Reading Ruth Bass’s recent column on Cape Cod whale watching brought back memories of a whale watch voyage of my own. Living on the Cape for 30 years, I sailed on many boats and took more than a few whale watch excursions; but one stands out as special.
My companions on the trip were 100 seventh grade students along with assorted other teachers and chaperones. We left from Provincetown on a sunny late spring morning all carefully medicated with Dramamine to forestall any unpleasant seasickness. Yes, some of the folks on board were born sailors, but one can never be too careful when crowds of preteens are involved.
The trip was part of our science curriculum and counted as one of our field trips for the year; but we all knew it was more than that. It was part party and part pleasure cruise too. And it was a pleasure to be out on the water on a beautiful day with a group of people you’ve come to understand and appreciate. In terms of field trip organization, it scored a "10" in terms of control because there was absolutely no chasing down accidentally lost or purposely "lost" students. No one considered going overboard to elude the chaperones, any of whom would have dived in right behind the escapee.
No, it was a day to hang out with your friends, do some scientific observation, and basically have a memorable time. Many of the students had been whale watching before, and many had not. Some were seasoned sailors and swimmers, and some were not.
One of our students used a wheelchair to get around, and he had the greatest time rolling around on the deck. I never saw him smile so much. Sitting in the midst of his classmates, he was just one of the guys. It was truly like a great big family outing, and a lot of cares and worries were left back on the dock. Of course we saw whales too; but that wasn’t what made the trip special.
Unfortunately that was our last whale watching field trip. A new principal decided these peninsula-bound students needed to see the big city, so out next science trip was to the New England Aquarium in Boston. That was a logistical nightmare!
The other sailing excursion that floats to the surface of a memory locker filled with thousands of special moments and days is the great circle cruise of Pontoosuc Lake. It’s not like the Circle Line trip around Manhattan, though that was a great ride too. For a kid whose family picnicked at Pontoosuc or Onota most sunny summer Sundays, a ride on the "Sheila" boat was like the mocha icing on the chocolate cake my mom often made for picnics. The motorboat that had originally belonged to Andrew Carnegie, who sailed his guests around Stockbridge Bowl, gave paying customers a smooth sail around the lake. I don’t remember the cost of the ride (since my pop was paying), but Capt. Vogel once suggested to him it would be cheaper to just buy the boat.
I swam at Pontoosuc all the time, but gliding over the surface in this elegant, canopy-covered craft put us right up there with the Whitneys and the Vanderbilts. I loved feeling the breeze in my face as we cruised along the shoreline of the lake, which in memory seemed so large, and in reality seems so tiny. But that’s how it is with memories, the older they are the better they seem.
Anne Horrigan Geary is a regular Eagle contributor.