Value of Sail / Outdoor Training for Mariners

And the navy has a reputation for being great mariners as evident by their lack of accidents and close calls /s

Navigating and handling a ship are different than navigating and handling a 20 ft row boat in BC, making landings on islands and staying in tents. The captain of any ship you sign onto as a mate expects you to be able to navigate and maneuver for traffic, it’s the job description.

Good things the schools send you out to sea before you graduate to practice/demonstrate said skills.

These are the same fundamentals for any pilotage in the world. It’s local knowledge. It’s why pilots are required in a lot of ports. Your company doesn’t use pilots so it makes sense for your employees to learn these things.

This is the same process of orientation at any of the academies. Forgot your flashlight? Whole company is suffering for it. Wrong color socks? Whole company suffers. Etc.

I’m not arguing that this training may well be great for CTI. I’m saying why should this be a part of the academy program? If they want this program they can do it at CTI or on their own time and put it on their resume. I’m sure MMP/MEBA/AMO would all take note and they’d go to the top of the applicant list for jobs. /s

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Outward Bound was founded in Wales during the Second World War by Kurt Hahn, an educator, and Lawrence Holt, the owner of a shipping company. The original aim of the programme was to instil values of initiative, tenacity and compassion into young British sailors during the war.
The younger sailors would die when the older hands survived.
Outward Bound was supported by the late Duke of Edinburgh who attended Gordonstoun School in Scotland that was run on the same lines as the early Outward Bound courses.
When I attended it was run by an ex-Major who had founded the Long Range Desert Group during WWII the forerunner of all special forces.
I doubt that an HR department would countenance the things we did.


I don’t see any academy doing this type of training in the future. We can do it because we live on the Salish Sea, many northern reaches of which are semi-wilderness, which is key. Few waterways in the USA have as many tidal gates in close proximity. Also key. So you have to have the right geography.

But, mainly, a risk-adverse college simply cannot set up a system where hardship and danger are a component of learning. Parents won’t accept it. A company can accept it because a greater danger is admitted by not doing the training.

Any school (Harvard, West Point, Kings Point, whatever) teaches to a minimum standard acceptable to the public and industries it serves, within its framework of accreditation. A matter of money. A rigorous sail-and-oar training program is beyond this minimum.

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Does a new Mate need boot camp, rifle training, how to march around campus doing square corners, or a regiment?

Still, the Academies have a regiment and all cadets must be in it, and a lot of time is wasted on that bullshit. A lot of potential students are turned off by it. A lot of cadets quit over it.

If you want that ROTC money, you’ll get a lot more military training and marching.

If you accept a commission in the Navy, do you need boot camp to be a deck officer. Probably not, but your going to go to boot camp anyway.

Many unlimited tonnage mariners don’t have much respect for limited license mariners, but it takes a much bigger tool box of skills to be small vessel mariner.

There is an adage: “the ocean is only hard around the edges.”

All the deep sea mate has to do is not run into anything mid-ocean. The pilots and assist tugs do all the hard parts for him.

The small vessel mate often needs to be able to do it all. He needs a much bigger tool box of seamanship skills.

People with sailing (sailboat, especially sailboat racing) experience tend to be good boat and barge handlers because they have a keen weather eye and they know how to observer the affect of the elements on the vessel and compensate for it. They know how to navigate by eye in tight places and have better situational awareness.

Most tug companies have learned the expensive lesson that “big license” usually means “small skills.”

In the past, we have talked about people who are seamen because that’s who they are, and that’s what they do vs. the people that are just whores who only do it for the money.

To me, a “seaman” that does not know how to row, sail, operate an outboard motor, run a skiff, etc. (basic seamanship skills), and doesn’t think he needs to know, he’s no seaman at all. Moreover, he’s probably the type of guy that only does it for the money.


Hurricane Island Outward Bound School

April, 2014By: Philip ConklingPhotography: Fred Field and photos courtesy Hurricane Island Outward Bound, circa 1965

Location: Camden

Life is An Expedition: The long way home for the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School

Picture a bold dome of gray-white granite crested with the dark shapes of spikey spruce emerging from a foggy morning somewhere off midcoast Maine. Picture huge monoliths of stone cut from the cliffs of the island strewn about like remnants from the realm of Ozymandias. Then picture a 6-foot-2, deeply tanned, rangy sailor walking down to the island pier, swaying from side to side as if he were still aboard a sailing vessel.

