The winners of a statewide fifth-grade essay contest were recognized by Dr. Nancy Targett, interim dean of the College of Marine Studies and interim director of the Delaware Sea Grant College Program, and the honorable Ruth Ann Minner, governor of the state of Delaware, in a special ceremony at the University of Delaware's Coast Day festival on Sunday, October 2, at the Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes. The essay contest is sponsored by the Delaware Sea Grant College Program and 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. The teachers of the winning students also received resource materials for use in their classrooms. This year, students were asked to imagine themselves as captain of a ship caught in a major storm in the Delaware Bay prior to the age of electronics -- from 1700 to 1900. They were to describe their ship, cargo, and fate. Essays were judged on originality, accuracy, and completeness.
Ryan Wells, of East Millsboro Elementary School in Millsboro, earned the top prize of a $100 savings bond. In his winning essay, he described what it was like to be the captain of an 85-foot schooner that was transporting barley and live poultry from the Broadkill River in Delaware to the Port of Maine, when it got caught in a storm in the Delaware Bay. His ship capsized and foundered, taking the lives of several of his crew members.
"We sailed on into the night with the storm tossing the ship side to side," Wells wrote. "With no control of the ship, the gale winds pushed us off course toward Hen and Chickens Shoal. Turbulent waves tossed the ship to and fro until she later capsized and foundered. Here is where this voyage ends as S.S. Ryan lies to rest taking with her our beloved first mate, Skully, and crew Omolly and Smitty."
Wells's teacher, Joan Balback, has had her class participate in the essay contest for several years. "This year, the topic of the essay contest allowed the children to be very creative with their writing," said Balback. "They had to pretend they were a ship's captain and then create an imaginary situation. It was a unique opportunity to integrate facts about the Delaware Bay with a fictional scenario in a writing project."
Anna Chisholm, a student in Marilyn Vallejo's class at St. Ann School in Wilmington, won the second-place award of a $75 savings bond. Chisholm imagined herself as captain of a ship that was caught in a storm as they were delivering "rice and indigo to Philadelphia." The crew let the mainsail down just as they were beginning to capsize and "amazingly, their ship remained afloat." Next time, Chisholm wrote that they "will be more careful to look at the sky because "a red sky at night is a sailor's delight, a red sky in the morning is a sailor man's warning."
Winner of the third prize -- a $50 savings bond -- was Emily Saylor, a student in Robin Hall's class at East Millsboro Elementary School. Her ship, Emma Jean, was bringing wheat, window glass, and millstone from Ireland to Philadelphia when the skies grew dark near Cape Henlopen. Her crew was "rescued by the men of the Henlopen Lifesaving Station" but neither her "ship nor cargo made it out of the Delaware Bay."
Bryan Merrill, Kaitlyn Frantz, and Stephen Lee Sharp received honorable mentions. Merrill also is in Vallejo's class at St. Ann School. Although his 140-foot sailing schooner survived a storm at the mouth of the Delaware Bay, his crew had to throw part of his cargo overboard.
Frantz and Sharp are both in Hall's class at East Millsboro Elementary School. Frantz described how her ship, S.S. Kye -- her life and pride -- was wrecked during a storm in the Delaware Bay. Sharp's ship, which he named Lightning because it was "fast, long, and powerful," drifted off course in a storm, only to land on the shores of the Delaware Bay.
For information about next year's competition, teachers should contact Bill Hall, marine education specialist for the Delaware Sea Grant Marine Advisory Service. Hall's number is (302) 645-4253, and his e-mail address is email@example.com.
First Place Essay — 2005 Coast Day Fifth-Grade Essay Contest
“The Voyage of S.S. Ryan”
by Ryan Wells
Teacher: Mrs. Joan Balback
East Millsboro Elementary School, Millsboro, Delaware
1852 September 27
On board this 85-foot schooner (built in Milford, Delaware), my crew of five and I set sail down the Broadkill River. As we passed through the Port of Lewes, Delaware, rumors were that a severe storm was approaching from the north. Two ships and many men have been reported as lost at sea. Skully, my first mate, was manning the sails as we started up the Delaware Bay. There, we would pick up our cargo, which included barley and live poultry from Milford, Delaware. Our destination was to deliver these goods to the Port of Maine within 30 days. At a speed of 7 knots, we were sure to make perfect time, providing the winds held steady.
Brady was up in the crow's nest on watch for sandbars or shallows. This was an important job, and only a captain's most trusted hand was given this job. If caught on a sandbar, a ship would remain aground until the tide rises enough to release the haul.
Arriving at the granary in Milford, Delaware, we were loaded by the dockhands. Within hours, we were headed back down the Delaware Bay, all hands on board. Omolly, Bernett, and Smitty were sent below to secure the cargo, while Skully and Brady were manning the sails.
I, Captain Ryan, was keeping an eye on the barometer, for the barometric pressure was dropping and dropping fast. The winds were increasing at incredible speed. Waves were now crashing the bow and spraying the deck. Our fate was now at the hands of the open sea. Tension rose as the storm's fury was now upon us.
I quickly glanced at the barometer, which now read 28.2. Waves crashed the port side and were well over 15 to 20 feet. As the sails ripped from their mast, Smitty was yelling, "Man overboard!" Later to learn, it was my first mate Skully. What sails were left were now tattered. The ship and crew were now at the mercy of the storm. We sailed on into the night with the storm tossing the ship side-to-side.
With no control of the ship, the gale winds pushed us off course toward Hen and Chickens Shoal. Turbulent waves tossed the ship to and fro until she later capsized and foundered. Here is where this voyage ends as S.S. Ryan lies to rest, taking with her our beloved first mate, Skully, and crew Omolly and Smitty.
Bernett, Brady, and I were washed ashore later to recall the perfect storm.