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Chasing Joshua

Jan 1, 2003

Joshua Slocum, the Boston man who was first to sail around the world alone, observed how good people are to travelers who are without a friend. David Dunn, a teacher from Boise State University in Boise, Idaho, has discovered this is still true.

It started with a note and a photocopied article about Slocum that a student left for Dunn to read. "I saw a great educational opportunity in it," says Dunn. He immediately drew up plans to retrace Slocum's 1895 voyage. By chance, he read WoodenBoat magazine's "On the Waterfront" column, which asked if anyone was planning to celebrate Slocum's 100th anniversary. Dunn called the magazine's offices in Brooklin, Maine, and described his plan. After a small article about Dunn, David Butler of Salem, Mass., donated his replica of Slocum's Spray for the project.

"My stated goal was to save the boat," said Butler. "It had sat for years in a boatyard and had changed owners a few times before I bought it. It was sitting in the Coast Guard hangar for a while because I couldn't afford the repairs. I knew David would take care of her."

Dunn's plan is to sail around the world, taking along a small crew and 90 teachersthree at a time. During the voyage lessons in math, science, and history will be taught via satellite to students around the world. A series of 500 chatauquas, which are story-based lessons, will be produced along the way. The University of Alabama, which has become a major player in this project, will produce a series on the voyage for public television. Episodes of the voyage will be filmed at various ports of call around the world. The 22-month voyage is scheduled to start in spring of 1997, with departure from Boston. The preparations for it began almost as long ago. In 1994, Dunn drove his 1983 Subaru from Boise to Salem with $200 in his pocket. After arriving, the first thing he did was get a job pumping gas in Danvers, Mass. "I'd make phone calls as I pumped the gas. Sometimes I'd have to ask people to hold while I checked a customer's oil." Dunn's wife Teri stayed behind in Idaho to work a second job and support him. Since then, they have only seen each other for a few weeks. An anthropologist and historian, she'll serve as the project's historian and will join David during the trip. "I wouldn't do this without her help. She is my strongest supporter," Dunn says of his wife. Steve Thomas, of the WGBH series "This Old House" and a resident of Salem, acted as one of his early advisors. "We stood in the Coast Guard hangar walking around the Spray, and Steve said I should plan to be here a while."

Dunn later made a contact that changed the face of the project and made it possible to purchase and refit a larger version of Slocum's vessel, built along the exact lines of the original. This 71-foot replica of Spray was renamed Crystal Spray.

Dunn has built a network of volunteers to help him during his struggle. "It's just been an amazing experience," Dunn says, reflecting on the past year and a half. He has had pro bono legal work through the Boston law firm of Hale and Dorr in order to make The Voyage of the Spray, Inc., a non-profit organization. The Salem Maritime National Historic Site donated office space at 160 Derby Street and a home port at Central Wharf. He has also assembled a team of 10 shipwrights from around North America, including Alaska and Canada, who work grueling 10-hour shifts every day. All of the shipwrights will have the opportunity to sail on the Crystal Spray during the voyage. Altogether, he's raised more than $1.5 million in money and services.

Dunn, along with the University of Alabama, has also designed an interactive classroom curriculum to follow along with the project. His newsletter, Chasing Joshua, helps to finance the project and keeps everyone from the financial backers to the students informed of the progress of the Crystal Spray.

Teachers from all over the world will be included in the trip, joining Crystal Spray from various ports around the world and staying for two-week legs of the journey. Upon securing a place in the crew, they will be given a computer that will allow them follow the voyage throughout and to communicate with their classes at home while they are aboard.

"We are entering into a new world in education," said Dunn. "Because of satellite uplinks and the Internet, we are now a local project for every school in the world."

Contributed by Brad Harrison


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