CHARLESTON, South Carolina (February 28, 2007)—Turn back the calendar. The residents of Charleston and South Carolina are reconnecting with a bygone era, and in so doing, they intend to address crucial issues in education. In a city known for historic preservation, this initiative isn’t about buildings; this time it involves a ship—the Spirit of South Carolina. When the newly built, 140-foot traditional sailing vessel finally splashes down on Sunday, March 4, it will offer a unique portal into the region’s history, but it will also present a window of opportunity for tackling some vexing problems facing the state’s school systems.
Almost six years in the making, this elegant, robust vessel—envisioned originally as a means of rekindling interest in the region’s rich maritime heritage—will become the first genuine wooden sailing ship to be built here in more than 100 years. Where once there were hundreds of such ships, and many shipyards, now there is just one to call this region home, but it’s a ship worth the wait.
The 150-ton Spirit of South Carolina has been designed and built along the lines of the traditional pilot schooners that served as a vital component of the region’s busy mercantile scene in the 18th and 19th centuries. Like its forerunners, this ship has been built with traditional methods, including lumber grown in South Carolina, and this ship will also have a crucial function—serving to deepen and enhance the education of young students from around the state.
“There’s really nothing like the experience of sailing aboard a classic ship,” explained Brad Van Liew, Executive Director of the South Carolina Maritime Foundation, the organization responsible for building and managing the ship. “For young kids, being part of a crew on a magnificent vessel like the one we are launching, can truly be a transforming experience. It’s challenging and educational, and it provides an environment that fosters important discoveries about yourself and about the natural world. There’s really no other form of education that comes close to the power of a sail training program.”
Beginning in the fall of this year, the Spirit of South Carolina will enter service as a sail training vessel, accommodating fifth and six grade students on day sails out of Charleston and elsewhere along the South Carolina coast. The ship will be staffed with a captain and several mates, as well as a number of purposely trained educators. Math and science lessons will comprise the primary curriculum for these students, but those lessons will also incorporate an understanding of the history and culture of the region.
Sail training is a well established concept for delivering experiential education. It’s practiced throughout the coastal U.S. and abroad. Though various port cities in the southeastern U.S. have frequently played host to sail training vessels, the region truly hasn’t had a full-fledged ship to call its own until now. When it’s launched, the Spirit of South Carolina will be the only fully operational traditional sailing vessel over 100 feet representing the southeastern U.S.
“The student crewmembers who travel aboard this ship,” explained Tony Arrow, captain of the Spirit of South Carolina, “are in for a terrific experience. Sail training not only underscores the important concepts learned in a classroom, but it teaches the qualities of stewardship, resourcefulness, and humility, and it does so in subtle yet enduring ways. We know from experience that these students will gain a greater appreciation for the power, grace, and fragility of their environment, and we know they’ll learn to respect teamwork as well. It may sound like a bold claim, but once you put a sail training program in place, it starts developing leaders—caring, committed individuals who will grow to benefit any community. And in that way, the reach these programs have can be absolutely amazing.”
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