Above: Black Dog Tall Ships Shenandoah and Alabama out for a day sail in Vineyard Sound.  Photo Alison Shaw

A Student's Perspective

By Bella DiStefano, FUEL staff


There’s nothing in the world quite like sailing on a tall ship. Something about it can make you feel so alive and inspired. Maybe it’s the breeze – salty and sticky as it hits your skin. Or it could be the way the ocean rolls and lulls you to sleep each night – Mother Earth’s lullaby. It might be the stars and how they twinkle so brightly from the ship, sometimes you wish you could stay there forever, spending your nights lying on the deck, counting each and every one of them.


My most vivid memories come from my time aboard Shenandoah. I remember how I felt when I went sailing on her for the first time. I was terrified of sailing and had been too scared to even walk knee deep into the water at the beach. Then I got on Shenandoah and we started to sail. I remember the sails being lifted and waves starting to splash over the sides onto the deck. I thought the ship would surely tip over as it took turns leaning from side to side. But it didn’t, and I somehow managed to remain calm and just watched as the scenery changed from shore to shore, seagulls flew and squawked above, and clouds cleared from the sky.

Island school children jumping from the bowsprit in Vineyard Haven Harbor.. Photo Alison Shaw

Amazing as the stars and ocean breeze were, I cannot talk about Shenandoah without mentioning the extraordinary people I’ve met during my weeks aboard the ship. I still keep in touch with some today, including my now best friend. We’d spend days learning and laughing – campers and crew. We’d write, craft, and learn things about sailing, like how to make different kinds of knots, and then we’d all jump off the ship’s rail into the “pool.”

At night, after dinner, we’d change into our cozy clothes and Captain Bob would read us a story. First, he’d tell us about the weather conditions from the day, and what that meant for sailing, then he’d read a story to the campers. Often, he read from Dauber, a book by John Masefield. As he read, everything would become quiet. The heat from the day subsided, kerosene lanterns flickered to life, and a small breeze would occasionally pass through the main saloon.


As Captain Bob’s future on Shenandoah is uncertain, those moments, stories, and friendships are the things that I will never forget. It makes me appreciate all the more that FUEL is being given the opportunity to carry on that legacy, keeping tall ships as a wonderful tradition for Martha’s Vineyard.


Thinking about the new FUEL ship, I imagine being able to sail not just for a week, but for an entire semester. I’m spending my last year of college wishing I had done it differently, wishing I had studied abroad or taken some kind of internship related to my major. But I am happy to work with FUEL so future students, creative writing and art history students like me, might not have to settle for learning about the famous Roman forums from a blurry image projected onto a screen in a classroom. Instead, they’ll be able to walk among those ruins in real life.


FUEL’s program has the chance to benefit so many students taking many majors – marine biology, oceanography, astronomy, archaeology, and so much more, as well as developmental skills such as leadership and compassion – all while expanding their worldviews. This will be a program for all students, and especially beneficial for those who have experienced trauma, social and emotional challenges, or learning disabilities. 


I have been so lucky to have been given the opportunity to work with FUEL, and I am excited to be a part of this program as the curriculum is developed and the ship is built.


Photo Bella DiStefano