How We Learn

Getting started on tall-ships

Wow! How did you end up doing that?!
These are the words I’ve come to expect from new acquaintances after telling them what I do for a living.

I’m a North-American woman in my late twenties, and for the last several years I’ve worked on and off on tall ships, mostly doing education work with youth. Right now I’m in Tasmania doing the same, and truly having the experience of a lifetime on a big sturdy brigantine at the threshold of the Southern Ocean.

I did not grow up on the water, and until I was 20 had never myself experienced what has now become the predominant force in my life: the thrill of being driven through a frothy chop, sails tight against a steady breeze, with the sun happily bearing witness to this greatest of partnerships between man and nature.

Where the obsession began! A view from the cross-trees on my first tall-ship, the Schooner Isaac H. Evans of Rockland, ME. (2004)

And yet, HERE I AM, on another boat-based journey, once again following this passion to a new part of the globe. I’m not saying that this life is easy, comfortable or lucrative (although parts of the industry certainly are). It is, however, doable…if you truly want it. For those that do, but don’t know where to begin, I think tall-ships are a great way to get your start. It’s definitely not for everybody, but as a launch pad, it has a lot of advantages.

The goods

Tall ships are a great place to learn, and are a relatively easy industry in which to find work. Many are operated by non-profits that specialize in education, and thus are perfectly suited to train newbies. Plus, they often can’t pay very much, so they’re always looking for enthusiastic new recruits!

Camaraderie is the name of the game on these traditional boats, not only because of the serious teamwork required to make them go, but because of the hardships you’ll certainly have to endure together. So if you’re looking for a “professional” community to welcome you with open arms, this is it.

The questionables

  • The pay, as mentioned, is often pretty low, although room and board is almost always covered.
  • The culture, to some, can seem quite base (best not to be easily offended by swears or bodily functions), and, oddly, also stuck-up (try challenging the efficiency of traditional methods to a tall-ship sailor!).
  • The most important caveat that I would give anyone getting their start on tall-ships is: Don’t think that being able to crew a tall-ship means that you know how to sail. To really understand sailing, you’ll eventually have to find your way to a small boat, and sail it yourself.

The connections

Here are some websites that have become a standard part of my seasonal tall-ship job-search. My best advice at this point is to explore, inquire and check back often!

  • Tall Ships America Billet Bank
    This is the best resource I’ve found for hunting jobs on tall-ships. When you’re in the heat of the search, check this daily!
  • Maine Windjammer Association
    This website contains links to 13 of the almost 20 schooners (and one ketch!) that operate in mid-coast Maine June-September. Apply in January. Spring outfit usually starts in April. The Maine coast is one of the most beautiful and interesting places to sail in the world.
  • Sail Training International
    I’ve never actually followed up on a lead from this one, but they do seem to have an active billet bank. Most of the postings are for Captains or mates, but on occasion there will be openings for volunteers with less experience. Mostly it’s just fun to imagine sailing off to exotic places…

About Stephanie Katz

Stephanie is a young woman from the Northeastern United States who was swept off her feet by a schooner at the ripe age of 21, never to be the same. After attempting to lead a normal life on land for some years, she finally came to her senses and ran away to the sea.

Today she spends most of her time pursuing a career in the maritime industry, writing her blog, and making sure her life is as jam-packed and fun-filled as possible.

How did you get started sailing?
Let us know.
Email or leave a comment below.

Pin It

1 comment to Getting started on tall-ships

  • Interesting. We did the same thing, but where you went with tallships my wife and I worked private yachts across the South Pacific.

    It really is amazing where “one little cruise” can take you, or your whole life!

Leave a Comment




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>