Three Berkshire County teenagers return to the United States today from a three-week educational ocean cruise that included a lesson in survival at sea.

Emily and Rebecca Silva, of Williamstown, and Andrew Ringie, of Pittsfield, were among 90 sophomores, juniors and seniors from a private Connecticut school aboard an exploratory ship hammered by a hurricane on the way to Antarctica.

The M.S. Silver Explorer, carrying the students from Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Conn., was whacked by a 30-foot wave that heavily damaged the bridge and temporarily knocked the luxury liner off course. The captain and three crew members were injured.

Except for sea sickness, the students escaped unharmed during the harrowing ordeal in the Southern Ocean on Jan. 12, according Mary Ringie, Andrew's mother.

Once the ship escaped the storm's grip, it continued to sail toward Antarctica as planned and returned to Ushaia, Argentina, late last week. Ringie, the Silva sisters and the rest of the sea-going adventurers are scheduled to fly into New York City this morning and return to the Hotchkiss campus this afternoon.

While the students had limited ability to text, blog or use other forms of Internet communication to reach their parents and assure them they were safe, Mary Ringie will feel better when Andrew is on American soil.

"I'll be really happy to hear from him when he's finally landed in New York," she said.

Hotchkiss School officials also kept parents electronically updated on the status of the ship and their children.

Ringie and Margaret Oxtoby, the mother of Emily and Rebecca Silva, praised the ship's crew for keeping their children safe and providing a trip of a lifetime.

"I have tremendous respect for the captain and crew and how they handled the situation," said Oxtoby. "The students had an amazing, transforming adventure -- and not just because of the storm -- that was a gift of experience and discovery."

The trip began Dec. 29, primarily financed by Forrest Mars Jr., an alumnus of Hotchkiss and heir to the Mars candy bar company. Mars was among the adults who accompanied the students, along with the ship's crew. They flew to Santiago, Chile, and traveled to Patagonia, a South American region shared by Chile and Argentina, to explore caves and visit a national park, the New York Times reported.

The cruise left the port of Ushaia, making a stop on South Georgia Island to walk among elephant seals and king penguins and visit a whaling station.

The final destination of mainland Antarctica was stopped short by the storm, with students only able to set foot on the outer islands of the southern-most continent.

Despite being shaken by the wave attack, Ringie says her son remains awed and inspired by the trip.

"He's always the one in our family to be the unique adventurer," she said.

Next month, Andrew Ringie and his two older siblings may want to keep close tabs on their parents as they embark on their first ocean cruise.

While Mary Ringie isn't worried about encountering her own stormy adventure, said noted, "You can never underestimate Mother Nature."

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.