A Hands-On Tack to Learning About River

ON the sloop Clearwater, involvement is the name of the game. Fifty eleventh graders learned that lesson fast one recent afternoon when they took a three-hour, educational sail in New York Harbor.

All were assured that their arm muscles - no exceptions - were needed to hoist the huge mainsail. It was a mighty struggle.

Soon crew member Christine Ahern, the ship's educator, asked for volunteers to lower the trawl net, to see what fish could be snared from the harbor bottom for brief inspection. For the haul back up, Ms. Ahern sang a sample sea chantey for more united tugging.

In time the students, all from Jackson, N.J., were divided into small working groups to do everything from test river oxygen levels to study tiny plankton under a microscope.

The 106-foot Clearwater, owned by Hudson River Sloop Clearwater Inc., an environmental advocacy group, picks up some of its best supporters through such hands-on involvement. The aim in these sails along stretches of the Hudson is to nurture in student and adult visitors an appreciation of the river's greatness and its problems.

Ms. Ahern, however, says she is satisfied if sailors even learn to think twice before dumping trash in the water. Garbage, composted as much as possible by the crew, rates far more than a mention on this sail.

At one point Ms. Ahern holds up some of the trash aboard to see how much students know about how best to dispose of it. On the starboard side, crew member Susan Berliner demonstrates with a test tube and chemicals how little oxygen is in the river water and asks, ``What shall I do now with all these chemicals - dump them in the river?''

She draws an analogy with companies who dump chemical waste in the water because they don't know what to do with it either.

The message? ``Dilution is not the solution to pollution.''

Over time Clearwater's fish net has brought up some interesting items from the river bottom, such as tires and a baby carriage, in addition to the rock crabs, flounder, eels, and starfish that are the temporary take on this particular day.

``We want the students to see what's actually in the harbor - what life is out there under their feet,'' explains Clearwater executive director John Mylod. ``We want them to see that it's not a dead zone but that there's a tremendous need to improve water quality so that this life thrives. We talk about the values of the river and about the importance of cleaning it up.''

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