Gulf Stream Turns Teacher into Student
By Chris Museler
Until sometime early Sunday morning, Blue Wheeler, a seventh grade earth science teacher, thought he knew a lot about the Gulf Stream and it’s meandering warm flows. After using up nearly 70 miles of race track aboard the Swan 53 Skye to find it and learning it wasn’t helping them, he realized he had a lot to learn.
“I have spent the spring teaching my students about the Gulf Stream and the Jet Stream and how they affect global climate,” said Wheeler, who was sailing in his first Bermuda Race. “We have a pretty novice crew so because of my work I had to be the navigator.”
Blue Wheeler aboard Skye.
Wheeler spent the late spring trying to learn the Expedition software he was to use to negotiate the Stream, and then apply what he has been telling his students. He discovered that there is a tremendous difference between the theory he preaches at Rocky Hill School in Rhode Island, and figuring out Mother Nature in her own back yard.
“My understanding of the Gulf Stream has changed,” said Wheeler, who had some students follow his track on the race website. “Having never been there, logic says to look for temperature change and clouds.” That’s what Wheeler did, and when the sea temperature hit 81 degrees, he kept going looking for event stronger positive current. Skye wound up sailing right out of the Stream and were far from the rhumbline.
The crew aboard Skye were able to watch the pop-up storms with thunderheads common in the Stream, and the felt the dramatic air temperature fluctuations. And though months of studying data didn’t help the team in the end, Wheeler said his experience will be passed on to his students.
“The reality is that 99 percent of my students will never get to see this,” said Wheeler who is also a licensed captain. “It will be easy and fun now to go into a project where we study real-time data and imagery with the kids.” He said he will try to give his students a more broad perspective on the stream when they ask if humans can ever stop the Gulf Stream. “It’s not unstoppable,” he said. “We talk in class about consequences. If the polar caps melt enough. Maybe that would change things.”