Our vision is to enhance the awareness, appreciation, and understanding of the rich cultural maritime heritage and history of the Piscataqua River estuary through the staging of rewarding events and educational programs that the public, and especially youth, can actively participate.
Our mission includes a series of events including a Tall Ships Event (Sail Portsmouth) staged annually in Portsmouth Harbor; the Sea Challenge, offering local teenagers the opportunity to spend up to one week at sea in a sail training program aboard a tall ship; and, a series of Maritime Talks offered to local schools and community groups.
Board of Directors
Phil von Hemert, Board Chair
As chairman of the Piscataqua Maritime Commission board of directors, Phil von Hemert sees himself and his fellow board members as stewards of the region’s seafaring past and future.
He has cruised and raced sailboats for 45 years, complementing a long-held interest in the history of sailing in 18th and 19th century America and underscoring his appreciation for the tall ships that visit each year during Sail Portsmouth. “They are, essentially, living museums,” he says.
The stewardship of maritime traditions in this region takes on three primary responsibilities for those associated with the PMC. Besides the annual Sail Portsmouth tall ship festival, there is the Sea Challenge tall ship, experiential education voyages and Maritime Talks lecture series.
The Sea Challenge is what really motivated Phil to get involved with the organization.
This program enables under-served youth in the region, with the help of scholarships from the PMC, to attend week-long educational and experiential voyages aboard tall ships. The trips for these young people are, more often than not, life changing.
Phil takes a great deal of pride in the work the organization does raising money for scholarships, recruiting the participants, and coordinating with participating tall ships to make the Sea Challenge a reality. Each year the number of participants grows.
“If we are successful, we are effective stewards of our past and our future,” he says.
Patty Hutchison, Director
During the time that Patty Hutchinson has been a member of the Piscataqua Maritime Commission Board of Directors, she has seen the effect its programming has had on people.
“I really enjoy getting people to come see the tall ships every summer. It is interesting to see the different responses from young and old visitors to these beautiful, historic vessels that were the high tech machines of 160 years ago,” she says.
The annual tall ships parade is one of the programs organized by the all-volunteer commission to meet its mission of promoting and enhancing the region’s extensive maritime history.
The PMC has three pillars of programming on which its mission is built: Sail Portsmouth, which includes the tall ship parade, tall ship tours, sails, and other events; Sea Challenge, which offers underserved youth in the area an educational and experiential voyage aboard a tall ship; and Maritime Talks, a public lecture series on various subjects related to our region’s maritime history, sailing and the sea
Patty started as a volunteer at the encouragement of her aunt, fellow board member and Treasurer, Nita Libby.
She serves as the PMC’s Volunteer Coordinator, a critical function in recruiting and scheduling volunteers to make sure events run smoothly. Sail Portsmouth, in particular, relies on a large cadre of volunteers.
John Considine, Board Vice-Chair
John Considine has an extensive personal and family background associated with the sea, and that gives him a great appreciation for the work of the Piscataqua Maritime Commission.
With his father having served in the U.S. Navy and his brother having served in the U.S. Coast Guard, “I have been around salty seafarers all my life,” he says.
John grew up sailing Lasers and has crewed on racing boats. He counts himself as being very lucky to have sailed on Argentina’s tall ship Libertad from Baltimore to Portsmouth in 1981. He also spent a week on the tall ship Bill of Rights, a 136-foot two-masted gaff rigged schooner. He describes those experiences as life-changing events.
It is the combination of those experiences that heightens John’s enthusiasm for the Sea Challenge, the organization’s program enabling underserved youth in the region to spend a week on a tall ship for seamanship education in an experiential setting.
“Sailing gives you confidence and an appreciation for the sea – it’s wonderful,” he says. “Being able to help youth experience life on a tall ship is personally fulfilling.”
John, Vice Chair of the Board of Directors, initially became involved in the Commission because of his interest in what the Sea Challenge offered young people.
“We send youth out to sea at a very formative time in their lives,” he notes. “In a week living and working at sea, they build confidence, understand the value of working with a team, learn to take responsibility and their crewmates.
Maybe, most of all, they find an appreciation of the sea and sailing.”
Peri LaGassa, Director
Peri Lagassa grew up around maritime history, creating a natural fit for her role as a member of the Piscataqua Maritime Commission Board of Directors.
She describes Mystic, Connecticut, as her “home port” – where she grew up. Mystic is also home to the Mystic Seaport Museum, where her father was membership director and harbormaster.
“He loved tall ships,” Peri recalls. So much so that he’d schedule visits to Portsmouth just to view the annual tall ships parades.
A favorite photo, she says, is from 1982 of her eldest daughter sitting on her grandfather’s shoulders as the tall ship Simon Bolivar from Venezuela came into Portsmouth Harbor.
She is proud of the PMC’s efforts on behalf of promoting the region’s maritime history. Those efforts include the annual Sail Portsmouth events that include the tall ships parade and other activities, as well as the Maritime Talks.