That was the scene encountered by an earnest 25-year-old graduate student as he landed on Hurricane Island in Penobscot Bay in 1975 to meet with the director of the outdoor camping program headquartered there. That was not just another Maine summer camp director, and the graduate student was not there for a camping experience, but to assess the environmental impact of this outdoor adventure program on the Nature Conservancy’s islands.

To some of the Conservancy’s trustees, the wilderness camping program seemed cult-like—after all, they put their students on islands for three days without food or shelter and expected them to live off nature’s offerings. And since the volunteer trustees were not boat people, they hired the graduate student (namely, me) to visit the islands used by the organization known then and now as the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School (HIOBS), which had been founded by Peter Willauer, the sailor who met me that day at the head of the wharf.

As captivating as the careening seabirds were wheeling overhead, it was hard not to be distracted by the human ecology of the island. The air was charged with energy and purpose and equal measures of tension and release. Groups of students of every imaginable shape, color, age, and condition ran by on circuits around the island’s bouldery periphery; another group lined up at the main pier, prepared to jump from an intimidating vertical height into Penobscot Bay. To those students, hovering between terror and exhilaration, it was not a mere dip in the Maine ocean but a character-building exercise over which Peter Willauer had presided for the previous 11 seasons.

Peter Willauer, founder of the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School

After Willauer graduated from Princeton and taught sailing to midshipmen at the Naval Academy, he had been hired as a math instructor at Groton School in Massachusetts. While there, he heard about a highly unusual program in Gordonstoun, Scotland, founded by the legendary British educator, Kurt Hahn. Hahn, a refugee from Nazi Germany, believed that the purpose of education is to impel young people into value-forming experiences based on such qualities as tenacity, sensible self-denial, and above all, compassion.

Although Willauer had not yet met Hahn, he had heard the story. In 1941, the father of one of Hahn’s students–Sir Lawrence Holt, owner of England’s largest fleet of merchant ships–had contacted Hahn, concerned about the high casualty rates among younger merchant sailors torpedoed by German U-boats, even as older, less fit seamen survived the ordeal in lifeboats. The owner asked Hahn to design a program to instill inner resources among young seamen to help them survive the ordeals ahead. And thus was Outward Bound program born.

When Willauer heard the story in 1962, he immediately wanted to start an Outward Bound school and he was just young and naïve enough to think he could. But he needed a location. Groton’s headmaster, Jack Crocker, had a family house on North Haven island in Penobscot Bay and suggested Willauer check out nearby Hurricane Island, which had been abandoned by a quarrying community 50 years earlier.

When Willauer stepped ashore on Hurricane Island in the fall of 1963, he saw that the massive main quarry cliff could be used to teach rock climbing and the quarry reservoir could be the island’s water source. He also saw that the tall island spruce could be used for a ropes course, and he marveled at the massive granite foundations that could serve as foundations to support a new community on the island. In less than an hour, Willauer knew Hurricane was the perfect site for an Outward Bound school and 10 months later, he had negotiated a ten-year lease with its owner, James Gaston.

In the summer of 1964, Peter Willauer showed up on the island with 50 volunteers and a few skilled carpenters and began putting the Hurricane Island community back on the map. Instead of being known for the rigors of stone cutting, this new community would be built on Kurt Hahn’s dictum to engage the natural curiosity and indefatigable spirit of young people.

Willauer’s vision was “to create a community of people on the island who learned the trade craft of Outward Bound,” he told me recently. In his mind, Hurricane would be “an island of apprentices where everyone was working hard with high standards of excellence —where people learned from each other and could go on to lead many different enterprises.”

In those years, the sense of possibility that infused the island air was intoxicating. After an Outward Bound course, many students and staff left the island believing they could do anything they set their minds to. Rafe Parker, Willauer’s second in command, became the head of the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. An instructor, Lance Lee, founded the Apprenticeshop in Rockland after also starting the Apprenticeshop at the Maine Maritime Museum. Another instructor, Don Perkins, founded the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. And that graduate student who walked up the ramp in 1975 became Outward Bound’s naturalist and went on to found the Island Institute, initially under the broad and generous umbrella of HIOBS.

