope as many COA students as possible get to experience our boats, our waters, and our islands. Combined with the people who manage them, they are truly one of the most extraordinary resources we have to offer.