She is especially proud of the commission’s third major program — the Sea Challenge, which gives underserved youth in the area an opportunity to experience an educational and experiential voyage aboard a tall ship. The PMC helps underwrite the cost of these experiences by providing scholarships. Most of the scholarship money comes from many concerned donors.
“My greatest joy is the Sea Challenge, where youth are sent to sea for a week to learn much about themselves, the sea, and responsibility,” says Peri. “For many, this is a “game changer.’“
Nita Libby, Treasurer
Nita Libby regards sailing, a pastime and passion for the last 45 years, as “an amazing adventure.”
The PMC Treasurer got involved in the Piscataqua Maritime Commission some 20 years ago so that she could help share that adventure with the region’s youth.
Nita’s voyages on the seas has ranged from short sails and cruises on small boats to a “great experience” on the tall ship Gazela.
As part of its mission to promote the region’s extensive maritime history, the PMC has three main programs — the annual Sail Portsmouth tall ship festival and its tall ships parade, the Maritime Talks lecture series, and Sea Challenge.
It is Sea Challenge that Nita regards as her way of helping youth in the area learn about themselves while learning to appreciate the pastime of sailing.
Sea Challenge offers week-long educational and experiential voyages aboard a tall ship. For underserved youth in this area, the PMC underwrites their cost with scholarship funds raised by our programs and from the generosity of many donors and sponsors.
Scott Braseth, Director
Scott Braseth has a hands-on appreciation for life on the sea and how it can improve a person.
A summer project after college building a boat with his father turned into the start of a career of building boats.
Scott attended the International Yacht Restoration School in Newport, R.I. then spent five years working as a shipwright in Greenport, N.Y., building and restoring some of the finest wooden racing yachts from designers such as Herreshoff, Fife, Luders, and Gil Smith.
In 2015 he returned with his wife to Portsmouth, where he continued working as an independent shipwright, and later as an ABYC certified master technician, specializing in wiring and marine electronics.
His boat-building projects have continued with what he calls his “own little fleet” of wooden boats that include a 15-foot wooden skiff built with his father in 2006 (their second), a Beetle Cat sailboat, and a 1950s era 30-foot wooden lobster boat.
Scott’s involvement as a member of the Piscataqua Maritime Commission Board of Directors affirms what he describes as a “tangible link” with the region’s rich maritime history.
“By giving people a first-hand experience of life aboard a ship, whether by touring one of the tall ships or through an actual sailing excursion, the PMC is able to bring a piece of history to life and perhaps instill a bit of perspective within people,” says Scott.
That experience for people doesn’t get any more hands on than the Sea Challenge, a PMC program that offers underserved youth in the area a chance to participate in a week-long educational and experiential voyage aboard a tall ship.
“The Sea Challenge program in particular is an amazing opportunity for teenagers to step outside of their everyday routines and not only learn a bit of seamanship, but also develop important life-skills and personal growth,” says Scott.
Rick Considine, Secretary
At age 14, sailing a friend’s 14-foot daysailer sloop on Narragansett Bay, Rick Considine says he was “bitten for life” by a love for the ocean.
That love led to a long career with the U.S. Naval Reserve aboard all manner of boats — troop transport, World War II vintage LST (shorthand for Landing Ship, Tank), and a minesweeper — the USS Hummingbird as a commissioned officer.
His love of the sea also led him to public service as a member of the N.H. Port Authority and, eventually, to the Piscataqua Maritime Commission.
“In 2014, I joined the Board of the Piscataqua Maritime Commission and have enjoyed our association immensely,” says Rick, its current Secretary. He has also been an active member of Rotary, an international service organization, since 1963.
He continues to enjoy the effects of that bite at age 14, as reflected in cross-Atlantic and ocean racing adventures, and his role at the PMC to help promote its mission of offering events and programming that highlights the rich maritime history of the seacoast region.
Susan Johnson, Director
Susan Johnson’s professional work is what got her interested in the efforts of the Piscataqua Maritime Commission.
She is the Expanded Learning Opportunities Coordinator/Grant Coordinator at Traip Academy in Kittery, Maine. In that job, she has helped recruit students to participate in the commission’s Sea Challenge program.
Susan became part of the PMC Board of Directors to help ensure opportunities continue for underserved youth in the region to participate in Sea Challenge, a week long experiential education voyage aboard a tall ship.
“Since the summer of 2017, I have had the opportunity to recruit students who have never set foot aboard a sailboat – let alone a tall ship – and watch their faces light up as they start their week-long journey at sea,” she says. “Even more rewarding, is meeting the students at the end of the voyage and listening their tales of the amazing experiences they had aboard.”
Susan grew up sailing on Lake Michigan and, after her father’s retirement, cruising in the family trawler along the coast of Florida. During a recent summer, she describes what she calls “an amazing opportunity” to be the deckhand for a 76-year-old lobsterman out of Pepperell Cove.
She is proud of the PMC mission to raise awareness of the region’s maritime history and programming that includes, in addition to the Sea Challenge, the Sail Portsmouth events and Maritime Talks.
The events, she says, “highlight our heritage as well as bring awareness to the importance of maintaining a working waterfront along the Piscataqua River.”