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24 Mar, Friday
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Montreal Families

Set sail this summer

For most of us, the thought of taking part in a high-sea adventure conjures up nothing more than images of heading off to see the latest pirate film.

But young people intrigued by what they might learn at sea can test their mettle at summer camps where teens command sleek sailing vessels or majestic tall ships reminiscent of a bygone era.

Brianna Adamson, 20, spent five summers aboard tall ships, beginning when she was just 13. She had seen a picture of the ships and literally fell in love with them. “They looked absolutely amazing,” she says. Through the Ottawa-based Bytown Brigantine organization, Adamson learned how to navigate two 87-foot tall ships, the Black Jack and the Fairy Jeanne.

Adamson says that the first summer was tough. “I was sick during most of the trip with some sort of flu and I didn’t really like it,” she recalls. But she enjoyed the challenge of learning to sail. “There is a lot to learn and a lot of theory.” In fact, by the fifth summer, she was hired as a crew member, even receiving a special crew jacket, which became an emblem of all she had accomplished through the program.

Tall-ship adventures

Helping young people develop skills and confidence is essential to the Bytown Brigantine program, says Mary Acton-Bond, the education and outreach coordinator for the organization. About 90 per cent of first time campers, who range in age from 12 to 19, don’t have any sailing experience so hands-on training is the first priority.

“Campers are actually running the ship,” Acton-Bond says, so they must learn how to climb the rigging (wearing mandatory safety harnesses), tie sail knots, steer the boat and navigate a course.

Professional crews teach safe sailing skills but the goal is to have campers sail as a team. “How many 13-year-olds can be self confident enough to lead a group of peers in sailing a tall ship?” said Acton-Bond. “It’s magical when that happens.”

Bytown Brigantine uses two ships for its summer program. The Black Jack sails on the Ottawa River (campers live on the ship), which is docked at night. The Fairy Jeanne sails longer routes on the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes.

Developing practical as well as life skills are a key part of Sail Caribbean’s programs. Operating since 1979, the organization teaches young people ages 12-19 how to sail 50-foot yachts in various locations in the Caribbean, including the British Virgin and Leeward Islands, Belize and the Bahamas. Most programs group a dozen teens aboard boats with a professional crew. The young people learn to sail and run the vessels, while taking turns acting as captain, first mate, cook, deck hand, etc. Academic credit may be earned for many of the programs.

Program director Sam Harvey says teens get a huge confidence boost from their summer experience. “When they come to us, the kids usually are unsure about themselves. Then they learn to sail a 50-foot boat, and live in social settings and figure out how to do things as a group,” he explained. By the end of the program, teens realize just how capable they really are.

At Sail Caribbean, campers can also pursue different interests such as scuba diving, marine biology or even community service programs. For example, the organization has teamed up with the wildlife Conservation Society to offer teens hands-on work protecting endangered turtles in Belize.

Two other Canadian organizations also offer tall-ship adventures. Class Afloat, which was based in Quebec for 20 years before recently moving to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, offers programs in the summer as well as the academic year. This summer, as many as 48 campers ages 15-18 will set sail on July 5 on a 188-foot brigantine ship for a three-week voyage through the waters surrounding Atlantic Canada. The adventure includes leadership training, language classes and.. excursions on land. Class Afloat also offers semesters at sea for students in Grades 11 and 12 as well as CEGEP and university.

Toronto Brigantine Incorporated, a non-profit group operating for 45 years, offers sailing aboard tall ships. The boats sail Ontario’s Great Lakes regions, with departures either directly from Toronto or via a bus that takes campers, ages 13-18, to the departure point. During the trips, campers are assigned to different “watches” (to sail the boat) but also have time to swim and play games.

Running off to sail the seas was once a time-honoured way of proving that you were ready to take on the challenges of adult life. Through sailing camps, teens can gain some of that confidence and know-how in a controlled, safe environment.

Sailing Camps

Sail Caribbean
Based in Tortola, British Virgin Islands.
Sessions run from early June to the end of August. Programs for college-age students begin in May.
Prices range from $3,000 to $6,000, not including airfare.
(631) 754-2202

Bytown Brigantine
Based in Ottawa.
Up to seven camp sessions per summer.
Prices range from $90 to $110 per day, including accommodations, food and excursions.
(613) 596-6258

Class Afloat Summer Camp
Based in Lunenburg,Nova Scotia.
Offers a three-week session starting July 5.
Prices begin at $2,300, including all excursions (travel to Nova Scotia not included.)
(902) 634-1895 or (800) 301-7245

Toronto Brigantine Incorporated
Based in Toronto.
Camps run all summer.
Prices start at $110 per day.
Phone/ Fax: (416) 596-7117

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