By the time Peter Willauer stepped down from his leadership role 25 years later, the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School had become the largest of 40 Outward Bound schools in the world, with over 100,000 alumni. From its headquarters in Rockland, the school operated in 14 locations stretching from Maine through Boston, Philadelphia, Chesapeake Bay, and the Florida Keys, offering a diversity of programs for teens and adults, for civic organizations and school groups, for juveniles and war veterans, and for justice providers and multinational corporations.

One of Willauer’s most controversial actions was hiring a highly decorated military veteran. Colonel Robert B. Rheault had appeared on the cover of Life magazine in 1969 in connection with the “Green Beret Affair.” As commander of the U.S. Special Forces in Vietnam, Rheault had taken responsibility for the execution of a North Vietnamese double agent. When Bob Rheault showed up at Peter Willauer’s doorstep a year later in 1970 looking for a job, Willauer took a risky intuitive leap and signed him on to teach courses at Hurricane Island. For the next 32 years, Rheault dedicated much of his life to teaching adult courses and helping Army veterans recover from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder through Outward Bound programs both at Hurricane Island and at their land base, the L.L.Bean Mountain Center in Newry.

Willauer believed everyone needed an Outward Bound course. But not everyone in the organization necessarily agreed. The strains on the school in terms of staffing, logistics, and overall program quality grew as Hurricane Island Outward Bound’s budget topped $13 million a year. Many of the school’s trustees were exhausted by trying to contain Willauer’s constantly expanding vision. In 1989 Hurricane Island’s trustees gave Willauer a sabbatical and showed him the door.

After Willauer left, Bob Rheault filled part of the leadership vacuum, often serving as a mentor to aspiring field staff, including a young, inexperienced instructor, Eric Denny. Denny’s first unforgettable course as an assistant instructor was one that Rheault had organized—a group of Vietnam veterans suffering from PTSD and a group of the Soviet Army’s Afghan vets. To Denny, that course was “a powerful expression of Outward Bound’s pedagogy—bringing together two different groups of men who had been taught how to kill each other and then returned home to countries that had turned against them and listening to them open up with each other for the first time.”

A quiet moment on Hurricane Island

Eric Denny had first gotten involved in a Hurricane Island Outward Bound course when he was about to turn 16, but it was not until he graduated from Bates College five years later, wanting to become an “educator of some sort,” that he recognized the program’s full effect. The month he had spent at Outward Bound years before stood out as by far the most powerful educational experience in his life and he wanted to learn more. He applied to become an instructor in 1991 and ended up with a year-round field instructor’s contract, including that first course with the “Vietnam-si” and “Afghan-si” vets.

In spite of Hurricane Island’s many effective field instructors, it is fair to say that the organization began to lose its way. Willauer’s first replacement lasted a scant two years and was a disaster. Although other leaders at Hurricane Island, including its first woman president, Joan Welsh, helped stabilize the school, it was perhaps impossible to match Willauer’s accomplishments and charisma as the founder of Outward Bound’s only American sea school.

To complicate matters further, Outward Bound’s phenomenal success spawned a legion of imitators. By the end of the 1990s, scores of competitors offering outdoor adventures had eaten into the school’s core market and program offerings. Also, the world had changed. It was harder and harder for young people to find jobs; for many young people becoming employable through an internship was a more compelling summer focus than becoming a better person.

And then in 2006, Hurricane Island Outward Bound’s leaders did the unthinkable; they abandoned the island. It was simply too expensive to operate there. Hurricane Island became the town that disappeared—twice. Where once it had been common to find a quarrying tool left in place when the granite company closed down abruptly in 1914, it was eerie to find running shoes or climbing gear—remnants of Outward Bound’s four decades on Hurricane—similarly left in place after the last staff and students left.

The coast of Hurricane Island

Because most of the country’s other Outward Bound schools faced similar issues of declining enrollments, leaders at the national level suggested the best way to address the schools’ slow and steady decline was to centralize marketing, development, and program operations across the various Outward Bound programs. In 2006, the Hurricane trustees closed down their administrative offices in Maine and agreed to become affiliates of the national organization. The thinking was that people don’t care whether they take a course in Minnesota or Maine—they just wanted an Outward Bound experience.

Eric Denny saw the entire slow-motion dissolve. He also had a ringside seat in the new organization, as he became its chief advancement officer and chief operating officer for the national Outward Bound Association. “Rolling everyone up in a national organization resulted in fewer donors, not more, and resulted in less financial stability, not more,” he told me.

