My semester at sea taught me how to reach beyond the ordinary. There is nothing like setting a course toward an empty horizon to inspire dreams of all the possibilities of life.”
— Myles Matteson

The rewards of sailing a tall ship are deep and durable, because the challenges are so real and the experience is so personal.  Sailing adventure is compelling because it is uncontrived, springing spontaneously from the voyage itself.  Seafaring engages your mind, body, and spirit like never before, and inspires you to strive for your own personal best…all while being a valued and important member of the team.  The quality of work, and the spirit in which we do it, has a profound effect on the well-being of everyone else aboard. Leadership, paradoxically, is arrived at by learning to take direction and by becoming a team player.

Courage, confidence, competency teamwork, responsibility, and dedication to a goal are the values that are promoted through the sail training experience.  These character traits have defined successful people, both as individuals and as members of the larger society. Aboard a sail training vessel, as in life, our small piece is a critical part of the whole.   

In the United States and Canada, there are many sail training vessels which serve as laboratories and classrooms at sea. College and high school students regularly embark on semester-long voyages of offshore ocean discovery while younger children explore local waters on grade school field trips. Ocean literacy and conservation has become a crucial part for many programs at sea, conveying the important message of one ocean, one world.

Historic vessels, or their reproductions, function as interpretive museum exhibits, conducting voyages of outreach to the public. Most North Americans can trace their ancestors’ arrival by ship. The last sailing vessel to regularly carry immigrants to America still plies New England waters, now a sailing school vessel.  There are reproductions and restorations of ships representative of each of America’s naval conflicts. We may board important sailing ships of the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War and some which played their part in the World Wars. We may experience life at sea aboard Grand Banks fishing schooners, mackerel seiners, oyster boats and whalers, cargo ships, and pilot boats.  Many ships were merchant vessels, immigrant ships, those pressed into the slave trade. There is not a chapter of our history which does not have a waterborne link.

Other North American ships sail ambassadorial missions for the public they serve, issuing invitations of hospitality and promoting opportunities for economic development. Others sail to save the environment or to promote international relations through citizen diplomacy.  These vessels draw our attention and focus us on their missions because sailing ships are powerful icons, symbolizing strength, beauty and harmony wherever they go.  Those who sail know the ocean to be that which connects us to foreign lands — not a boundary which separates us.

Several American sail training ships serve as treatment centers for adjudicated youth while others provide exclusive corporate team building exercise or offshore adventure travel — from coastal cruising with gourmet cooking to blue water voyaging. While the clientele could not be more different, these ships are all in the business of enrichment. As diverse an agenda as this may seem at first glance, these ships all provide sail training. The common denominator is that each uses the wind and sea to teach us something else. Sail training, like reading, is not a subject in and of itself. It is a means to an end. A medium. An environment. We at Tall Ships America often say that sail training is not learning to sail, it is learning from sailing. From the ship, from the sea and perhaps most importantly, from yourself.

Tall Ships America’s member vessels and programs foster opportunities for intensive personal development — intensive life experience in order to advance leadership development, an utter reverence for nature, a sense of time and place, an appreciation for history, and teamwork ability. Sail training really teaches the qualities of stewardship, resourcefulness, pride, humility, bravery, strength and grace. And we learn to sail, too.