The very first job I got after leaving school was on one of Chesapeake Bay's historic boats, which was enjoying a second life carrying school children around the Chesapeake Bay. The experience made me realize how a boat with history is fascinating to nearly everyone (from city-dwellers to farm boys and girls). Here are three significant vessels (all currently enjoying life as educational platforms) you're sure to appreciate.
Naturally this one's my favorite, since I spent a year as the boat's Chief Mate. The Mildred Belle is a 56' "buy boat" built in 1948 in Odd, Virginia. Buy boats visited oyster skipjacks and tongers, buying the day's catch and then transporting it to market. In the off-season Mildred Belle was used for trawling, dredging crabs, and even charter fishing.
From a fleet numbering in the thousands, today there are fewer than 30 buy boats left. The Living Classrooms Foundation bought Mildred Belle in 1988, and has since operated her as a one of their living classrooms. Groups of school children are taken out onto the Chesapeake, where they visit different hands-on learning stations covering navigation, seamanship, marine biology, and history.
The USS Alabama
Launched in 1942, this 680' long South Dakota class battleship is today a National Historic Landmark. The ship survived action in both the North Sea and the Pacific, is credited with shooting down 22 Japanese planes, and played a key role in multiple amphibious assaults as well as in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. The Alabama is currently moored in Mobile, where it serves both as a museum and for an Overnight Adventure program available to youths age 6 to 18. The Overnight Adventures include a full tour of the ship, plus tours of the submarine USS Drum.
The Star of India
Part of the Maritime Museum of San Diego, which offers a wide range of educational programs, the Star of India is the oldest active tall ship still sailing today. She was built in 1863 on the Isle of Man and worked as a cargo ship in the India trade, surviving a mutiny, a cyclone, and a collision. This ship circumnavigated the globe at least 21 times, and sailed commercially until 1927. Depression and then war left her untended until restoration work began in the 1950s. In 1976, the Star of India's restoration was completed.