After five years under the new organizational framework, Eric Denny led Hurricane Island Outward Bound School back to its roots in Maine, “disaffiliating,” as he delicately put it, with the parent organization as of the end of 2011. In 2012, under Denny’s vigorous renewed leadership, Hurricane Island Outward Bound School formed a new board of trustees and has operated successfully in the black for the past two years.

Denny, who will lead the celebration of the school’s fiftieth anniversary this summer on Hurricane Island, recalls that in the early days, the organization helped train new recruits for the Peace Corps. Similarly, Denny envisions Hurricane Island Outward Bound partnering with other Maine non-profits that do not have the organization’s long experience and successful track record of safely running expeditionary programs safely in remote locations—or at sea.

Denny is philosophical about the journey he taken with the organization he loves and now leads. “Life is,” he observes, “an expedition, and we are back with a focus that feels good.” But he is never going to stray too far afield again. “The Maine brand meant more than we knew—and we almost lost it.”

Hear more from Eric Denny on the Dr. Lisa Radio Hour + Podcast.

This article is 10 years old.


I never got any rifle training. If it wasn’t mandated that there be a regiment I doubt most kids would sign up to be in it. Plus, after freshman year really all it consists of is the uniform and formation in the morning. All you did was take what I said and flip it around, so you’re kind of proving my point. It’s not needed.

Yeah, that’s kinda the point of ROTC - to join the military, and they do a lot of marching and training.

Again, that’s part of the military. They do things differently so I don’t really see the comparison.

Depends on what ships you sail on. I’ve sailed on ships where I’ve done a shit load of ship handling as a 3M to accomplish the mission.

I don’t think working for money makes you a whore. It makes you someone who needs a fuckin job and you found what you thought was best for you. Are there people that love sailing? Sure. Are there people that don’t like sailing? Sure. Does that make them whores because they wanted a job that pays well, gives a lot of time off, allows them the chance to travel for work, and isn’t an office gig?

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I would expound on this to include almost all small boat handling skills, but certainly agree on the sailors being the most situationally aware.

I have to say. The CTI program looks like something you could charge money for to the right clientele, but good on you for using it as a crucible as well as a leadership trainer. Your program and company offers adventure for pay. Something some of us thought we were getting into in this rather broad industry, but found floating desk jobs with good time off and decent pay.

The fact that it exists at all is testament to the spirit of the Northwest in my opinion. Like other things that are looked upon in this modern world with incredulity for their being out of time and place, something as character building as this should be applauded. I never had something like that, but I was sailboat racing before I was a tween and credit it with a whole lot of who I am now as a man.

There is value in our pursuit of these careers and lifestyles that goes far beyond the money we can make.


DGPS/LORAN/Decca, old school SatNav with a position spit out on a run of adding machine tape, whatever gadget or gizmo (including Ecdis/radar) are all great tools, but if you punt the last 100ft to the dock because you misjudged the current/tide or wind OR got pinned to the dock and couldn’t work off due to forces setting you to the dock, wellllll…a bit of experience under oars or sails may have tickled the brain and reminded you to either not try to get to/off the dock, or pull a few tricks you may have learned under more “primitive” conditions.

I won’t say growing up paddling a canoe, rowing a duck boat, killing time on a Sunfish, or even my time in Eagle made me a better boat handler, but it sure didn’t hurt!

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I think the biggest obstacle to having a high quality Outward Bound type of experience built into an Academy program is cost.

The second problem is colleges are managed by faculty committees. The PhDs want the focus on academics, particularly whatever the woke flavor of the semester is.

Ii don’t think liability and risk has anything to do with it. Parents pay a lot of money to send kids to Outward Bound. Donors contribute big money for scholarships too.

At an Academy, there is a lot of tension between the priorities of the PhDs, and the priorities of the maritime instructors with licenses, but no advanced degrees.

A few years ago someone told me a funny story about Maine Maritime. It might or might not be true. A faculty committee was discussing the best way to provide some sort of practical training in the ship. The Librarian thought her opinion should carry more weight than the Captain’s, because she had a PhD.

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What would you expect a college to focus on instead? Playing Boy Scouts?

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Sounds like bullshit for a number of reasons.

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An Academy isn’t a normal college. It’s half college and half Vo-Tech school.

Lots of colleges give college credit for various sorts of “adventure” programs.

Some colleges also have “Semester at Sea” programs that are sail training with along with some marine biology, oceanography, and anthropology.

