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Why Sail Training

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Excerpt from Tall Ships America

A ship at sea has been described as a microcosm of the planet. Resources are finite, waste must be managed responsibly and success depends on one’s ability to work as a team. One quickly learns that many hands lighten a load. In a similar way, so do good shipmates — those who are focused, considerate, and good humored. There is no place on earth which better illuminates leadership qualities, nor marks the path so clearly toward achieving them. The rewards of a smoothly run ship are immediate, obvious and sweetly satisfying. As sailors have said for centuries, take care of your ship and she’ll take care of you.

There is no better feeling in the world than coming off an early morning watch having watched the sun rise and helped to scrub everything down for the start of a new day. As you leave the ship in the hands of the next watch you realize how happy you are to see them — and even happier to leave them to it – as you go below for the sort of breakfast you’d never eat ashore and a grateful climb into a narrow berth assuming any angle of heel. Adjusting to sleeping when you can is strangely easy, and you find yourself sleeping easily in your bunk no matter what the time of day or the weather (well, with the occasional notable exception!). You find yourself frequently aware of living completely in the moment, and you take great pride in accomplishing tasks and seeking new challenges for yourself.

Aboard a sail training vessel, as in life, our small piece is a critical part of the whole. 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. Becoming a team player. Pulling your share of the load. Being absolutely responsible. Dependable. And, learning to depend on the responsibility of others. For no matter what the particular mission of a ship might be, it is essential that she be safely navigated and handsomely attended.

This is true of the larger world, but in the larger world, the quality of our actions are not so immediately apparent. In our day to day lives, most of us do not have at hand accessible evidence of collisions we’ve safely avoided, environmental conditions we gained advantage from, or courses accurately steered no matter the conditions. Our actions seem at times to be in a vacuum and feedback is often butted by other issues. It often takes years to measure the efficacy of our navigation and our ability to “hand, reef and steer” our lives. Nor do we often have the simple yet somehow completely thrilling affirmation of perfectly set sails in a stiff breeze and a ship “with a bone in her teeth.” On a sail training vessel, it’s right there. Right now.

For some, sail training offers first time successes. For others, it is a much needed refresher course in life when we find ourselves, for instance, knocking hats off passerby’s or staring too long at funeral processions — which Herman Melville describes as “high time to get to sea” in Moby Dick. For all, sail training offers an absolutely unique experience.

Read TopSail Founder Jim Gladson’s abstract – More Than Just A Boat Ride