“It’s fairly rustic,” says Christy Griffin. “There are no curling irons and no hair dryers. If you want a shower it's usually in the lake.” As far as downside, though, that’s pretty much it. Griffin works with Bytown Brigantine. They sail in tall ships, with fully licensed youth crew on Lake Ontario, the St Lawrence, and the Atlantic Ocean. As such, the camp is pretty unique, though there are more programs like it than you might think, including Toronto Brigantine, the Tall Ship Adventure Camp at Stanstead College. Class Afloat, West Island College International, offers programs year round.
“It’s not a cruise,” says Griffin. “You’re stepping aboard as a crew member.” There are lots of things to do, and everyone does them. At the same time, they learn about the weather patterns, do chart work, even prep food in the galley.
“It’s very much a hands-on. This really appeals to those kids who like hands-on work.” It also isn’t for the faint of heart. Griffin recalls that one year there was a girl who was terrified of heights, and, um, resistant to getting up into the rigging. Even so, the boat is its own world, with everyone leading by example, and within a few days, she was up there, too, getting the job done and loving it. They all do, even without their phones. (Devices are only available to the kids while they are in port. Nice.)
The kids on board are the crew, and, under the direction of the senior crew, are responsible for the life of the boat in all aspects, including presentations while in port. One session sails from St John, New Brunswick, to New York City, and takes in the sights and the culture along the way. “They will be sailing Long Island sound, Martha’s Vineyard and Mystic Seaport. … In Louisburg, it’s crab fest that weekend, and we’ll be participating in a very authentic maritime event.” They’re the experts, interpreting the experience aboard.
The voyage of a lifetime
“This is a big deal this year,” says Griffin. Bytown Brigantine takes part in Rendez-Vous 2017 Tall Ships Regatta, with more ships this year than ever. They refer to the ships as “giants of the sea” and they are out there, right now, making their way toward North America. The crews race in stages, including legs from Bermuda and then up the eastern seaboard.
Eleven ships, including Bytown Brigantine’s Fair Jeanne and Black Jack make up the Great Lakes Flotilla that is meeting in Hamilton on June 30th before travelling to Quebec City to meet the incoming ships will come in from the Atlantic to Quebec City for the tall ships regatta.
It sounds unreal, but it isn’t. Your child can do it this summer. You can do it too—some sessions allow adults to come along. Honestly. How great is that?!