Today we’re going to begin a new exploration, a voyage. We’re going to learn about water, boats, marine life, and men of the sea—watermen. While we’re studying the seascapes and the lives of others, we will also start to explore the patterns and seascapes of our lives. Why is mankind fascinated by the sea? What elemental drives have urged man to explore the unknown? Why by sea? What urge compelled you to want to explore the oceans?
“Man hoisted sail before he saddled a horse . . . Watercraft were man’s first tool for his conquest of the world,” says Thor Heyerdahl in the
Early Man and the Ocean
In his book Heyerdahl demonstrates that it was much faster and easier to carry goods by water than overland. Tons of goods could be transported hundreds of miles by water.
Is it just practicality then that causes man to venture on the waterways—the easiest way of getting from one place to another? What about the present day? Why do men still explore the sea when faster and safer methods of travel are now available? In this unit we will explore some possibilities.
The life of our seas is important to every person on earth. Even if a man or woman has never seen the major oceans and lives in the middle of a vast desert, the quality of his or her life is dependent upon the conditions of the seas.
Throughout centuries, mankind has used the seas for water, commerce, conquest, food, power, recreation transportation, and waste disposal. The development of sea craft and mankind’s increasing explorations have determined in large measure the place in which we live, the languages we speak, and the way we think of our world. Today, with an ever-growing world population, and geometrically increasing dependency upon the world’s water, we are in danger of poisoning our children and ourselves and consequently, our entire world. By educating our children and ourselves about the sea and its importance to mankind’s survival, we may foster prudent use of our waterways and prevent world wide destruction of our most important resource, water.
This is an English unit which uses the theme of ocean exploration as a basis for teaching reading, thinking, writing, and speaking. This unit is intended as an introduction to the language and lore of the sea and is meant to be used with high school freshmen, although it may be adapted to other grade levels. In addition to the development of basic English skills, this unit has as a goal the extension of students’ knowledge and awareness of the sea. As a central part of this unit, students will develop a log wherein they will explore not only the physical aspects of this world, but also their own mental and, to some degree, emotional selves. I hope that one outcome of this unit will be that the students will understand our symbiotic relationship with the sea and the need to respect the oceans. It is also hoped that in the future they will desire to work actively to save our coastal environments.
General objectives for this unit are:
1. To improve skills in reading, understanding, and analyzing specific works of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction.
2. To learn vocabulary of the sea, and to increase working vocabulary generally.
3. To become familiar with selected literature of the sea.
4. To practice and to improve skills in writing by answering questions, writing observations, narratives, summaries, log entries, and other writing activities.
5. To gain skill in critical thinking and speaking by participating in group discussions, presentation, and problem solving activities.
6. To understand mankind and his relationship to the sea by observing how other men have worked with the sea and analyzing one’s own experiences on the ocean.
The presentations in this unit are not intended to be followed recipe style. They are presented merely as suggestions that the teacher may choose to select or to adapt to his or her own way of working. Before beginning with a unit of this kind it is important to understand a little about the water which surrounds us.
To understand the importance of the oceans in our lives, we must go back, briefly, to the beginnings of the earth. Current theory maintains that as the earth cooled, hydrogen and oxygen —water’s components — formed water vapor. As the earth’s crust continued to cool this vapor began to rain — for centuries, creating the lakes, rivers, and oceans of the earth.
Today, every drop of this original water is still in use. The cycle begins as water vapor which, moved by air currents and changing temperatures, becomes liquid or solid and falls upon our world.
This water flows into the waterways and splatters onto the ground. Water then seeps below ground and sinks through our rivers, lake and stream beds picking up salts, minerals, and earth as it travels. Eventually, this mineral-rich water travels to the oceans where wind and temperature evaporate large amounts of the water and the process begins again.
Over ninety-seven percent of all the water on earth, according to the U.S. Dept. of the Interior, is held in the oceans. 2.15 percent is frozen in glaciers and polar caps, and the rest, less than one percent, make up the lakes, rivers, streams, and underground water deposits. Only six-tenths of all the water in the world is available for use by mankind and nature as surface ground water.1
Seventy-one percent of the earth’s surface is covered by our seas and oceans. Within the oceans lie whole mountain ranges, large valleys up to six and one-half miles deep, entire rivers of current, and seemingly infinite forms of sea life including today’s largest animal, the whale. The ocean offers vast resources in the form of food, and has been traditionally a source of good, cheap protein, making fishing a thriving industry in any coastal community.
Additionally, the ocean contains every element found on dry land including, according to James Dugan in
World Beneath the Sea
, “. . . an estimated ten million tons of gold, 500 million tons of silver, and twenty billion tons of uranium.”
