Ketchikan High School's boat, the Jack Cotant.

Ketchikan High School’s boat, the Jack Cotant.

A group of Ketchikan high school students and teachers is preparing to sail to Petersburg on Wednesday. They’ll be taking the Ketchikan School District’s boat, the Jack Cotant.

It’s a clear, 50-degree day with calm skies and waters. Mark Woodward is one of the teachers riding the Jack Cotant up to Petersburg. He’s standing on the docked boat, which looks clean and empty. That will change tomorrow, when eight students and two other teachers, including Captain Rick Collins, load onto the converted pocket seiner.

“There are five core students that are going for oceanography/maritime sciences,” Woodward says. “And then [three student] deckhands are going through the maritime program.”

It’ll be a two day trip up to Petersburg. The crew will stop Wednesday and Thursday night to sleep at cabins along the way. On Friday they’ll arrive in Petersburg. Then, five of the Ketchikan students will fly back, and their places on the boat will be taken by Petersburg students, who will take the two day trip back down to Ketchikan.

Along the way, students will learn about navigation, safety, marine biology and more. They’ll catch some crab and halibut to study and maybe serve up for dinner.

The trip isn’t just for fun — the students will be getting credit for it.

“AKLN, which is Alaska’s Learning Network, I told them what we were doing and they think it’s unbelievable,” Woodward said. “So we’ve come up with a 70-hour course. They’ll get a half an elective credit for doing this.”

A half credit is equivalent to a semester-long traditional class. Woodward says the Ketchikan and Petersburg school districts have been planning a trip like this since last year.

“The reason why I do this, is I think this is the best education — the best classroom we have — the Tongass and the North Pacific Ocean,” Woodward said.

Matthew Kelly is a junior high school student who takes both maritime and oceanography classes. He’s one of three Ketchikan students who are serving as deckhands and going on both legs of the trip.

“On the way up to Petersburg I’m gonna be a mostly oceanography-related student and on the way back down [I’ll work on] more maritime stuff,” Kelly said. “For oceanography, we’ll probably be doing a few sample things like plankton tows and checking the salinity of water. And then for maritime we’ll be doing a lot of navigation.”

This will be the longest trip the Jack Cotant has taken in recent years. Woodward says the Ketchikan School District hopes that in the future they can organize similar trips to more towns to give other high school students a chance to learn on the ocean.