The purpose of the Sea Challenge is to provide an opportunity for teenage students from the Seacoast region to participate in an adventure-filled, experiential education program aboard a tall ship. The PMC’s commitment to this program is to provide scholarships for deserving and underserved youth who cannot afford to enroll. The benefits are three-fold: to build character and change lives, to teach seamanship skills and, occasionally, to inspire some to follow a career in the maritime industry and, finally, to provide a safe space for young people to have fun.
Sea Challenge operates under the auspices of the PMC, a 501(c)(3) charitable, non-profit. We are an all-volunteer organization that hosts a summertime tall ship festival — Sail Portsmouth — held in Portsmouth Harbor. The festival carries forward a tradition begun nearly 30 years ago by business leaders who wanted to transform the image of the City of Portsmouth. Because we have no office or paid staff, our overhead is low. Therefore, net proceeds raised during Sail Portsmouth go to the Sea Challenge program. We also rely heavily on donations from generous sponsors and program partners.
Some 10 years ago, Sea Challenge began with eight students. That number has grown steadily, reaching 55 students in 2019. About 60 has been anticipated for 2020 before the COVID-19 circumstances canceled the program for the summer. But expectations are it will come back as strong – if not stronger – for 2021.
Philosophy of Sail Training
Sail Training is experiential, adventure education on board a sailing vessel. Participants, often referred to as ‘trainees’, are presented with challenges the moment they walk onto the dock before boarding. Often the greatest challenge is the simple act of stepping off land and onto the deck of a ship about to sail away from family and home. Trainees must be willing trade the familiar for the unknown. They must overcome the anxious thoughts of sailing away minus everyday comforts like smart phones; of living with strangers; of climbing masts; of working as a team member to sail the ship efficiently and safely, of always depending on team that is equally dependent on them.
Each ship’s formal syllabus addresses nautical and seamanship skills such as navigation, taking the helm, ship safety, standing watch, knot tying and much more. Usually, marine science is part of the course. Certainly, it is when whales are sighted. For many seeing the night sky clearly for the first time and learning about the Milky Way and shooting stars will become indelible memories. Often, trainees are eligible for high school academic credit.
PMC does not own or have a financial interest in any of the vessels associated with the Sea Challenge. We contract only with ships and crews that specialize in sail training. They may depart from Portsmouth, Boston, Portland or elsewhere. The voyages usually end in Portsmouth. The one-week trips can begin on any day of the week, depending on the ship’s schedule. The ships can be two-masted schooners and three-masted square rigged ships. All are regularly inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard and certified by them to sail in local, coastal waters with overnight passengers. The safety of the ship, crew and passengers are the captain’s number one priority.
The Piscataqua Maritime Commission works with a variety of traditional and alternative high schools as well as several community organizations that serve teenager to recruit the trainees. These organizations identify and often sponsor teenagers they believe will benefit from an experiential adventure education program such as sail training.
Sea Challenge 2018
Lettie G. Howard
Apply for the Sea Challenge
Meetings are held at many local schools for both students and parents. At this meeting the Sea Challenge program is explained, and questions are welcome. Unfortunately, no meetings are being held in 2020.