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Testing the Waters

Testing the Waters
October 2019

The Cassidy Cup spotlights Lowcountry Maritime School’s program to teach children boat building

As part of its educational programs, the Lowcountry Maritime School teaches fourth and fifth graders to build rowboats, which are later transformed into sailboats that compete in the annual fall Cassidy Cup race series.

Five, four, three, two, one, start! A brightly colored fleet of single-person skiffs jumps to life as skippers trim in the sails and point the boats toward Sullivan’s Island. The Cassidy Cup—a series of sailboat races that takes place from late summer to early fall, culminates with a mid-October race up the Intracoastal Waterway, from Crab Bank Island past Sullivan’s and Isle of Palms to Georgetown, 60 miles northeast.

The Cassidy Cup is not a typical race series. The boats—12-foot Bevin’s Skiffs—were built by local school children as part of an experiential education program run by the Lowcountry Maritime School (LMS), a nonprofit that uses boat building to teach STEM skills to fourth and fifth graders at Charleston-area schools. The simple wooden skiffs built by the students are later transformed into sailboats so adult captains can race them.

Most of the Cassidy Cup skippers are LMS volunteers who help the school children build the boats. The sailors impart science, technology, math, and engineering skills by showing students how to use a tape measure and teaching them about compound curves and shear force. They instruct them on how to use geometry to calculate the angles for cutting the plywood panels that form the hulls of the boats. And they teach the students about buoyancy and propulsion when the rowboats are ready to go in the water. In the process, the skippers empower the young boaters to have confidence in their use of hand and power tools and to appreciate the value of seeing a project through to completion. Since LMS was founded in 2014, its staff and volunteers have implemented the program in 12 schools—public and private—touching the lives of nearly 1,000 youngsters.

The Cassidy Cup is held the Thursday and Friday before the Wooden Boat Show in Georgetown on October 19 and 20.

This fall, the nonprofit is partnering with Ashley Hall, Sanders-Clyde Elementary, and James B. Edwards Elementary. LMS began by offering after-school activities and is evolving to provide more in-school programs. It’s not the only change for the organization. Founder Tripp Brower, who is departing in November for a two-year sailing trip around the world, recently transferred the helm to Sam Gervais, a former high school history teacher. “We’ve developed a curriculum that’s carefully aligned with South Carolina state standards for math and science,” Gervais says. “The teachers we work with welcome this hands-on approach.”

The group administers tests to measure the program’s efficacy. “We’ve documented significant improvement for these students in math and hard science,” Gervais says, “but also in soft skills, such as teamwork and confidence. That’s really encouraging.”

In addition, LMS partners with Famous Adventures to run a weekly, after-school program. In the spring, Charleston Parks Conservancy helped the nonprofit stage a boat launch at Colonial Lake, where students put the boats in the water for the first time. “That was huge because having 18 colorful boats and all those students gathered at the lake on a Saturday garnered us a lot of visibility,” Brower notes. “People love to see these boats, and when they learn about the program, they want to get involved.”

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Photographs courtesy of Brandon Clark