Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale...
April 9, 2012 9:40 PM   Subscribe

In 1984, The Voyage of the Mimi set sail on PBS, exploring the ocean off the coast of Massachusetts to study humpback whales. The educational series was made up of thirteen episodes intended to teach middle schoolers about science and math. The first fifteen minutes of each episode were a fictional adventure starring a young Ben Affleck. The second 15 minutes were an "expedition documentary" that would explore the scientific concepts behind the show's plot points. A sequel with the same format, The Second Voyage of the Mimi aired in 1988, and featured the crew of the Mimi exploring Mayan ruins in Mexico.

The links above are to the playlists for both shows. 13 episodes for the first. 12 for the second. Individual episode links:

The Voyage of the Mimi
1. All Aboard / Planet Ocean
2. Setting Sail / Whale Watch
3. On the Shoals / Mapping the Blue Part
4. Counting Whales / Whale Bones
5. Going Fishing / Scraping the Bottom
6. Home Movies / Songs in the Sea
7. Fastening On / Hands Full of Words
8. Tracking the Whale / World's Worst Weather
9. Shipwrecked / Goose Bumps
10. Making Dew / Water, Water, Everywhere
11. The Feast / A New Alchemy
12. Rolling Home / Boat Shop
13. Separate Ways / A Sailor and a Scientist

The Second Voyage of the Mimi
1. A Charter To the Past / If I Can Do This!
2. A Tomb In the Jungle / Sweating It Out...
3. A Light In the Dark / As the Earth Turns...
4. The Underworld / The Incredible Shrinking Head!
5. A Stone Puzzle / Feeling The Pressure
6. Cracking the Code / Written in Stone
7. The Quest Begins / The Ancient Farm
8. A Road To Danger / Venom: A Scorpion Tale
9. A Friendly Village / Curandera
10. Discoveries / Up a Tree
11. Found and Lost / In the Canopy
12. The Fate of a King / One Stone at a Time

Wikipedia on The Voyage of the Mimi / The Second Voyage of the Mimi. Here are summaries of each episode.

Oceanographer Kim Kasten discusses her time on the show, and asks: Was "Voyage of the Mimi" effective? Apparently, it's still being used as a foundation for curriculum in at least one school.

Here's a quote from Affleck on the show.

The final documentary of the first season mentions that the ship used in both seasons really was called the Mimi. Wikipedia has its history. Last year, boston.com covered the sad, Last Voyage of the Mimi, in East Boston.
posted by zarq (35 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
Speaking of humpbacks, this would have been followed in short order by The Voyage Home.
posted by bicyclefish at 9:45 PM on April 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

And countless schoolchildren decided they wanted to become marine biologists.
posted by PueExMachina at 10:02 PM on April 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

I saw these as a 5 yr old, and and psyched with nostalgia. Thanks for sharing.
posted by thisisdrew at 10:17 PM on April 9, 2012

Oh great, now I'm going to have the Voyage of the Mimi theme song stuck in my head for the rest of the week.

When I was in 6th grade I felt there was something vaguely creepy about the whole series, although I never put my finger on what it was.

It was also one of the more boring educational experiences of my life. I think it contributed to my waning interest in science throughout the rest of middle school and early high school. Maybe because watching TV in science class seemed like a cop-out? I wanted to be doing chemistry experiments and looking through a microscope and cool shit like that. We spent a huge amount of time making these really big whales out of paper during our Voyage of the Mimi unit. Again, didn't really measure up to my expectations of middle school science at the time.
posted by ootandaboot at 10:27 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Voyage of the Mimi was a very special big thing for me when I saw it as a young adolescent, back in ancient times when you watched the god damned thing when it was on or else you Just Missed It. I think it would not have been as appealing if it had been a school thing. I didn't know until recently it was this whole curriculum.

I don't find the story of the boat all that sad. It was 77 years old! Nothing lasts for ever, and that is a pretty amazing run for what seems to have been a perfectly average little cargo boat from a whole other era. Frankly it would bother me more if someone sunk 1 or 2 million into restoring a derelict boat from a frankly minor educational series. I find the fact that it ends up probably 80 years after the trees were cut down as mulch on 21st century New England yards kind of droll.
posted by nanojath at 10:41 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Again, didn't really measure up to my expectations of middle school science at the time.

Blame your middle school science "teachers", not science or television for this. Science is always thrilling when taught properly. You obviously weren't. If I could wave a magic wand and change that for you, I would.
posted by hippybear at 10:42 PM on April 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

I loved this show as a kid and felt utterly ripped off later when I discovered that the framing device was fictional.

