Tall Ships America:
40 Years of Adventure and Education Under Sail
By Capt. Bert Rogers
Founded in 1973 as the American Sail Training Association, Tall Ships America changed its name in 2011 and adopted the motto "Adventure and Education Under Sail," but its mission stayed the same: to encourage character-building through sail training, promote sail training to the North American public, and to support education under sail.
As commercial shipping shifted from sailing ships to mechanically propelled vessels, nations and merchant fleet owners deemed sail training critical to their continued mastery of navigation upon the high seas. An appreciation sustained by maritime nations like the United States, which operates the U.S. Coast Guard barque Eagle to train officers and cadets. Our motto is based on the idea that these same training values can be made available to civilians, as well.
Our membership includes nearly 200 vessels and affiliated educational programs at the elementary, middle, high school and college levels, serving populations of diverse needs and backgrounds. We also represent tall ships and sail training in networks and exchanges with other educational, industry and governmental organizations, including the U.S. Maritime Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and others. We are pleased to include the United States Power Squadrons as a valued partner in promoting safety at sea and maritime education.
One of our major activities, the annual Tall Ships Challenge series of races and public maritime festivals, rotates on a three-year cycle around the Atlantic, Great Lakes, and Pacific coasts of North America. Currently under way, the Tall Ships Challenge Great Lakes 2013 series has more than 20 ships participating in 20 host-port festival events. Involved in many port events, USPS volunteers are lend their skills and expertise to help manage safety and security on the waterfront.
Why does the experience of voyaging under sail continue to grow, as cargo-carrying and naval warfare have moved on to new technologies? What are the inherent values that endure? How can this still be relevant in our modern technological culture?
In today's world, a sailing ship provides challenges that touch almost every aspect of the human experience in a way that just can’t be found anywhere else.
Physical challenges: Voyaging under sail is physically demanding. Hoisting sails, hauling braces and sheets, heaving anchor, and wrestling the helm are hard work. Climbing the rig takes strength as well as courage and confidence. Even if they didn’t arrive with it, trainees are nearly guaranteed to have this strength when they disembark.
Natural wilderness challenges: The sea provides a wild and glorious natural environment and field for adventure. Meeting the weather face-first and head-on, sailors quickly learn that the sea is boss. The reward is an intimate relationship with the marine environment, an understanding of its natural forces and a deep appreciation of its infinite beauty.
Intellectual challenges: For all of its physicality, seafaring requires a sharp and engaged intellect to embrace the mathematics of navigation, the science of meteorology, as well as the technical aspects of vessel stability, structure and engineering. Seafarers must also develop critical problem solving and problem anticipation skills.
Social challenges: New trainees learn that the ship comes first, the community comes second and their individual needs come third. Everyone has a role, a function and an important contribution to make. People from different backgrounds learn to depend on and trust each other. A tradition of honest, merit-based upward mobility ensures that leadership roles accrue to those best able to fulfill them.
Lifestyle challenges: Setting sail at sea means leaving behind video games, smart phones, fast food, hot showers on demand, and modern life’s other instant gratifications and distractions. Creature comforts dwindle, and shipboard life is full, with no excess idle time. For today’s youth, this experience by itself can be liberating.
Environmental challenges: A voyage is a commitment to self-sufficiency. Resources must be managed, waste must be minimized, and that which absolutely can’t be used any longer must be carried until it can be properly disposed of. Seafaring is a lived lesson in sustainability.
Character challenges: Making a voyage under sail takes courage and determination. New trainees often feel trepidation; after all, they must embrace a new way of life, including a new social organization with new priorities, demands and even a new language. This uncertainty soon gives way to confidence and competency, providing a crucial character-forming rite of passage that has few parallels in modern society.
The rewards gained from adventure and education under sail are deep and durable. The challenges are real, and the experience is personal. The way of a ship demands our best and inspires us to strive for personal excellence in a context of tight teamwork, inextricably linking our individual advances and community achievements.
Courage, confidence, competency, teamwork, responsibility and dedication to a goal are the values promoted through "Adventure and Education Under Sail." These character traits have defined successful people since the beginning of time. What can be better, more gratifying, more empowering or more fun than a young person who breaks the uncertainty barrier with the joyful shout: "I can do that!"
Tall Ships America has programs for all ages, backgrounds and interests, from local day sails to yearlong circumnavigations. The organization looks forward to working with USPS to develop new local programs that carry our shared message to the public at large. For more information about where to find a tall ship near you, visit tallshipsamerica.org.
Capt. Bert Rogers, executive director of Tall Ships America, served as an apprentice aboard the brigantine Romance under Capt. Arthur Kimberly, one of the last American masters from the days of commercial square-riggers. Rogers worked his way up to master and has worked in every aspect of the tall ships trade, from rigging ships to sailing them and founding new programs.
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