Station: [12] Navigation Schools on Föhr

F: Trigonometry, setting a ship's course, determining its length and width, logarithms and angular functions – for generations, youngsters on Föhr enjoyed an exceptionally good education in all the disciplines that were crucial skills for the mariner. We have evidence in the form of hand-written calculations by young sailors from Föhr, in which they solved complicated arithmetic problems. They’re on show in the display stand.

M: In the early 17th century, a pastor in Süderende called Ricardus Petri came up with the crucial idea. He offered free navigation lessons to the mariners of Föhr, who were at home during the winters in any case. The lessons took place in the parlours of elderly captains, as you can see from a small painting by Julius Stockfleth in the tall display case in the centre.
This excellent training improved their career prospects, which is why throughout the entire 17th and 18th centuries, an above average number of men from Föhr served as commanders and helmsmen on the whaling ships.

F: Those benefiting from this free training only had to meet one condition. Once the young men supported in this way became experienced seafarers, they were expected to provide the next generation of youngsters with free lessons in their turn. A win-win situation.

M: Some youngsters from Föhr, who had perhaps headed off to sea aged just 10 or 11, managed to rise to commander by their mid-20s, thanks to their nautical skills. The higher ranks received earnings in proportion to the catch – all the more reason to pay attention at the seafarers’ school and go about their calculations in an orderly fashion.

F: In the 19th century, the whaling industry fell into decline. Many mariners from Föhr switched jobs and signed up on merchant ships. But that also affected the seasonal rhythm: the men no longer necessarily spent winter on the island; sometimes they were at sea for several years, criss-crossing the world's oceans. That left hardly any time for navigation lessons.

M: When Föhr became part of Prussia in 1867, the island’s private navigation schools were forced to close. From then on, youngsters had to attend the much more expensive state schools on the mainland, and a lot of families couldn’t afford the fees. At that point, many of the islanders emigrated to the United States, or became full-time farmers.

Fotos: © Dr.-Carl-Häberlin-Friesen-Museum