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VENTOTENE

A Bunch of 9th Graders Caught up in a Late Summer Squall

Story by Augusto Righi October 1st, 2016

PROLOGUE

On an early September morn, somewhere, somehow, a bunch of suspicious high school students met up for the first time and set sail to a tiny little Island across the sea. It was going to be their very first field trip since they joined the Augusto Righi - Roma High a few days before and both, their families and themselves, they looked a little worried and kinda scared about it: all by themselves for almost a week, no cell phones to be taken along and the majority of those fellows didn't know each other yet. But still they were thrilled to set off, enthusiastic to travel, excited to arrive ... They would have attended a sailing camp and experienced a living together that would have sealed their fortunes forever ...

... and this is a short story about what happened during those five fateful days.

the venue

Ventotene is a tiny little island off the Tyrrhenian coast. Surrounded by deep waters, away from the main land and off the beaten routes, this remote volcanic outcrop is a marine sanctuary created in 1997 to preserve and protect the sensitive ecosystem of the area. The site hosts many marine species and plant varieties, as well as a few sea birds that are known to be resident to here.

The lonely little village faces south over the sea; it's home to one of the most professional - and friendly - sailing school in the Mediterranean Sea, and that's where our kids were headed to.

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the crew: boys and girls

The crew was divided in two groups in order to be involved in different activities one after the other: when one group (the Alphas) would be engaged off shore, the other one (the Betas) would attend a class on shore. Nevertheless, whatever the alphabet, still there was a greater difference between them, hard to take on board: all in all they were, and would have remained, boys and girls.

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locating ourselves

<<Now ... the magnetic field is like that ... so you kinda turn it like this ... then the compass ... uh, actually the needle, of the compass, gets past a certain point ... and you move along ... do you get me?>>

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ON SHORE ACTIVITIES: BIO CLASS

Students always provided solid contributions to on shore class activities and showed deep interest in course materials. Sometimes their participation was beyond expectations ...

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OFF SHORE ACTIVITIES: GETTING BOATS READY

But when the time was right, and boats were to get ready, everything seemed to be under control.

<<Careful with that boom!>> ... <<Rise the mains'il!>> ... <<Stow that line!>> ... <<Lock the rudder in!>> ... <<Bow to sea!>> ...

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GEOLOGY CLASS

Volcanic rocks handed out for inspection: basalt, darker and more compact, would testify a nonexplosive eruption with effusive lava flows while tuff, more spongy and of a tan color, would testify an explosive eruption with voluminous ejection of fragmented volcanic debris. In any rate, the rock that someone is about to flick off is not, in fact, quite volcanic at all ...

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... not quite volcanic, though!
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the time line

Students were often engaged in hands on activities, such as unrolling the time line and find out that over the last 15 billion years almost nothing has happened that seems to be worth a record ...

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regatta

<<Away the lines!>> And we all hit the waves.

The wind was strong and the sails were taut: we put up the Jolly Roger and followed directions from the commander: <<Ready about?>> ... <<Haul away on the main sheet!>> ... <<Loosen the jib!>> ...

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no cell phones, plz

In order to promote mingling and socialization and keep the students from being distracted by the outside world, cell phones and tablets were to be left at home. Now: would anybody believe that modern brats would neither take a selfie, nor strike a pose?

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a little bit of history and a little bitter story

The now abandoned fortified jail complex of Santo Stefano sits atop the ancillary rock opposit to the main island.

Over the years the island had served as penal colony and confinement for many political prisoners. A prison camp was created under the Bourbons and restructured under Benito Mussolini on the nearby island of Santo Stefano; up to 700 opponents, including 400 communists, were incarcerated there between 1939 and 1943 ...

The listening to the story of such an injustice shocked the students: they ended up feeling nothing but sorrow for those, too often innocent, convicts ...

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time to say goodbye

And that's pretty much what the story was all about ... we'd like to say goodby with a wave of the hand and a smile.

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We were a bunch of suspicious kids, scared and frightened to navigate. We're now a solid team of sailors, en route to the most challenging destinations ...

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Footnote: After an idea by Stefano Guadagni. Photos and story by Sergio Foglietta.