Video: Maine School of Science and Mathematics

From landlubbers to seafarers

Magnet school students spend a week on Burnt Island
Posted:  Monday, June 3, 2013 - 9:00am

It was a foggy morning on Burnt Island when the Pirates and the YOLO’s prepared for battle. Not a battle of arms, but a battle of mental and learning challenges.

The Pirates and YOLO's (which stands for “You Only Live Once”) were two groups of students from The Maine School of Science and Mathematics (MSSM) in Limestone. On May 27, the group came down from Limestone for a week on Burnt Island.

Luke Shorty, the executive director of the MSSM, picked Burnt Island as the perfect destination for the students after speaking with Elaine Jones, the education director at the Department of Marine Resources.

“My fiancee’s (Lisa Smith) parents are Herb and Doris Smith, who built the Eastwind schooner, and they knew Elaine, and they put us touch,” Shorty said. “This is a great place; and the Department of Marine Resources has a fantastic program.”

Shorty then grinned, and said, “I love Boothbay. My fiancee and I are getting married next week at the Botanical Gardens.”

Students were split into two groups to make activities easier. The group who named themselves the YOLOs sailed aboard the Eastwind May 30. There they learned about navigation by GPS, charts and by the skies, how to use a sextant and how to raise and lower the sails (along with the name for each sail).

The Eastwind sailed around the harbor, passing Ram Island and going near Seal Rocks. Four out of five sails were hoisted by the students.

Captain Tom Smith, who owns the Eastwind along with his wife Jennifer, remarked that teenagers were great to have aboard because it made raising the sails so much easier.

“You either need the winch or a lot of muscle to get those sails up,” said Smith, as he drove the ferry boat Medline around the Eastwind. “One person could try to hoist them, but it wouldn’t work; they’d just be dangling off the rope and the sails would go nowhere.”

That same day, the Pirates were down at the tide pools and mud flats of Burnt Island, leaning about marine life with Jones. They dug using clam hoes and shovels, caught bloodworms and sandworms and looked for clams.

When students Brynn Doherty and Brittany Clark were digging with a clam hoe on the flats, they found what at first they thought was a clam. Jones came over and showed them that it was in fact just a clam shell where several smaller worms had taken up residency.

The previous day, which was wet and rainy, the YOLO's dug in the flats and the Pirates took to the seas.

“Even though it was wet and kind of cold it was still worth it,” Pirate Noah Ransom said. “I enjoyed learning about navigating and sailing and it’s inspired me to take up sailing in my spare time … and what to do with my spare time is something I’ve never even thought about before,” he said. Ransom was on the Schooner Eastwind May 29.

Fellow pirate Nicholas Chouinard agreed. “It was still fun. We learned about navigating and longitude and latitude and how to use sextants.”

YOLO Lillian Costello had never been to the coast before, and was glad her group’s sailing day was warm and dry. “I come from the middle of Maine, and I really like it here on the coast,” Costello said. “My first time ever sailing was Tuesday night.”

“Being a YOLO is awesome,” said Patricia Walsh, Costello's partner for the day. “I’d rather be sailing today than down at the tide pools, which are full of slimy things with creepy eyes.”

The Maine School of Science and Mathematics is a public, residential high school for kids across Maine and around the world. “We're a community of enthusiastic learners,” Shorty said. “We're mathematicians and musicians, engineers and entertainers, biologists and bloggers, writers and readers.”

For questions about MSSM, call 207-325-3600 or visit

For information about the Department of Marine Resources or their programs, visit

Katrina Clark can be reached at 207-633-4620 or Follow her on Twitter: @BBRegisterClark or on Facebook at