That’s the thing. I don’t think all academies do anymore. At least they don’t on commercial vessels.

For cadet shipping its a graduation requirement Maine, Kings Point, and Great Lakes.

Shockingly I don’t even think it’s a graduation requirement for SUNY or Mass.

And I’m not sure about Cal or Texas.

Everyone knows you’ll probably get more training on a rowboat with Outward Bound than going on one of the training cruise with 300 other kids.

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You mean like a cadet internship on a commercial vessel?

You graduate with a bachelor of science so it would seem that it’s still a normal college in the sense that you are required to complete some “normal college” classes.

I can’t speak for SUNY but Mass is required.

I think if you sent me a 3M fresh out of school and their only experience was Outward Bound they’d be just as useful as a kid who only ever did training ships.

I don’t think it’s about rowing the boat. It’s about learning to look at a stretch of water in a different way. And hopefully understanding one can shift perspectives on anything.

Not just mariners - same thing happens to contractors, architects, photographers etc.


I’ve gone on record here as saying NO academy is likely to begin a rigorous sail-and-oar trading program. But…

If you are happy with a program that teaches you the deep lessons of keeping track of your socks and flashlights as a foundation for piloting and navigation then the present system is an adequate minimum.

If you are envisioning a system of training that simultaneously and obsessively immerses a trainee in every facet of tidal prediction, as well as terrestrial navigation, route planning, weather routing, safe anchoring, and at the same time rapidly develops sheer physical strength and mental endurance, all for the same buck mind you, then the mind-your-socks-and-flashlight thing isn’t the same thing at all.

But as I have said, no academy is going to do it. The economics don’t pencil out. In the big picture, the amount of US vessels running aground is low enough that increased standards of piloting training are deemed unnecessary by society and industry. The minimum standard, set by economics, works.

Yeah you took that out of context. That’s not the extent of the training for a “foundation of piloting and navigation”, as you’re well aware. I was point out that camping and making fires and rowing boats are not the only way to skin that cat. Which again, you are well aware. There are 100 hawsepipers who are better than academy kids, and there probably academy grads and hawsepipers that are better than some guys at CTI who did the program.

My point on this entire thread, which was directed mainly at the guy who said “the academy’s should have this program instead of orientation” was this: no, they shouldn’t. I didn’t go to a maritime academy to play Boy Scouts or sea scouts or whatever. I went to get a license and a degree and go sail deep sea. If people have other goals, that’s great, there are other programs. The program you have at CTI works for you. You never lack crew, and you have (from what it sounds like) excellent crews. I know guys I went to school with that have worked there since we graduated. Putting “Outward Bound” on your resume for a deep sea union/company means nothing to them. Do you have a license? Great, you’re hired.

I believe it was the Fifth Officer of RMS Titanic (Lowe?) who said something along the lines of Few boatmen are seamen, while fewer seamen are boatmen.

Ponder on that, but it makes sense. Not trying to start a limited vs AGT argument here, but I have worked with a lot of VERY good tugmen over the years and if they can push a big bulk or red flag barge ahead, then switch around to the wire and back again…well, I think if they can handle a big unit in the push in port, they could adapt to handling a big ship. Wire work? A perishable skill, to be sure and well outside my wheelhouse but while I think most ship people could (eventually) get on/off the tow, it would be a scary thing.

Another memorable passage I once read (seem to think it was in a Farley Mowatt book) dealt with a harbor master during WWII saying he would trust any of the harbor tug skippers to get a Liberty ship to Europe, but wanted nothing to do with ship masters trying to run his harbor tugs without pranging docks and hulls on a regular basis.

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From the History of Outward Bound webpage:

Developing Education in a Time of War

As war broke out in Europe in 1939, Lawrence Holt – a partner in a large merchant-shipping enterprise - insisted that faulty training was the cause of many seamen’s unnecessary deaths in the Battle of the Atlantic. “I would rather,” he told Hahn, “entrust the lowering of a life-boat in mid-Atlantic to a sail-trained octogenarian than to a young sea technician who is competently trained in the modern way but has never been sprayed by salt water.” Hahn recognized that it was neither youth nor age that conferred capacity on the sailors; it was the shared experience of overcoming challenging conditions. Hahn proposed starting a new kind of school in Aberdovey, Wales: a one-month course that would foster “physical fitness, enterprise, tenacity and compassion among British youth.” They agreed to name this school Outward Bound.