You have no idea how much I wanted to believe that there was a real sailboat for science with a kid on it.
posted by jann at 10:44 PM on April 9, 2012

When I was in 6th grade I felt there was something vaguely creepy about the whole series, although I never put my finger on what it was.

As I recall, the dad/skipper's wife had died tragically and there always seemed to be this weird tension between him and the crew.

Maybe it's not even there in retrospect. Thats just how I remember it.
posted by Avenger at 10:45 PM on April 9, 2012

I watched this in 4th grade computer class back in the day...there was an Apple IIe educational software package that went along with the episodes...I remember the triangulation simulation being quite good.

The Hypothermia episode was the talk of the playground, I tells ya!
posted by Esteemed Offendi at 11:20 PM on April 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeah, that Hypothermia one was the only one I could remember until I randomly discovered this a few years ago. Just an isolated memory of watching on PBS two dudes strip down to their skivvies to get under the blankets with the old captain guy.
posted by Snyder at 12:24 AM on April 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

We watched this in 7th grade science class, from it I remember three things:

1. How to purify water with the sun by putting a cup in the middle of a big tub of water, covering the whole deal with plastic wrap, and putting a rock in the middle so it evaporates and drips down into the cup.

2. The goddamn theme song


Also the skipper was kind of a dick. Thanks Mimi!
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 1:10 AM on April 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

I LOVED the Voyage of the Mimi, and I thought it was totally awesome! In 6th grade, after we finished watching it, my class went to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA and heard the Captain talk about SCIENCE. Then we went to Gloucester and saw the actual Mimi and then got to sit in Ben Affleck's bunk on the ship.

As an 11 year old girl, it was the Best Thing Ever. Ben Affleck plus WHALES!
posted by ChuraChura at 4:46 AM on April 10, 2012

Oh MAN. This series is exactly why I am obsessed with both whalewatching AND the Maya (which I have since dealt with by moving to Massachusetts and working on boats, and spending a semester abroad in Mexico and traveling around Mayan and Aztec ruins. Booyah!) For what it's worth though we watched this show in my fourth and fifth grade G&T classes, and that seemed right about the right age range. I'm surprised how far into the middle school curricula this made it; I definitely see how it could lose its lustre by then.

Thank you so much for posting these! This has totally made my day.

Oh man I remember playing Quiché in the mock trial we did for the bad guy in the second series...
posted by olinerd at 4:58 AM on April 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I also remember being bored out of my skull by this. And I wouldn't blame my science teacher as he was my favorite teacher from sixth grade. I blame Ben Affleck. Ben Boring Affleck.

Though now that I think about it, the only thing I actually remember doing in sixth grade science was creating a maze for maggots or worms or bugs or something disgusting that had to then make it through the maze.
posted by sonika at 5:27 AM on April 10, 2012

10. Making Dew / Water, Water, Everywhere

This is the one I remember. And I could have sworn this was just part of 3-2-1 contact. Any chance my local PBS station aired the half episodes with that?
posted by DigDoug at 5:28 AM on April 10, 2012

Was there by any chance a female leg amputee involved?
posted by The Confessor at 5:44 AM on April 10, 2012

I remember watching this in my junior high science class on laser disc.
posted by Fizz at 6:05 AM on April 10, 2012

You Mimi haters better step off! Boring? The show taught children how to make drinking water and cure hypothermia with nudity.

I loved this series- my 5th grade class also got to visit the actual Mimi when it was docked in Boston harbor and met the Captain. I bet you Mimi haters also hated field trips.
posted by emd3737 at 6:24 AM on April 10, 2012

....and I'm back in sixth grade. Thank you.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:43 AM on April 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wow. I had totally forgotten about this show. No doubt it's my nostalgia showing, but it seems the PBS kids line-up was a lot smarter and expected more from kids then than now.

I see your Voyage of the Mimi kids' show earworm and raise you a Mysterious Cities of Gold.
posted by smirkette at 6:47 AM on April 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I never saw this in school, but I ended up working for the educational software company that distributed it. I was in QA, and at one point was assigned to the Mimi properties. This included testing the laserdiscs, CD-ROMs, companion software, workbooks, etc. So I and some others probably sailed the Mimi dozens of times.

While the testing could be monotonous, working with a great group of people made this a job where I would go home with my sides hurting from laughing all day. There are tons of catchphrases to yell across the room and situations to riff on. For the company Halloween party that year I went as Captain Granville, complete with shark.

Was there by any chance a female leg amputee involved?
Yes, that would be in the Second Voyage.