From the same text Dr. John Mero, president of Ocean Resources Inc., one of the companies pioneering in ocean mining, states: “The dangers and the lack of technology have slowed the development of ocean mining. But I think that within the next 30 years offshore mining will be a five-to-ten million dollar industry . . . By the year 20000, offshore wells will supply fifty percent of the world’s oil.”
The potential of the sea also includes its power. Today, around the world, several countries use the ebb and flow of the tides to generate electricity.
Furthermore, the value of the seas for recreation must not be underestimated. In 1968, Dr. Edwin Winslow and Alexander Bigler, planners, found that 112 million people spent approximately fourteen billion dollars on ocean-oriented recreation in the United States. This figure surpassed the money spent to buy fish caught by our fishing industry and petroleum products resulting from our offshore oil wells. Recreation is the largest of all the industries derived from the seas.
If we think in terms of human lives rather than millions of dollars then the most important of all the sea’s resources is fresh water. James Dugan states that over 100 million gallons of water flow every day from the world’s desalination plants. Key West Florida with a population of over 34,000 depends upon such a plant to fulfill all of its water requirements.
Despite the assets gained from the sea, mankind is the cause of a major liability—pollution.
In another quote from
World Beneath the Sea
James Dugan asserts: “In the United States some fifty-two million people, one-fourth of the population, live within 50 miles of the sea coasts. From these congested areas, a torrent of domestic and industrial effluents spill directly into bays, estuaries, and coastal waters.”
Add to these effects the poisoning of the sea from the world over and it is easy to sea the unhappy consequences on us all. Because the oceans are in many ways a dominant factor in the total environment, mankind’s interference in any one element may affect the entire world in ways that we don’t yet understand.
The U.S. Commission of Marine Science, Engineering, and Resources in its publication,
Our Nation and the Sea
, states: “Mankind is fast approaching a stage when the total planetary environment can be influenced, modified and perhaps controlled by human activities.”
This means that the imaginary person at the beginning of this writing who lives in the midst of a vast desert may be unable to obtain edible fish or to vacation near the ocean. He may find his skies raining poison rather than clean water, or that man’s interference may have rerouted the air currents preventing any water at all from reaching his isolated home. Because of usurpation of our underground water reserves, our hypothetical man may even discover that the water table has dropped so low that he cannot obtain enough clean water to sustain himself. The need for everyone to know something about our waterways is paramount to our future survival.
Boats have been part of man’s culture since earliest times. Proof of this is that the earliest records of boats, Egyptian and Mesopotamian pictures, show an already well-developed seacraft. Common sense dictates that people who live near large bodies of water, be they lakes, rivers, or oceans, must of necessity learn to cope with them. Failure to understand the seas leads to tragedy. Mastery of the seas, on the other hand, brings many rewards: food, drink, transportation, recreation, wealth, and power.
The first requirement of any sea-going craft, as Thor Heyerdahl points out, must be that it float. Suppose, therefore, that the first boat was a log. Lash a few logs together and you have created a raft capable of supporting tons of weight. In
, Dr. Heyerdahl proved that a simple raft could not only sail rivers and inland waterways, but be a seaworthy craft as well.
Peter Freuchen in his
Book of the Seven Seas
shows that primitive peoples all over the world had seaworthy craft. Inhabitants of the South Pacific constructed easily maneuverable balsa wood rafts and outrigger canoes; Eskimos made kayaks and larger canoe-like boats, called oomiaks, from animal skins; the Egyptians fashioned sea-worthy boats of reeds; and the Russians made large, clumsy rafts of spruce. Peoples all over the world have found ways of making sea-going craft from the materials available to them.
Although most of these craft used manpower, some of these early peoples had discovered the principles of sail and the wind-driven craft. The Egyptians, Vikings, Greeks, Phoenicians, and South Americans all used the wind to power their boats or rafts long before the time we ascribe to the large sailing ship.
Most of these craft could only sail before the wind. For that reason men also were used to power the craft. Often the men who rowed these ships were slaves or prisoners who would spend their entire lives chained to the oars they pulled.
Because human nature is not all goodness and light, it was soon discovered that the people who obtained the seas gained wealth and power of which, otherwise, they could only dream. Thus, the Egyptians, rulers of the Nile, used the labor of conquered nations to man the galleys of their warships and pleasure craft. The Greeks, who under Alexander the Great ruled the world as they conceived it, controlled the entire Mediterranean with their large navy. And to the North, Vikings with their soldier-rowed ships containing one large sail, controlled the northern seas as far west as Canada.
