As parents boarded the A.J. Meerwald in Barnegat Light last week, they hugged kids they had not seen in four days.

The young people were taking part in a maritime camp, staying onboard the sailing ship for four nights and five days to learn the ways of nautical life.

As soon as the parents were settled, the kids were put to the test.

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Capt. Jesse Briggs and his deckhands told their young crew to align on either side of the boat — signaling that it was time to set sail.

“And the parents can help too,” Briggs said.

Parents joined their sons and daughters in pulling ropes to raise the sail as the families set off for a two-hour ocean tour.

The maritime camp is just one of the ways that one of New Jersey’s oldest vessels stays current.

The schooner, the state’s official tall ship, has been around since 1928, starting life as an oyster boat.

Now, the Bayshore Center in Bivalve, Cumberland County, keeps it — and New Jersey’s nautical traditions — alive. The Meerwald is used as a floating classroom for things like the maritime camp. But it’s also a great way to get out on the water for some old-fashioned cruising.

The Meerwald comes to Atlantic City this week and will be in Cape May from Aug. 11 to Sept. 3. In both ports, the crew will offer afternoon, evening and, on Wednesdays, full-day sails.

During the hands-on maritime camp, kids learned how to sail the 85-foot vessel. They also studied marine species, water quality, knot-tying and navigating.

The close quarters forced the crew and kids to come together and work as a team.

But that doesn’t happen right away. The kids are asked to put their phones on Airplane Mode when they get on the boat, they are fed vegetarian meals and they are asked to work as a tight group.

“When they first get here, it’s a culture shock,” Briggs said.

But that soon changes.

“It’s interesting to see that first day the kids get here not knowing anything to then becoming fast friends with the crew and the other kids,” Briggs said.

One of those kids was Enzo Solomon. The 10-year-old from Weehawken, N.J., first went out on the Meerwald for a one-day sail. After Captain Briggs mentioned the mini summer camp, Solomon asked his mother if he could join.

His mother, Vanessa, said Enzo had never been away from home. But she said she couldn’t say no, because it was such a great experience for her son.

“He’s done lots of day camps, and he plays sports. But to be independent and learn something like this really appealed to him,” Solomon said.

Nick Kasian, 14, of Hamilton, who was helping deckhands throughout the two-hour tour, said the toughest part was learning his surroundings.

“The first day it was really just learning my ways around the boat and call-outs and putting the sails up,” Kasian said. “And one of the most challenging things was learning to get along with people in close quarters. And as you can see it’s now a tight-knit family.”

Kasian said the summer camp is a great way to learn how to sail, a subject he is very interested in.

“I could see myself working on the crew or something like this in the future,” he said.

Captain Briggs hopes that the young people will come back either to join his crew or just to take another cruise on the schooner.

“Who knows? Maybe they’ll be a marine scientist someday,” he said. “Or a captain.”

Contact: 609-272-7258

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Features reporter, Flavor magazine editor

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