Sailing through Summer on the Pioneer Schooner
The annual Pioneer Schooner Trip builds positive growth relationships and makes learning fun for the Harbor’s summer students.
The Harbor’s annual Pioneer Sailing trips offer the perfect way to turn an otherwise ordinary summer day into a fun, memorable, and powerful learning experience for New York City children and teens.
The schooner trips take place four times during the summer: twice for Harbor K.I.D.S. (ages 8-10), and twice for Harbor T.E.E.N. participants (ages 11 to 18). With a total enrollment of more than 200 students in our summer programs, the lucky 80 who are selected to go on one of the Pioneer Sailing Trips are chosen based on their interest and motivation, as well as their good behavior and leadership. It is a prize worth winning.
Tony Duke, founder of Boys & Girls Harbor, began the summer tradition of sailing way back in the 1930s, and continued throughout the camp years on Long Island. Many Harbor campers remember learning how to sail and navigate by the stars in one of Tony’s own craft.
For many years, Tony Duke’s son, Captain John O. Duke, has provided the funding that makes the Pioneer Schooner Trips possible for Harbor students. “This is an experience that many inner-city kids don’t get a chance to have,” says Program Director, Vanessa Taylor. “Not only do the children have fun, but the learning goes far beyond STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math].”
Sailing on History Itself
The schooner Pioneer is a piece of living history. Built in 1885 in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania, Pioneer was the first of only two American cargo sloops ever built with a wrought iron hull. After ten years of service in the Delaware Bay, she was re-rigged as a schooner for easier handling.
In 1930, Pioneer was sold to a buyer in Massachusetts. By then, she had been fitted with an engine and was no longer being used as a sailing vessel. She was sold again in 1966 to Russell Grinnell, Jr. of Gloucester, Massachusetts. Grinnell restored Pioneer’s schooner rig and rebuilt her hull in steel plating, leaving the iron frame intact. Upon his death in 1970, Grinnell donated Pioneer to the South Street Seaport Museum in Lower Manhattan.
Today, Pioneer is an award winning training vessel that is used to teach traditional maritime skills and the art of tall ship sailing. She has been delighting and educating children and adults in New York City’s waterways for nearly 50 years.
Not Just Another “Day Camp” Trip
Far from just a summer day-camp outing, the Pioneer Sailing Trip brings the Harbor S.A.I.L. educational model to life. Harbor S.A.I.L. provides opportunities for youth to expand their academic interests, build positive growth relationships with engaged and experienced adults, and strengthen students’ natural and acquired abilities while building their STEM skills.
Each trip begins with a talk about safety while on-board and on the water. Then, all hands on deck! Students learn to raise a sail, get close-up glimpses at marine life, and visit the various learning stations throughout the ship. As they embark from the South Street Seaport and sail around New York Harbor, they get a “seagull’s-eye” view of New York City. In the process, they learn about the history of their hometown, and how life in this city has been shaped and influenced by navigation over the centuries. Throughout the trip, they learn how to calculate nautical miles, and begin to understand how captains and sailors chart a course.
Why It Matters
The significance of activities like the Pioneer Schooner Trip intensifies every year as children face an increasingly competitive world, and opportunities for positive and enriching experiences—with each other and with engaged adults—seem to diminish. Our goal at the Harbor is to use every opportunity, including the summer months, to strengthen our communities by helping to create new generations of strong and competent individuals who are eager to explore many paths to success.
Activities like the Pioneer Schooner Trip are a perfect example of what the Harbor does so well: connecting Harlem students to the challenges and exhilaration of sailing. This is one of the ways in which we honor our past and strengthen our children’s future. We are forever grateful to Captain John and his wife, Beti, for continuing this noble Harbor tradition.