The winners of a statewide fifth-grade essay contest were recognized by Dr. Carolyn Thoroughgood, dean of the College of Marine Studies, and Governor Ruth Ann Minner in a special ceremony at the University of Delaware’s Coast Day festival on Sunday, October 5, at UD’s Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes. The essay contest is designed to spark youngsters’ interest in the ocean.
The winning students, who were selected based on the accuracy and originality of their essays, received savings bonds and other awards as a gift from the Pilots’ Association for the Bay and River Delaware. The teachers of the winning students also received resource materials for use in their classrooms.
This year, students were asked to write about the following theme: “A Day in the Life of a Delaware River Pilot.” The students were asked to imagine themselves as a pilot, who was to board a large commercial ship at the mouth of the Delaware Bay. In their essay, the students were to describe their ship and what they saw and experienced on their trip up the river to the Port of Wilmington.
Delaware River pilots are responsible for guiding ships through the narrow shipping channel from the mouth of the Delaware Bay to ports upstream and back. River pilots are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year — even on holidays. When they get a call that their services are needed, they are escorted to the ship on a river boat, where the pilot climbs a dangling rope ladder to board the moving vessel. Once on board, the pilot goes directly to the bridge and takes control of the ship.
Katie Hughes, of East Millsboro Elementary School in Millsboro, earned the top prize of a $100 savings bond. “I was very excited to win first prize. It was fun to learn about the boats and the pilot’s job, but I think I was most surprised to find out about all the different animals that the pilots see in the bay,” said Hughes.
In her winning essay, Hughes, whose favorite subject is writing, became the pilot of Old Thunder, which was carrying bananas to the Port of Wilmington. She described the many animals she saw along the way— from playful seals to a hammerhead shark to pelicans “diving down into the water to catch fish for their lunch.” She also described how she used a global positioning device to help her stay on course when the weather changed to rain.
Hughes’s teacher, Joan Balback, has had her class participate in the essay contest for the past several years. “I think the essay contest is a worthwhile project,” said Balback. “The students have the opportunity to write an essay, and, at the same time, learn about the environment they live in.”
Balback helped bring the topic to life by inviting Dick Buckaloo, a Delaware River pilot, to speak with her class. The students learned firsthand about a river pilot’s job, from the wildlife that lives in the bay to the size of the ships that come through the Delaware Bay, and the different types of cargoes that the ships carry.
Parthenia Moisiadis, a student at Wilmington Friends School, won the second-place award of a $75 savings bond. Her teachers are Suzanne Powers and Katrina Clark. Moisiadis was responsible for piloting a boat that had “come from Morocco along with clementines,” which is a popular fruit import to the Port of Wilmington.
Winner of the third prize — a $50 savings bond — was Sean Foley, a student in Marilyn Vallejo’s class at St. Ann School in Wilmington. In his essay, Foley described the split-second timing that the pilot needs to board the commercial ship in the middle of the bay. “The container ship is not stopped. It is going the same pace as the pilot boat. There is a gap in between the two ships, and you must jump at the exact time,” he wrote.
Lindsey Webb, Haley Harris, and Tyler Street received honorable mentions. Webb and Harris were also in Marilyn Vallejo’s class at St. Ann. Webb was the pilot of Kraskino, which was “a freighter bringing in meat to the Port of Wilmington,” and Harris piloted Proliv Viktoriya, a ship whose cargo was apple juice. Harris also described how trucks must transport the juice to its destination once it is unloaded at the dock. Tyler Street, a student in Joan Balback’s class at East Millsboro described the enormous size of the boats — over 3 1/2 football fields long and 40 feet deep. His ship was “full of refrigerated vessels carrying fruits and vegetables from Central America.”
The essay contest was sponsored by the UD Sea Grant College Program. For information about next year’s competition, teachers should contact Bill Hall, marine education specialist for the UD Sea Grant Marine Advisory Service. Hall’s number is (302) 645-4253, and his e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
First Place — 2003 Coast Day Fifth-Grade Essay Contest
“A Day in the Life of a Delaware River Pilot”
by Katie Hughes
Teacher: Ms. Joan Balback
East Millsboro Elementary School, Millsboro, Delaware
My job as a riverboat pilot can be very exciting and sometimes dangerous. Today, I will be traveling to the Port of Wilmington to deliver fruit. Come along with my crew and I as we begin our adventure.
When we arrived at the Cape Henlopen dock, my crew and I boarded the pilot boat to take us out to the commercial ship waiting in deeper waters. The Delaware Bay was very choppy because the wind was so strong. We started the motor and took off with great speed. In the distance the commercial boat looked beautiful. It was navy blue with white letters spelling out Old Thunder. When we reached the ladder, it was very hard to climb because the waves kept moving the boat back and forth. Once we got aboard, the sweet smell of bananas filled the air. I knew this ride was going to be fast because we were not carrying heavy cargo.
As we navigated up the bay, I saw all kinds of marine life. While looking at the buoys, I saw many playful seals. They were jumping off the buoys. One came right up to the stern. When I was looking out into the bay, I saw a hammerhead shark and some sand sharks. Their fins were slicing through the water just like a knife. Lastly, I saw many pelicans flying overhead. Some were diving down into the water to catch fish for their lunch. Seeing all these animals made time go by very fast. We were now in Smyrna, where the bay turns into the Delaware River.
The weather started to change. One minute it was sunny and the next minute it was raining! The strong currents were trying to pull us off course. Luckily, we stayed on course by using the global positioning system. When we reached the Brandywine Channel, we looked for the lighthouse. It stood tall and beautiful on the rocks. Thank goodness, the light was not red. If the light was red, we would not have been able to pass through. The water would have been too shallow. The water in the Brandywine Channel is 40 feet deep and 1,000 feet wide. When we finally reached the Port of Wilmington, I was very surprised. I thought it would take more than 4 hours because our ship only went 15 miles per hour.
Once we reached the dock, the men started to unload all the bananas. By now I was starving and wanted to keep some bananas for myself! I had a long busy day as a riverboat pilot. I won’t forget all those marine animals and the terrifying weather aboard Old Thunder.