Jump to: Our History
The TopSail Youth Program was conceived in the late 1980’s when Captain Jim Gladson, an LAUSD science teacher and sailor, witnessed the positive effect that the experience of sailing at sea had upon even his most challenged alternative school students, including those with dyslexia. In 1992, Captain Gladson and a circle of passionate advocates founded the Los Angeles Maritime Institute (LAMI) as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and formalized the educational experience as the TopSail Youth Program, embarking on a voyage that would deliver the program to youth from under-resourced communities in Southern California and beyond. The mission was to use sail training to provide youth with the real-life challenges that would help them develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to stay in school and become healthy, productive adults.
Captain Gladson summarized this best in “It’s More Than Just a Boat Ride,” written in coordination with the founding of LAMI:
“The sailing school vessel provides an educational venue, rich in potential for the development of knowledge, skills, and attitudes that are both necessary for the education of today’s youth, and difficult to teach in the classroom. The sailing school experience enriches, validates, and challenges the conventional school curricula. Science, mathematics, physics, biology, geography, history, literature, and even poetry suddenly come to life in this real-world classroom.”
Having out-grown Dubloon, the original vessel Captain Gladson used, they sought a suitable vessel for purchase with less than $5,000 in donated funds and a one-room office in the depths of the city-owned Los Angeles Maritime Museum. A short time later, the 92-foot topsail schooner, Swift of Ipswich, was purchased with the help of a loan from a local foundation, and they started sailing with groups of adolescents. Inspired by Captain Gladson’s dedication and vision, the foundation’s loan used to purchase LAMI’s first vessel was paid back in less than four years thanks to hundreds of the program’s local supporters, many of whom volunteered and witnessed the positive results of the unique TopSail Youth Program first-hand. Responding to the success of the program and the demand for additional sailing days, the 130-foot schooner, Bill of Rights, was obtained in 1997.
As the TopSail Youth Program continued to demonstrate success, the organization began construction on two 110-foot brigantines, which were designed and built specifically to address the educational needs of the program. The twin educational sailing vessels, Irving Johnson and Exy Johnson, are traditionally rigged wooden replicas of the merchant ships from the Age of Exploration and the Age of Sail. Each brigantine has a capacity to hold 45 youth participants and educators, and they are named after experiential learning pioneers who sailed around the world seven times with young crews in the 1930s and 1950s. At their launch in 2002, with namesake Exy Johnson and her family in attendance, Los Angeles’ Mayor James Hahn and the City Council proclaimed these state-of-the-art tall ships and their youth crew as “The Official Tall Ships and Maritime Ambassadors of the City of Los Angeles.”
In 2017, LAMI received the prestigious Partners in Educational Excellence Award from the Association of California State Administrators. This recognition was made possible by the LAUSD administrators who recognized how their students benefitted from our character-building STEM education programs.
In 2018, the organization acquired a majestic 130-foot, three-masted schooner, American Pride, which had previously been named the Official Tall Ship of the City of Long Beach when it was used as an educational sailing vessel by the Children’s Maritime Foundation. After performing a modern stem-to-stern restoration, American Pride received her U.S. Coast Guard certifications in March 2019. That is when she once again became an educational tall ship for LAMI’s new Long Beach-based division, the Children’s Maritime Institute, with a capacity to hold 75 youth participants and educators. LAMI’s former schooner, Bill of Rights is now owned by another non-profit, and it frequently appears alongside LAMI’s vessels at local maritime festivals.
In the 30+ years since the Los Angeles Maritime Institute was founded, more than 130,000 young people have had the opportunity to directly benefit from participation in hands-on learning experiences through the TopSail Youth Program. Both LAMI and the TopSail Youth Program have also grown and evolved to better address the needs of youth in our communities with expanded program offerings that include Sea Scouts Ship 1992, summer camps, bilingual sails, public sails and more.
“Among the infinite array of factors and events that influence the course of a person’s life there are a few “windows of opportunity” that are particularly open to outside intervention. One of these is adolescence, that period when most youths first question and challenge authority, when newly discovered causes are most passionately embraced, and the human need for exploration and adventure is most easily fulfilled. That is, if you are growing up in an accepting, nurturing, loving, family and society that can afford the luxury of cultivating it’s next generation.”
~Jim Gladson, Founder of the Los Angeles Maritime Institute
Click here to view/download It’s More Than Just a Boat Ride by Captain Jim Gladson