Adventures on the Black Dolphin, Part 1

December 14, 2018

On September 16, Typhoon Mangkhut shouldered its way through the skies just south of Hong Kong. Even now, three months on, the city is still littered with mementos of the passage of the strongest storm to hit the city since records begun. Hong Kong’s parks are disheveled with the branches, stumps and root balls of downed trees, and the harbours' shipyards are still working through a backlog of variously sunken, unmoored, and dismasted boats.


The wind and swell came largely from the east so anchorages in Sai Kung and Hebe Haven suffered greatly. Nestled between Hong Kong island and Ap Lei Chau, Aberdeen was better protected. Our storm precautions were sufficient and Black Dolphin stayed on her moorings, but she did take damage. The strong easterly winds put great tension on her forward mooring lines, dislodging her whisker chains from the bowsprit, and she rolled and crashed against her neighbours in the rows, breaking some planks in her sides. Not only was Black Dolphin injured, but so was her shipyard. It was two weeks before they were able to repair their own damage enough to work on ours.


Although this kept us from serving the school, we were lucky; all of our damage was above the waterline and Black Dolphin was never in danger of sinking. Other boats in the harbour came loose from their moorings or were badly damaged by neighboring vessels that did. The planking was repaired by experienced shipwrights while we repaired the more minor damage to our whiskers. After two months of repairs, we really could not wait to get back in the water for classes again .

 TCI students heading to the beach at South Bay


TCI was the first group to come out with us and a blustery day saw us seeking the shelter of the beach at South Bay. The students really enjoyed swimming and fossicking on the beach. For once with TCI it didn’t rain, a real bonus.


 Fourth graders braving the perils of the deep

Grade Four students were the next to go out with us. For this group of explorers, the Black Dolphin became a galley of the Hellenic League carrying a group of Spartan and Athenian sailors. Their task was to chart a newly discovered island (Lamma) and to search for signs of civilization in the hope of creating new trade opportunities. We aim to bring to life what students have been learning in the classroom. In this case, we sailed past the eastern end of Lamma so that students can see for themselves the thin line where the sea meets the sky and the world disappears. We scoffed at the idea of a round Earth as proposed by rabble rousers like Pythagoras and remind them of the dangers of sea monsters that dwell out of the sight of land. We asked the students to come up with important features to mark on their charts such as sand beaches to haul out a galley overnight. When asked what we need to look for to determine if the island is inhabited, the three most common answers are rubbish, buildings and smoke from domestic fires. Our hardworking fourth graders did take a break from their charting work to enjoy a swim at lunch time.


Preparing a plankton net for a trawl.

Apart from the obvious advantages of experiential learning, there are other benefits to adventures aboard the Black Dolphin. Many students in Hong Kong are “hot housed” and live in a world mainly of the mind. Aboard the Black Dolphin they learn they can cope with physical challenges as well….the wind, rain and waves. They encourage each other to brave the perils of the deep (sharks, jellyfish, salt water) by jumping off the Black Dolphin and it is such a pleasure to watch students gain in confidence on subsequent trips.


 Studying plankton with a field microscope


Next to visit the Black Dolphin was Grade 2 who had been studying plant-animal interactions in class. Amongst other activities, they explored the harbour identifying predatory birds like the egret, night heron, great grey heron and the kite. All the students conducted a plankton trawl and then examined their catch under field microscopes. They learned that plankton as a group comprise both plants and animals and contribute to more than 50 per cent of the world’s oxygen. They are the support base for most life found in the ocean. Needless to say, Grade 2 can hardly wait to actually sail on the Black Dolphin when they go into Grade 3.


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