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A Day on the Water

Old Dominion Boat Club gives students a tour of the Potomac River.

Abubarra Kamara loved being on the water. His eyes lit up each time a boat passed by, and his attention never wavered from the mural-sized windows of the dinner-cruise boat. His hands pressed against the glass, moving him closer to the river. Abubarra pointed toward the horizon and smiled.

When a patrol boat used its fire hoses to spray water 20 feet into the air, Abubarra screamed in excitement. He jumped up and down, turned to see who else was watching. He traced the outline of the water's path with his finger, moving slowly to catch every nuance of the stream.

"This is a happy time," said Abubarra, who is a student at Polk Elementary School. "I love the boats!"

The Potomac's grand view captivated students from Alexandria during the Old Dominion Boat Club's annual spring event last week. The club has been holding this annual springtime event for more than 40 years, and this year's event — held in conjunction with the club's 125th anniversary — offered an hour-long tour of the river. After the tour, students were treated to a lunch of hot dogs and beans at the club.

THE STUDENTS had been preparing for the trip all year — learning about the river and its surroundings, its history and its legends, its hidden treasures and its folkways.

"We talk about the birds they might see, what's on the river, what's in the river," said John Adams teacher Jacqualyne Evansmcrae. She has been preparing her students for this trip since the school year began. "We are so grateful to the Old Dominion Boat Club for giving us this opportunity."

The boat club offers several community service events every year, and this is one of the highlights for former boat club president Harry Harrington. He has been organizing the event together for the past five years.

"I just love seeing the smiles on their faces," he said. "We do this twice a year. At Christmas, Santa Clause arrives at the club on a patrol boat. The kids go nuts when they see him arrive."

The springtime event is also a popular attraction for the students, who were treated to a running commentary of the boat tour by Capt. Ryan Wojtanowski. Every few minutes, the captain would take to the microphone to talk about history, sing sailor songs or playfully joke with the students.

"I like to have fun with the kids," he said while piloting the "Dandy" toward the intersection of the Potomac River and the Anacostia River. He approached the John Glenn Jr., a District of Columbia patrol boat that was waiting to put on a show for the students.

"Who knows who John Glenn was?" the captain asks. "Does anybody know?"

None of the students responded, so the captain explained about how Glenn was the first man to orbit the Earth. The students contemplated space travel as the boat sprayed water into a clear blue sky. The captain smiled as he turned off the microphone.

"I was in the second grade when that boat was commissioned," he said. "I was there, and that was a day that I will always remember. That's what I'm trying to do for these kids — give them an experience that they will remember."

THE CAPTAIN, who is an expert on the history of the river, taught the students about the starboard side of the boat and the bow. He sang a song about sailors, and he used his communication device to coordinate a passing with the John Glenn Jr. Every detail of the event was a hit with the students.

"I liked when the fireboat spread the water," said Tyrone Brown, a student at Lyles Crouch Elementary School.

"I saw an airplane in the sky," said Lyles Crouch student Najae Miller as she pointed toward Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. "I don't want to leave. I want to stay on the boat until dark time."

Ted, also a student a Lyles Crouch, spread his arms wide and yelled "I love this boat" as the "Dandy" pulled into the dock. Although the students were sad that their day on the river had ended, they were eager to get their hands on the Old Dominion Boat Club's hot dogs.

Tyrone ate three hot dogs, each one overflowing with a thick coating of relish.

"I love pickles," he said. "Do you like pickes?"

"No," said Najae as she drank from a carton of fruit juice. She looked toward the window, her hands placed flat on the table. "I want to go back on the boat. I love the boat."