A return to tradition at alternative school

By Liza Tewel

Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Wednesday, February 2, 2000

A landlocked former elementary school located five miles north of Green Lake, the nearest body of water, may seem an odd place in which to resurrect a 60 year-old junior high school maritime tradition of building and racing model sailboats the size of large bread boxes.

But Seattle's Alternative School No. 1 was the natural choice.

A nautical essence permeates this K-8 public school, located just east of Northgate Mall. A cargo container full of canoes awaiting springtime excursions sits at one end of the playground. Yacht-club burgees line the wall above the office copier.

The school's own yacht club - the only registered public school yacht club in the country, according to principal Ron Snyder - flies a burgee emblazoned with a dog bone. The symbol is used to designate the Clancy 14 dinghy fleet the school sails out of the Center for Wooden Boats, a not-for-profit, boat-hire, restoration facility and museum on south Lake Union.

Snyder, a sailor and member of the CWB board, paved the way for AS No. l's participation in this history-laden pilot program initially developed for the Los Angeles School District.

By 1927, LA's springtime model sailboat regatta boasted 700 entries, 300 of which were built from the same plans used by the students at AS No. 1. The plans were drawn by Seattle naval architect Ted Geary to a 1/12th scale of his legendary 39-foot racing schooner Pirate, which was presented to the Center for Wooden Boats last fall.

Built by Lake Union Drydocks in 1925, Pirate amassed an amazing string of victories on the East and West coasts. Her return to Seattle is iconic to the Northwest's maritime history.

The model boat-building program brings the story of "Pirate" full circle.

In its front-page recap of the 1927 spring regatta, the Los Angeles Herald lauded the model-boat program as a course of study that "loosens the latent thought and imaginations and directs the student's vision into realms as yet undiscovered and unconquered."

Snyder selected instructor Jonathon Stevens' class in which to foster the re-emerging discipline that will eventually include a shop manual for use across the district.

Stevens spent the summers of his youth sailing the waters off Martha's Vineyard before traveling west to receive his master's degree in sculpture from the University of Oregon. He's been teaching at AS No. 1 for 14 years.

When his two dozen homeroom students were offered the chance last fall to participate in the pilot program, which is funded through grants, half took up the challenge.

Every Thursday morning, the 13- and 14-year-old students pour over plans and boards of sugar pine while a corps of adult volunteers from the Center for Wooden Boats offer advice and encouragement.

The project is much more than playtime with toy boats. Social skills are developed. Teamwork is negotiated.

Sarah says the name of the boat she and her partner Tom are building will be Sea Bunny; Tom claims it's Sea Rabbit. They both, however, agree the hull will be a menacing black.

They spell each other off and the result is smooth and unhurried.

Thirteen-year-old Djaerik, whose poker-face expression and dark hair contrast with the peacock-feather color of his eyes, hunkers over his inverted hull, concentrating on the long grooves his chiseling makes.

He's not ready to name his boat, but he knows he'll paint it red and black - his favorite colors.

Future boat designers? Perhaps. They're already forming opinions on vessel engineering. When asked his view of the current America's Cup challenge. Djaerick answers without hesitation, "Well, that boat that split in half - some idiot made it too thin."

In Stevens' class, geometry, engineering, basic math and woodworking skills all come into play. The students will come to understand basic seamanship and a touch of atmospheric sciences.

"Pond" trials for AS No. l's fleet of Geary-designed scale-model sailboats are set for April.

The boats may splash down in Green Lake. the Pacific Science Center's reflecting pools, or Boeing's small lake near the old Longacres racetrack - anyplace with a bit of wind and water deep enough to accommodate their 6-inch deep keels.

If all goes well, a regatta is scheduled for May in Portage Bay.

Plans for the full-sized, 39-foot Pirate, the 39-inch version used in AS No. l's pilot program, as well as other classic scale-model designs are available from the Center for Wooden Boats.

All proceeds go to the CWB Pirate Restoration Fund. For more information call the Center for Wooden Boats at 206-382-2628.

Liza Tewell writes weekly on boating and sailing. She can be reached at lizatewell@hotmailcom