DFS Ships: A History
I have been following a crew of women sailors from the Indian Navy on Facebook who are sailing around the world. They are at present in the middle of the Pacific Ocean; after some wonderful sailing conditions the crew is experiencing the Furious Fifties … a latitude of terrible winds and sea.
In the last post they were in ‘Survival Mode.’ I have become impressed by the group of talented people on board and with their sturdy little sailing ship ISNV Tarini. I’ve never followed such a journey before and I’m very moved by the adventure … and the bravery of the crew.
When I was in the middle of founding my Democratic Free School I needed a name; I was in bed thinking about that and thought of the Odyssey. I looked up Odyssey and it said “ A long voyage with adventure and many changes of fortune”. This seemed appropriate and since the school was in an old house that always made me feel that I was on board a wooden ship we decided on Odyssey House. So my idea of Democratic Free Schools as ships on a voyage goes way back.
Look out it’s a government inspector !
Finances port side and a bunch of unexpected issues to starboard !
The first Democratic Free School Ship (DFSS) was built in 1921 and its Captain was A.S. Neill. The captain published a compilation of his writings in 1970 and millions read that captain’s log about the one and only DFSS Summerhill. Young people were innocently inspired; as they played a lot of rock music, grew long hair, became or pretended to be hippies too many also pretended to be ship builders and sailors. They feverishly improvised all manner of garage built versions of DFSS Summerhill with cardboard and orange crates and tricycle parts, glueing them messily together with youth culture fantasy … here’s a picture of one:
Turn down the Jimmy Hendrix we got a problem here !
The average life span of those Free School Hippy Ships was 18 months. I built one in 1971. My school lasted 9 years before it hit the rocks of Board of Education politics and parent infighting which was a decently long voyage actually. When started I hadn’t a clue either … read the book, fantasised and then improvised. Hard work, thoughtful problem solving yes … but a lot of very good luck as well.
A few other schools also prevailed; more started up in the 80’s and later. As they appeared and a few of each batch survived a core of experienced ship builders emerged. They built and sailed a number of variations on the DFSS Summerhill. Experienced crews developed. Sharp eyed Captains as well.
Democratic Free School Ship building slowly became a craft guild; sailing the ships became a well understood, though underpaid, vocation. Captain and First Mate skills were codified. But for a long time this was pretty much a secret society with little presence in the world, and little communication between practitioners.
But then BOOM. With the introduction of the internet the guild isolation from the world and between guild members vanished.
We entered a NEW ERA for Democratic Free School Ships.
Building and sailing your very own Democratic Free School Ship can be the most exhilarating adventure imaginable. Especially when your ship is finally launched and heads out of port for its first voyage, a shake-down cruise of beautiful calm days mixed with the inevitable Furious Fifties and unexpected hidden rocks when Captain and crew must go into ‘Survival Mode’.
Fortunately, in the NEW ERA there is no need to be innocent and to fantasize and then simply chance the many perils of your sea voyage. Hopeful ship builders and sailors, captains and first mates have access to advice, training and on site mentoring of experienced guild members.
that is why we founded Summerhill Democratics.
Our Web Page, Blog, PDF Packages, Facebook Page and the new Forum all have one purpose: To let you into the guild as visitors or as serious apprentices looking to learn the skills that will help you to build a solid Democratic Free School Ship that suits your needs on the DFSS Summerhill model.
Engage WITH US for growth and action.
Your Odyssey Awaits