Captain for a day

Watertown boat owners give Perkins students an experience to remember during annual Charles River cruise

A student holds the steering wheel of a boat while the captain looks on

Logan, 11, steers the Off Duty up the Charles River with help from the boat's owner, Joe Connors. Photo Credit: Anna Miller

June 13, 2016

Surprisingly, Thursday was not Logan’s first time driving a boat.

“Captain Bob let me drive last year,” he said, grinning at the memory.

But that didn’t diminish the 11-year-old’s excitement as he gripped the yacht’s hefty steering wheel, following the instructions of the boat’s owner, Watertown, Massachusetts, resident Joe Connors.

“A little more to the left, there you go,” Connors said encouragingly. “Good job, pal.”

Logan and about four dozen of his Perkins School for the Blind classmates were enjoying a leisurely cruise down the Charles River, courtesy of boat owners at the Watertown Yacht Club. For the past 30 years or so, club members like Connors have invited students to take a ride on their boats as a special end-of-the-school-year treat. It’s become a tradition that everyone looks forward to.

“It’s very self-rewarding,” said longtime club member Peggy Kearsley, who organizes the event. “It feels so good when you see the kids and how much they enjoy it. We have people who have been doing this for years and now their grandchildren are getting into it.”

As 5 o’clock rolled around, club members took turns pulling their boats up to the dock, and helping students and staffers climb aboard. Volunteers hoisted students in wheelchairs onto the yachts, making sure no one missed out on the fun.

Logan and his classmate Ethan, 14, made their way to the top deck of Off Duty, a 40-foot boat owned by Connors and his wife, Jenn. Cruising along in the late afternoon sun, Logan kept track of the boat’s location, asking Jenn to describe road signs and buildings.

“If that’s Soldiers Field Road then we must be in Cambridge,” Logan said. “Will we go all the way to Boston?”

Although the trip was mainly recreational, getting off campus is always a learning experience for Perkins students, said teaching assistant Nazmul Islam.

“It’s important for them to go out in the community, introduce themselves to people and have conversations with them,” he said. “They need to get to know the outside world.”

On the return trip, Connors invited Logan to take the wheel, describing the buttons and dials on the panels in front of him. With Connors’ permission, Logan sounded the boat’s horn, and carefully eased back on the throttle as another vessel approached.

On the lower deck, students from the Deafblind Program put their hands out to catch the spray. Yi-Gin, 12, squealed with delight as the water hit her outstretched palm. Her classmate, 11-year-old Noa, signed excitedly with teaching assistant Lily McDonagh.

“She loves the vibration and the wind in her face,” said McDonagh. “Yi-Gin just loves being on a boat, she’s never getting off.”

A few hours after setting out, Connors backed his boat up to the yacht club dock, where volunteers were waiting to escort students to a cupcake party. This was Connors’ sixth year participating in the event, and it certainly won’t be his last, he said.

“You’d be insane to say no to this,” he said. “It’s so fun to see the kids having such a good time.” 

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