The era of the modern sailing ship really began in the fifteenth century with Prince Henry of Portugal. He became fascinated by the sea and in 1416 founded a school for seamen. He invited the most knowledgeable scholars from all over the world to the school. The personnel included mathematicians, map makers, astronomers, and sailors. His goal was to develop a craft hardy enough to explore the oceans without hugging the land. The result was the caravel which was, according to Peter Freuchen in the
Book of the Seven Seas
, “larger and slimmer than anything yet made, carried more sail and was tough enough to withstand gales and waves at sea.”
This technological achievement gave the Portuguese and the Spanish control of the seas for many years. During the course of that time Spain and Portugal divided the Americas between them and became wealthy from their trade in the East. Their first, serious challenge came from the Turks whom they demolished, and later from the British. Most students have heard of the Spanish Armada and the battle in which the little English navy destroyed the big Spanish fleet.
According to Peter Freuchen, the two navies were evenly matched in number and size of ships and in number of men. The English, however, had better trained leadership who possessed a new battle strategy and technologically improved ships, which were able to encircle parts of the Spanish fleet and pound the hulls with cannon shot.
After ten days of bitter fighting, the Spanish fleet began a retreat—north around Scotland. More Spaniards died on the flight home than in the battle, and the British had established themselves as the new rulers of the sea.
While the English battled Spain for possession of the sea, the Dutch had improved the carrying ability of their ships and had simplified the rigging, so that even Sir Walter Raleigh reported that a Dutch ship of 200 tons was able to carry goods cheaper than a British ship “. . . by reason he hath but nine or ten mariners and we nearly thirty.” Also they “build every year near one thousand ships and not a timber tree growing in their own country.”3
Wealthy Dutch merchants formed the monopolistic Dutch East India Company and infiltrated the Spanish and Portuguese trade in the East. Their Dutch cogs rounded the Cape of Good Hope in Africa and headed for Java, where they loaded spices, fabric, and metals from the Orient. To the North the Dutch searched for the northeast route across the top of the world, founded Spitzbergen, and returned not only with furs but also with oil, bone, and ambergris from a lucrative whaling industry. These ships made Holland one of the richest nations of the seventeenth century.
The English East India Company competed with the Dutch both in the East and in the North. Eventually, the British brought India under its influence and practiced whaling in the open seas after the whales had learned to avoid the land. In time the British also dominated China’s tea and opium trade and outlived its Dutch rival.
In addition to the Dutch, the Scandinavians to the north also enjoyed the prosperity of a booming fur trade and whaling industry. The Americans, not to be outdone, perfected the art of whaling and developed a shipbuilding industry along the Eastern shore.
America entered sailing in the eighteenth century and remained competitive for many decades. Americans designed the fastest sailing ships abroad for the purpose of sailing opium, slaves, or anything else that could be traded for huge sums of money. In addition to these fast-running clippers there were fishing boats, whalers, and many other boats built for special purposes. The American coast from New York to Boston contained some of the finest shipbuilders in the world.
New Haven, then as now, was a town with a strong sea-going tradition. The sharpie, a boat peculiar to the area, was an early oyster boat. In addition, schooners and ketches made their way into New Haven harbor. Some of New Haven’s first families, the Townsends for example, made their money running produce to the Caribbean to feed the slaves and returning with rum and a little slave-running on the side. Most New Haven watermen, however, were fishermen working Long Island Sound much as they do today.
In the early nineteenth century, Robert Fulton’s steam engine began the end of the era of sail and made the African and Asian continents accessible. The Europeans were able to carve up the African continent and gain entry to China and India. Steam was quickly followed by the highly efficient diesel motor which most commercial craft still use today.
One other point that needs to be mentioned is the condition of the crew on sea-going vessels. Many of our students watch “Love Boat” on television or read romanticized accounts of trips to foreign lands. Recruiting officers even today are not very honest in depicting life as it really is aboard ship: “Join the Navy and see the world.” But life aboard sailing vessels was extremely hard. It was even more difficult if the captain was hard or incompetent. Sailors had the poorest quarters, little and often rotten or moldy food, and brackish, sometimes contaminated water. More men died from illness than from the everyday hazards of the sea.
To make matters worse, when at sea, crewmen were at the complete mercy of the captain who had the power of life or death over his men. And if a man survived years at sea and managed to get home, he was often cheated of his wages. Conditions were often so bad aboard ship that captains would not put into port in order to keep their crews. Sailors were often shanghaied by men called crimps and sometimes the seamen were slaughtered or left in a foreign port near the end of a voyage for their wages or their share of the profits. In the United States, it was not until the nineteenth century, after the publication of Dana’s
Two Years Before the Mast
, that the first laws protecting the ordinary seaman were passed.
