This might be an appropriate time to bang out an essay describing some of the inter-related disciplines that connect many of our students with the following organizations and professions: Tabor Academy students may not always be aware of the value of attending a United States Naval Honor School, but if they become associated with, or enamored with The American Sail Training Association, and / or The United States Merchant Marines, on a professional level, they may soon understand the importance of their own contributions to the security of our country, and to a small piece of our nations naval history.
Some readers may not be aware of how maritime institutions such as ASTA, NOAA, US Navy, USCG and the United States Merchant Marines nurture each other, so the purpose of this write-up is to point out how the highest quality mariners that I can think of contribute to the well-being of our nations Maritime resources. The perspectives that are incubated among some of the students at places like Tabor Academy contribute to our nation’s collective knowledge of prudent seamanship, and have a profound affect upon our nation’s ability to trade with other countries. Strong diplomatic ties can often be enhanced when our Civilian Mariners are called upon to provide disaster relief to other nations, and our sea power has recently been deployed to help an unprecedented number of people globally, as many nations reconsider how they can best manage our planets natural resources, and protect imperiled communities.
As an old hockey player, I realize that sometimes people "Drop the Gloves" to make a point, so my thesis here is to talk about our influence as older sail trainers, and express my appreciation for the 30 year-long running dialog that I have enjoyed with my maritime friends as we try to contribute to sail training. I don’t know how my Ideas will fit with other people’s views of the value of Sail training, but If you can bear with me, I might be able to describe how I envision Sail training fitting into a much bigger picture.
Recent editions of Proceedings Magazine, (The oldest continuously published periodical in our Country) from the Naval institute Press in Annapolis MD show an exchange of letters to the editor where certain US Naval officers lamented over the shortage of good ship handlers within their ranks. Their real beef might just have been related to the fact that top Aviators are often selected to take command of some of our nations largest warships, which can lead to a perceived knowledge gap in standard seamanship practices as executed on the bridge. Well, fear not readers, the men and women of the United States Merchant Marines (USMM) provide enough professionalism to bail out any aviator who is placed in charge of a $4.1 billion dollar aircraft carrier, and these professional mariners often hold rank inside of the US Naval reserve, even as they provide top ship handling skills as civilian mariners working for the Navy on tugs and barges and oilers and ammo ships. Many other types of vessels could be listed here, but the point is that there is an awfully good group of Civilian Mariners plying our waters.
The Department of Defense employs many civilians who provide the very best oversight for all of our nations floating assets. USMM officers study and practice for years to comply with United States Coast Guard requirements, so that they can accept responsibility for safely transporting the world’s largest moving objects. Our nation’s network of maritime assets, including Hydrographic research vessels operated by NOAA, and the prepositioning vessels of Military Sealift Command provide the resources that allow our nation to accomplish many great things. Everything from tsunami relief efforts in the Far East, to the support of ecological restoration projects on the Missouri river are managed by Civilian Mariners.
Now, within this pool of Civilian Mariners, there exists an unheralded elite corps of purists who collectively provide our nation with a repository of maritime knowledge, and practical navigation for commercial ocean transport. These men and women recognize each other in a number of ways, mostly by reputation, but sometimes through shared responses to the daily requirements of ship management. Graduates of institutions like Tabor Academy or Kings Point can often be found teaching young people, helping them to embrace new skills and new responsibilities.
There are people still alive today who remember Captain Andy Chase, Master of Oceans, Any Gross Tons, (professor at Maine Maritime Academy, Author of the most definitive modern publication of Auxiliary Sail Training for Ships Masters) when he was 17 years old. At that time he was spotted straddling the main mast truck of the schooner BOWDOIN, with his ankles and calves jammed between the shrouds, extending the palm of one hand heavenward to touch the underside of the Eggemoggin Reach Bridge while transiting that beautiful waterway.
Among my classmates, there cannot be many who could forget watching Ferguson and Glover, traveling hand over hand, across the Transaxles of the TABOR BOY, From main mast to fore, seventy feet above the deck.
As I reflect upon such experiences from long ago, I am somehow reminded that early next week, when I vacate my stateroom aboard the USNS LENTHALL in anticipation of a much needed vacation, I will walk past the License board where each officer posts his USCG License behind glass as is required by law. I might scan the fine print on these documents, admiring the different credentials and career tracks that have influenced my fellow officers, and I will not be able to suppress a smile if I note in the fine print, among all of the other qualifications and life experiences, that a particular shipmate is also recognized by his government as a "Master of 100 tons, Auxiliary Sail."
What does this tell me?
It tells me that this guy might understand how Joseph Conrad was able to use a floating hat as a mark, enabling him to know when to shift his rudder, backing his foresails, and thereby saving his square rigger from certain destruction on a lee shore.
It tells me that at least one shipmate might share the pride of Merchant Mariners like Jack London, and realize what London was trying to accomplish when he described his hero as being forced to manage both good and evil amongst his shipmates, serving before the mast under the command of Wolf Larsen.
And finally, It reminds me that there is a slight possibility that I might have a shipmate onboard who understands where to look, inside of the ultimate primary source documents of the United States Merchant Marines, as first described by Charles Henry Dana in 1835, where for six long pages, he carefully lists out every explicit command that is required to set sail aboard a fully rigged ship, driving 33,000 sq. ft. of canvas, and 2,000 tons of displacement hull, fully anticipating all of the challenges and hardships that might be associated with an ocean crossing.
This is the legacy to which our shipmates contribute everyday. Each time that we share our maritime skills with youngsters who have the courage to show up on time and prepare for a voyage, we help them to embrace the possibilities and accept the satisfaction that can be derived from a job well done. Young people earn their own autonomy in the natural and the physical world by finding ways to contribute to their own success, and to the success of their ship. To me, this is the essence of sail training. I have been fortunate enough in life to watch with admiration as the work of young men who were shipmates of mine, evolved into the mature work of those who are now old and grey! I can’t help but marvel at the continuity of the entire sail training process. In 2007 we are teaching the same mix of possibilities with safety and responsibility for all participants that we dished out in 1978. These lessons were restricted only by the laws of Nature, and by our mutual respect for the lives of all men and women who survive on the sea. Some things have improved. Masters of auxiliary sail today have a much better understanding of stability requirements for their ships, as opposed to the knowledge that was available in the mid 20th century. The process of sail training retains its pass-down traditions and retains its reputation as an alternative teaching forum that is particularly well received by lovers of our natural environment.