“Sail training” and tall ship sailors has certainly gotten a black eye over the past two weeks. Some of the criticisms are well thought out; and, hopefully, some positive things will come out of the Bounty fiasco.
However, this forum has hosted many unwarranted, disparaging comments about the people who crew these “tall ships” I am posting this to, hopefully, put some of the “sail training” discussion back on a charted course.
Regarding all of the comments about inexperienced, unprofessional crew on tall ships: If you have been sailing on a tall ship for two weeks – and have half a brain – you will be a contributing member of the crew.
You need to know to work with a line under a load. You have to know how to furl a sail. And you have to be able to follow instructions. That is pretty much it. No need for master mariners in the deck crew.
If you can make a bowline, a round turn with two half hitches and a clove hitch – even better. Coiling and belaying a line – you will learn that in a day or two.
And depending on the rig, you may have to be able to go aloft.
Maximum two weeks and you can be a contributing member to the crew. Either that or you just don’t belong on a boat.
A century ago, tall ships were manned the same way. You had a few seasoned deckhands, a mate and master, and a bunch of people who didn’t know anything on day one. Or, do you really think a deckhand joined a sailing ship a hundred years ago and said “So what school did you go to?”
That is not to say that crewing on “sail training” vessels does not require a high level of skill. It does. There are a whole lot of required skills most of which have nothing to do with being a mariner. For example: You need to have a good attitude; in part, because you will have very little if any personal space. There is also a lot team work required. You have to be able to work well and play well with others. You have to be able to take constructive criticism. And you have to be able to learn from your mistakes rather than repeat them.
Now comes the hard part: working with kids who come onboard. Most of them are there because their guardian or teacher made them do it.
As a crew member you have to have unbridled enthusiasm, tremendous patience and a willingness to work with kids. Strike one, strike two and strike three for some of the g.captain posters.
I stated out as a volunteer on tall ships, eventually quit my corporate job, worked for a few years on “sail training” vessels and then went the commercial route. I would like to share with you the most valuable skill I learned sailing on tall ships.
I did a lot of sailing with inner-city kids who lived in bad neighborhoods, attended failing schools - and the cherry on top - came from a bad family situation.
A common mistake of well-meaning, want-to-be mentors was that they would start out an interaction with a kid with a question like: The boat we are on now is a 120-feet long. Do you know how long Columbus’s ships were? Note: it was hoped that this well-intentioned effort would begin a dialog with said kid that would end later in the sail with a young person deciding that “yes college and graduate is a better opportunity for me than becoming a rap star”.
That mentor failed to realize was that in this young person’s world, being the smart guy isn’t necessarily an admired trait. In fact, the classroom is viewed as an opportunity to be embarrassed and humiliated rather than educated.
What the kid hears the adult saying is: “I know something you don’t know. I know that you don’t know. And now I am going to point out that yo don’t know.”
And the kid thinks: “In a few moments, I am going to have an even lower opinion of myself than I already have”.
This fear is oftened masked by a false bravado or complete withdrawal, or at best indifference. Occasionally the toughest kid on day one is the kid sobbing at the end of the week after they have developed enough trust to open-up to said mentor about a life problem.
The skill is learning how to build trust with a kid and to create the curiosity in the kid’s mind. The boat becomes a classroom where the line between teacher and student becomes very blurred.
This is what most of “sail training” is about.
I had the privilege to meet a lot of really great people in the wrongly named “sail training community”. Many of them were retired people who want to the opportunity to give back to the community. Some were fresh out of college. Some were attracted by the living history. Some were looking for an outdoor activity. And, yes, some of them were tree-hugging, granola chomping , want-to be actors, who showed up to volunteer because the renn fair was rained out.
But the common thread is that they are very good people. And they deserve far better treatment than they have received on this forum over the past couple of weeks.
And if you think your better than they are, in part, because you were able to pass a Coast Guard multiple choice test, you might be mistaken.