The change to steam engines produced little change of conditions for the seamen. Stoking the massive boilers and cleaning out the ashes and soot were hot, dirty, and dangerous jobs. Further, the space occupied by the boilers and the fuel precluded better accommodations for the crew. The diesel engine and changing social mores allowed for improvement in living conditions for the sailors. Even today, however, stories abound of crews which have been mistreated aboard ship, and it is well for anyone thinking of signing upon the nearest tramp steamer to be wary.
As part of the unit’s experience students will be asked to keep a log. A log is a journal or diary where a person writes his or her impressions, thoughts, feelings, and dreams. A sailor’s log begins with observations about the weather, time of day, location, and surroundings. These writings were not just a whim on the part of early seamen. These observations were often central to a ship’s survival. Before discovery of accurate ways to determine longitude, many captains’ logs were kept secret because of the information they contained about tides, winds, currents, hidden reefs, and other dangers.
A log forces the writer to be more careful observer of things around him as well as his inner life. In order to derive the benefits of a log, it is best to establish a routine, daily, if possible.
Because a log is handled every day, it must be quite sturdy. It is best if the pages are sewn rather than glued or threaded with spiral wire or rings because the pages are less likely to come apart. Thicker covers tend to last longer than thin, paper covers. Notebooks fitting this description can be found inexpensively or if you choose, fancier bound books are available. Students in my classes have found logs for as little as one dollar, although several have decided to buy more fancy books.
Students will be given assignments to complete in the log, but more often students may write in the log whatever pleases them. There are many things students can put in their logs:
1. Students can use the log to picture their lives, not only with words, but with pictures or colors or things students feel give an honest presentation of their lives.
2. Students can use the log to write what they think and feel are important to them. For example: What would you like to do with your future? Are people pushing you in directions you don’t want to go? How? Why? Can you change this situation? How do you feel about selected people in your life? Would you like to change them? Yourself? In what way?
3. Students can use the log to write new ideas, those that just pop into the head or those which require careful development. Students may also write new ideas that they’ve read or heard about. The student may wish to expand these ideas or perhaps create a fantasy.
4. The student may write snatches of conversations he or she thinks clever, funny, or dramatic. Many writers use this technique to preserve ideas, and a student may find something he or she wishes to use in a future story. Students can jot down jokes, family stories. the latest rhyme or poem.
5. Vocabulary is a very important tool for a writer. Write down new words and their meanings, make puzzles of the words, or put down the new words in sentences.
6. Describe people, things, a favorite room, the cafeteria at lunch time, a best friend, a favorite grandparent, the lake on a rainy morning.
7. Put real items in the log: photographs of good friends or of a happy trip, past theater ticket stubs for a terrific time, a postcard from a foreign land or a cartoon the student enjoyed. Use rubber cement as the glue so it is possible to remove or rearrange items.
8. Experiment! Try a new kind of writing, a secret code, or some unusual poetry. Bend the conventions, break the rules, and see if you like it.
In addition to giving students ideas about how to use the log, show students examples from logs or diaries. Following are some brief examples from previously printed writings.
Below is a sample from
by Robin Graham, just a few days after the start of his trip:
“Just took down the mainsail . . . because of a squall. Enjoyed seawater bath—poured buckets of brine over my head. Gosh it’s good to feel clean. The smell in the cabin had disappeared, so it must have been me that caused it and not the cats.”
Later, when he is almost home, Robin writes:
“I can’t believe it . . . I don’t know what I really feel except that my stomach is all knotted up . . .”
In Joan Baez’s book,
, she writes about her mother:
“My mother—she can’t understand anything phony. She refuse to go to teas, prefers young people to older . . . When she runs on the beach, dressed in blue jeans and a T-shirt with her hair all down, she looks nineteen. She is fifty-four . . .”
Thor Heyerdahl writes in
“May 17. Norwegian Independence Day. Heavy sea and fair wind. I am cook today and found seven flying fish on deck, one squid on the cabin roof, and one unknown fish in Torstein’s sleeping bag . . .”
It is important to fix a specific amount of time each day to write in the log. The time can vary from ten minutes to one hour or more. Students should write even if they feel they’ve nothing to say. It’s important to establish the habit. The good writing will come. On the other hand, students should not be slaves to their logs either. If one misses a day here and there or if some days produce just a few ragged lines, no great harm has been done. Students should keep logbooks neat an write and draw in ink or magic marker only to prevent smudging.
I normally begin each year with regular log checks, collecting them for assignments or just reading through them, beginning at eight-to-ten day intervals and gradually expanding to once every six or eight weeks. In this way I hope to establish writing as a habit and also encourage students to continue their logs long after they’ve left the classroom.