The Captain's log

Learning on the Black Dolphin

by Captain Mike Bridges

The Black Dolphin is the most exciting and engaging classroom anyone will find in Hong Kong. Seeing the faces of our students light up with wonder as we sail out on yet another educational adventure is what makes this job so rewarding.


Our Grade Three students had been learning in class about geological landforms formed through wave erosion, hydraulic action and gravity. It's one thing to learn it in class and quite another to see it in action. So off we go on the Black Dolphin to the Ninepin Islands where we were to investigate the coastal structures that they had learned about in class such as sea caves and stacks.  However, weather was not on our side and we didn’t get up as close as we would have liked. But during our scouting expeditions along the coast and up to the Ninepin Islands we did discover some fabulous sea caves and stacks. Alas, our Grade Three students continued to have bad luck with the weather as a follow up sail some months later to take practical measurements of tides and currents was cancelled.


Our clever Grade Five students went out with me on the Black Dolphin twice to take samples of sea water from various locations between Aberdeen and Turtle Bay on Lamma Island. They were investigating the physical properties of seawater such as temperature, PH, alkalinity and salinity.


After learning about marine pollution in class, our Grade Four students then sailed to Lamma Island and conducted a beach clean up near Mo Tat Wan, classifying the types of rubbish they collected according to a system they learnt in class.


We only take students out on the Black Dolphin from Grade 3 upwards. However, we also do many marine science-related activities with the younger classes. For these activities, we moor the Black Dolphin alongside the Aberdeen Boat Club. Kindergarten came for a tour of the boat and to use the plankton nets to catch plankton for examination. Grade 1 came to visit dressed as pirates after learning about Hong Kong’s most famous pirate Cheung Po Tsai and re-enacted his rise to pirate captain aboard the Black Dolphin. They started as galley hands and learnt how to tap the weevils out of hard tack (simulated with poppy crackers). They then progressed to deck hands and tried their skills at scrubbing the deck which saw them promoted to sail hand where they helped Jay raise our mighty genoa! After this trial they were ready to be captains and learn about steering and navigation in the cockpit.

Grade Two students had been studying patterns in the natural world and took the opportunity to visit the Black Dolphin. Aboard we had stations set up so that students could look for patterns amongst live plankton samples as well as observe and record bilateral, radial and other symmetry in specimens such as fish, starfish and nautilus shells.


The Grade Fours came back on the Black Dolphin for adventure. Unlike the Grade Threes who had bad luck with the weather, the Grade Fours were blessed with beautiful blue skies and perfect conditions. They came back for two more trips to study environmental conservation, explore sail theory and transfer of energy. Students learnt about sails generating lift just like the wing of a plane and took the helm to steer the boat so as to achieve laminar flow of the wind across the sails.

While studying the Age of Exploration students from the Grade Four class were split into two groups. The ‘indigenous’ group was landed on Round Island to create a small model village. Meanwhile, the ‘colonist’ group arrived later, under sail to simulate the long ocean crossing that European explorers would have experienced, and also to make them newcomers relative to their counterparts in the ‘indigenous’ group. While waiting, both groups elaborated the details of their societies with exercises like flag making and creating costumes. Once reintroduced to each other the teachers directed the students through exercises to simulate the first meeting of two groups of people from different cultures. The students had to decide how they would engage the other group: would they engage in diplomacy, trade, violent confrontation, or attempted integration? Simple games modeled important world events like economics and the spread of disease between the two populations.

The Grade Five students have been very concerned about the impact on the environment the industrial incinerator to be built on Shek Kwu Chau Island, off Lantau, might make. So they embarked on a long-term project to track the effects, if any, on the quality of local waters. This is a long sail and the two trips we made were in hot, windy conditions. I was really impressed at how responsible and mature the students were and how much research they have already made prior to the trip. The crew and I had installed a saltwater deckwash system and the students used this every 15 minutes or so to create saltwater rain on the deck to cool off. This really helped students weather the conditions.   


I am already looking forward to the next adventure onboard the Black Dolphin with our very curious students as we set sail on another voyage of discovery. 

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