On a clear and chilly morning, 15 energetic eighth-graders dallied on the deck of the We Seven at its berth near Channel Islands National Monument headquarters in the Ventura Marina.
They were away from school for the day to learn about boats and the sea and the tidal life of Southern California's coastal islands.
All were oceanography students from Santa Rosa Elementary School in Pleasant Valley, a small and isolated suburb of Camarillo.
They were headed for Anacapa Island, the smallest of the string of islands off the Santa Barbara coast, in the charge of their principal and oceanography teacher, Les Meredith. Meredith went along as chaperon and to make sure the students actually learned something.
Plenty of Work
That didn't promise to be too onerous a duty.
In Meredith's estimation, Santa Rosa is not a "real world" school. By that he means that its students don't use drugs and weapons, they don't call each other "dude" and they do their schoolwork.
There was plenty of that to be done.
Meredith handed out copies of a data sheet for the students to fill in with their observations and measurements of such fundamentals as water temperature, wind velocity and direction and the number of animals they could find that had tube feet. Meredith said they would be graded.
Then We Seven headed to sea. The sky was unusually clear. Anacapa was visible 14 miles away, as was its larger neighbor, Santa Cruz Island.
About a half an hour out, skipper Chris Bartos killed the engines.
Over the loudspeaker, Bartos summoned everyone to the stern for a lesson on navigation.
"That's the art of getting someplace and getting back," Bartos said, giving as succinct a definition of navigation as there will ever be.
Bartos taught the students how to use a compass and dead reckoning, the use of elapsed time and a boat's speed and direction to fix its position on the ocean.
About an hour later, We Seven swung by the picturesque arch rock on Anacapa's east end and then cruised the coastline toward a cove called Frenchy's.
Along the way, there was more schoolwork. Adam Sussman, the ship's resident oceanographer, taught the students how oceanographers use a flat
white metal plate called a secchi disk to measure visibility in the water and take water samples at various depths with a stoppered plastic tube.
We Seven anchored beside another school tour boat in Frenchy's Cove about 50 yards off a rocky beach.
The crew shuttled the students ashore in a tender.
After lunch, Meredith led the students through a small gap in the cliff to the other side of the island and about a half-mile up shore to the tide pools.
Leaping on Rocks
Graying but still athletic, Meredith leaped from rock to rock, outdistancing his students. He was eager to find out if the blowhole was blowing. He said that when the ocean swells come in just right they sweep up through a crevice with such power that it can knock a person over.
But it wasn't blowing.
Meanwhile, Meredith's students were spreading out into the rocks and tide pools.
Two youths from the other boat walked by.
"Hey dude, look at that," one said to the other, pointing at a slimy thing in the water. "A sea slug."
They evidently came from a more "real world" school.
Meredith began pointing out such creatures as the owl limpet, chestnut cowrie, opaleye and tide-pool sculpin.
'Having Fun, Learning'
But soon he noticed that most of his students had drifted over to a rocky beach. That puzzled him.
"I've never had a group get stuck down there," he said. "But they're having fun and they're learning. I don't want to stop that."
On closer inspection, however, he discovered that several of the boys had waded out along a row of rocks projecting about 100 feet into the ocean. They were jumping into a pool of water, clothes and all, climbing back onto the rock and jumping off again.
Some of the girls were following when Meredith arrived.
"Hey people," he said sternly. "Getting wet on purpose is a no-no."
The boys jumped in one more time and waded back, up to their armpits.
One girl stood on a rock surrounded by water.
"Am I stuck?" she asked Meredith.
"Oh, I hope so," he said. "Did you get over there without getting wet?"
She said yes.
"How?" he asked.
She said the boys carried her.
"Why is it intelligence and judgment don't always go hand in hand?" he asked, seeming to address the gods.
While the boys shivered, did jumping jacks and took refuge behind boulders from the rising west wind, several of the girls followed Meredith back to the blowhole. They peered into the crevice as Meredith explained to them how it works. Just then it blew water onto them all.
Back on the boat, the students changed clothes and assembled for their last educational duty of the day, oceanographer Sussman's "critter talk."
While the students were poking around the tidal zone, Sussman had gone scuba diving and brought back half a dozen sea creatures that were wiggling around in a box on the boat.
Sussman mixed a little ecology and a little anatomy and a little humor into his talk.
"OK. Who knows what this is?" he asked, holding up a limp and slimy thing. "My favorite animal. This one looks a little sickly. I think he's been to a floating classroom before. This one's called the vacuum cleaner of the ocean. You can eat this one if you really want to."
"Oh, sick," a girl said.
"What happens if I keep harassing him?" Sussman asked.
The students didn't know.
"He spits out its guts," Sussman told them. He explained that that is the sea hare's defense against a predator.
"Eventually this thing eats his guts and he lives happily ever after."
"Do it!" one of the boys shouted.
"No," Sussman said. "That's disgusting."