CARBONEAR, N.L. — Ryan Combden is preparing for the chance to travel the world, and work as a crew member on a tall ship, all while completing his Grade 12 studies.
Ryan spent the first few years of his high school experience like any other student his age – on solid ground at Carbonear Collegiate.
Now the 16-year-old is readying himself for a brand-new experience at Class Afloat – a program offered to Grade 11 and 12 students, as well as university and gap year students, where they live aboard a tall ship for a nine-month, two-semester period.
During this time, the students, who also act as the ship’s crew, will travel between approximately 24 ports across the world. They start out in Amsterdam, Netherlands on Sept. 4, then it’s off to places such as Funchal in Madeira, Essaouira in Morocco, and St. Petersburg in Russia, before making the round trip back to Amsterdam in May of 2019, where the group of some 50 students will celebrate their graduation.
The school itself is based out of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. As a result, Ryan will graduate with a high school diploma from Nova Scotia, despite going to school in Newfoundland for the majority of his school life.
The semesters consist of five classes each, with two compulsory classes and three of Ryan’s choosing, which will result in 10 classes completed by the time the two semesters have ended. Alongside this, the students will be expected to do what needs to be done to keep the ship in order between ports.
The idea for Ryan to enroll in Class Afloat came from one of his cousins, who is currently taking part in the program to complete her Grade 12 education. She recently docked in Amsterdam to complete her second semester.
“She told me about it maybe a year and a half ago, and I was blown away,” Ryan said. “Ever since then, I always wanted to do it, but never thought I’d actually get the opportunity. But, here we are.”
This won’t be Ryan’s first experience with a tall ship though. Previously, he travelled to British Columbia with cadets, where they spent five nights and six days aboard a tall ship. It’s during his time as a cadet where he’s raced boats competitively for two years, so he is no stranger to the water.
Despite this previous experience, Ryan noted that spending nine months aboard this vessel will be an entirely new experience, and one he’s been looking forward to for some time.
“I’m really looking forward to the experience as a whole. It’s a chance for me to see the world – I’ll be everywhere, from France, to Spain, to London, Denmark, Estonia, Russia, Cuba, Africa, so it’s going to be crazy,” he said. “There’s a stop in Africa, actually, where we’ll get to build a house for a family during the week that we’re there, and then in Cuba we’ll be working on a school, so there’s some humanitarian things included in it all as well. I think that’s going to be a really interesting experience too.”
Each port the ship docks in will provide the students with approximately four days to explore and enjoy what each unique location has to offer, as long as they’re back on board before curfew.
The students’ trip, beginning in early September, will start them off with an overview of the necessities, such as safety training, how to sail the boat, and the location of emergency and floatation devices.
Although Ryan has travelled out of the country before, with a trip to Washington and Florida under his belt, this will be his first time outside of North America.
“I’m looking forward to seeing all the different cultures and stuff like that,” he said of the upcoming trip.
However, there’s one thing on his mind that he was admittedly a little nervous about – seasickness.
“I do get seasick sometimes, so that’s something I’m going to have to work on,” he said through some laughter. “Hopefully I’ll manage to get over it sometime between the nine months I’m out there.”
Class Afloat takes a certain amount of dedication, as Ryan noted that this will be the first time he’ll spend Christmas, birthdays, and other such events away from home, with only a five-day period in January to fly home to see his family before once again setting off for Bridgetown, Barbados.
“Am I nervous? Yeah, of course, but it’s the opportunity of a lifetime, to see the world like this. I honestly can’t wait.”