Come Sail Away – The Boats That Wouldn’t Float – World Oceans Day Special

In honour of World Oceans Day welcome to a celebration of boat playgrounds from a place that’s close to an ocean near you. Boats in all shapes and sizes are anchored high and dry in playgrounds scattered across the globe. They are amongst the most common means of transportation replicated for children’s play in public spaces.

Rockets were in vogue in the 1960s and 70s and you’ll find the odd bus here and there. But it’s sailing ships, fishing boats, naval vessels and tugs that crop up time and again. Scaled down versions of these water bound means of transportation find safe ports on land providing kids with the raw material for high seas adventure.

I have ships and the sea in my blood. Old Alec, my paternal grandfather, worked with many of his brothers in the great yards on Scotland’s Clyde River. My father joined him there, starting his adult working life as a riveter and then a welder.

Old Alec designed his own ships too. He was a model yachtsman who, in his best year, won the British Empire Championship. He and his brothers also owned a commercial fishing vessel for a short period. Had it been different times, these men could have designed and crafted boat play structures that would have been the envy of the world.

Today, Old Alec and his brothers are with us in spirit only. I am firmly ashore in Halifax, Nova Scotia, a port city on Canada’s east coast. We have four or five boat playgrounds where we can hop aboard, imagine and not have to worry about our sea legs. These vessels are always crowded with the finest of swashbuckling adventurers.

One of the greatest things these stationary vessels have in common is that they are non-polluting and leave a very small ecological footprint. They don’t use bunker C oil. They are not dependent on fossil fuels. Their energy is derived through osmosis – all those kids let loose to run their decks, scale their rigging and keep everything ship shape.

World Oceans Day – Boats for Play I Gallery

Back in the day ocean voyages weren’t necessarily sweet experiences. Life was hard for the crews of merchant and navy vessels alike and ocean crossings could be long and fearful journeys. From the 17th to 19th centuries, the British Royal Navy regularly impressed ‘volunteers’ into service, abduction by any other other name. Conditions at sea were often deplorable. In 1840, American Richard Henry Dana Jr. documented just how difficult that life could be in his book Two Years before the Mast.

For centuries, ships fuelled war, discovery and commerce and today have become synonymous with adventure in the popular imagination. Witness the crowds that flock to waterfronts for the arrival of Tall Ships fleets and the enduring appeal of pirate films.

I remember my excitement boarding the Toronto Island ferry as a young boy – the briefest of brief rides. As a teen I worked as a steward on a buoy boat and then on the Louis S. St. Laurent icebreaker with Canada’s Coast Guard. The allure of the sea was always mesmerizing, an enticement to the unpredictable, oh yeah and a couple of bouts of seasickness.

World Oceans Day – Boats for Play II Gallery

On a recent trip to the Magdalen Islands in Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence, we found a couple of great boat playspaces that you can read about here.

Thanks to all the photographers whose images grace the boat playground galleries.

Photo Credits

1. A. Smith – Haida replica, Bedford, Nova Scotia, Canada Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.
2. Andricongirl @ flickr. Creative Commons 2.0 – Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic
3. Michael Coghlan @ flickr. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

All materials, unless otherwise attributed or credited, copyright ⓒ 2010 Alex Smith.

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2 responses to “Come Sail Away – The Boats That Wouldn’t Float – World Oceans Day Special

  1. Seems that we have more than a love of playgrounds in common. I have “ships and the sea” in my blood, too! My dad still holds his Chief Engineer license from 10 years at sea in the Merchant Marines. His grandfather was a Chief Engineer for the Coast Guard in the Great Lakes putting out the navigation buoys after the spring thaw (and pulling them in before the ice in the fall).

    • I was 16 and 17 when I worked on the Canadian Coast Guard for 5 months. I sailed up the St. Lawrence and to the Arctic with stops in Thule, Greenland and Resolute Bay on Cornwallis Island. It was an incredible adventure. As close as I get now are long ferry rides and I love them whenver I get the chance.

      These playgrounds provide kids with the chance to imagine the wonder of the deep, blue sea.

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