Also in the second series, they had a segment at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine where they profiled a stonecutter working there in the carving shop. She had already been working there for a number of years and the work won't be done for decades. I was fascinated that this woman might spend her entire working life at one place, working on the same thing! I wonder if she is still there. (direct link to this segment)
posted by mikepop at 6:54 AM on April 10, 2012

The Second Voyage wasn't online last year, so I got a VHS copy via interlibrary loan and watched it in an unused classroom during lunch over the summer. So relaxing. A vision of a lost adulthood involving nothing but science, learning and exploration.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 6:56 AM on April 10, 2012

1. How to purify water with the sun by putting a cup in the middle of a big tub of water, covering the whole deal with plastic wrap, and putting a rock in the middle so it evaporates and drips down into the cup.

This is called a solar still. I had to learn to make them for survival camping with the boy scouts in the southern NM desert. I doubt they can even do that kind of thing today -- sending 14 year old kids out into a summer desert with minimal food and tools and no water and getting them to survive for a weekend using their own know-how.

Still, cutting up a barrel cactus into chunks to put into a solar still does yield a surprising amount of liquid after a while.
posted by hippybear at 7:13 AM on April 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

About all I remember about this show now is that they picked up rabbit poop when they were shipwrecked (haven't watched to verify this, though). 4th grade me thought this was hilarious.

I ... I might just leave that memory untainted by a re-viewing.
posted by barnacles at 7:14 AM on April 10, 2012

How to build a solar still.
posted by zarq at 7:17 AM on April 10, 2012

I like how, if anyone ever mentions this show to my friends, we will all immediately start "doo doo doo-ing" the theme song. That thing is the ultimate ear-worm.

The part I remember, along with the hypothermia nude party, is that you always look in your boots because there might be scorpions in them! When I was a kid, I alllllways checked my boots before putting them on. (Admittedly, scorpions were not much of a problem in NYC apartments....)
posted by silverstatue at 7:45 AM on April 10, 2012

That was Ben Affleck?

For some reason my 6th grade literature class used this as a curriculum for a semester, prior to one of our yearly whale watching field trips.

1. How to purify water with the sun by putting a cup in the middle of a big tub of water, covering the whole deal with plastic wrap, and putting a rock in the middle so it evaporates and drips down into the cup.

Yep, that's the part that stuck with me all these years. Coming from an area where rain doesn't fall 7-8 months out of the year, tips like this stuck with me during my childhood.

(If you get lost in the desert, you can chew on the stalks of the yucca plant for hydration. Tastes like really lousy watermelon!)
posted by annathea at 8:54 AM on April 10, 2012

I remember watching this back in elementary school. Although, I didn't know until now that there was a sequel.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 9:04 AM on April 10, 2012

god damn this show was so boring

we made up a song making fun of it and that song was terrible but it was better than the show

i never did become a marine biologist
posted by beefetish at 9:19 AM on April 10, 2012

All I can say is THANK YOU.
posted by spamguy at 9:24 AM on April 10, 2012

Oh man, this is amazing. Mimi is the one of the main reasons I've had a crush on Ben Affleck for twenty-eight YEARS.
posted by elsietheeel at 11:18 AM on April 10, 2012

Dude, I LOVED this in elementary school. Even at that age the idea of being sequestered away with only geeks and adults, studying marine life, and learning survival skills seemed like the sweetest of dreams. This calls for a Whale Tail IPA and a rewatch. I'm sure that it will seem terrible now, but I still remember staring at the accompanying whale poster just lost in thought about the amazing beautiful strangeness of all those creatures.
posted by troublewithwolves at 2:24 PM on April 10, 2012

I just wanted to chime in and say we also used this as our curriculum in 4th and 5th grade AG classes ('92, '93, IIRC), and we taped off a life-sized whale on the stage floor. I had forgotten all about that, but I do remember that the field trip to see the Mimi in Baltimore was the only field trip where my dad was ever a chaperone, and he was usually busy working whilst I was growing up so it was pretty awesome to share with him. I still have my rope bracelet somewhere at my folks' house.

Thank you.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 3:36 PM on April 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Great post! Right on. I was a little too old to experience this myself but my brother was entranced. Our school was near the ocean so he got to do a "Mimi" program at the nearby beach with real marine biologists - and he loved it. As a teacher I taught a lot of kids who had Mimi in their background. It was a very effective program.

I was really surprised to check out the Wikipedia entry and find this was shot in Marblehead, MA, just minutes from where I sit right now.

Also, you gotta read about the vessel the real Mimi, which was a French-built vessel commandeered by the Nazis.
posted by Miko at 6:29 PM on April 10, 2012

That "Making Dew" episode is etched in my mind, along with a sign-post that says "SCIENCE FTW".
posted by Theta States at 10:01 AM on April 11, 2012

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