Association offers unique experiences

A former shipmate pointed out that I had omitted a useful conference from the list I supplied in last month’s column. 

He said that the American Sail Training Association puts on two conferences each autumn. Indeed, the ASTA will hold two related conferences in Tacoma, Wash., beginning with their annual two-day meeting, Agents of Change: Navigating an Ocean of Possibilities,Nov. 4-5. This will be followed the next day with ASTA’s Biennial Education Under Sail Forum entitled the ABC’s (Adventure Builds Character) of Experiential Learning. 

ASTA ( lists over 225 U.S.-flag vessels and member organizations that provide sail training experiences.

I recently sailed on an ASTA member’s sail training/research ship during a four-day repositioning cruise from San Pedro, Calif., to San Diego. The Robert C. Seamans, a 134-foot steel-hulled brigantine equipped with sophisticated oceanographic equipment, was built at J.M. Martinac Shipbuilding in Tacoma, Wash., in 2001. It is one of two oceanographic research ships operated by the Sea Education Association ( headquartered in Woods Hole, Mass.

My son discovered the 12-week SEA Semester program years ago when he was in college and looking for a change of pace for a semester during his junior year. He received college credit for working the ship, conducting oceanographic research, and studying maritime history, navigation, and seamanship. After intense instruction ashore and at sea, he joined the hands-on crew on a research trip to the Grenadine Islands in the Caribbean. This involved watchstanding, sail handling, mess cooking, deck swabbing, as well as data collection and analysis in the on-board laboratories. The vessel was a campus, a classroom and a home. He loved it, except for the seasickness.

The trip on the Seamans was a reunion cruise and parents were invited. We learned that SEA had expanded beyond college undergraduates and now includes summer programs for high school students. The daily routine had not changed much, and we stood watches together and worked as deckhands on the trip. It was also a return to my past, reminiscent of my underclass years as a cadet on the Coast Guard cutter Eagle. 

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