sail training

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The modern term for crewing a sailing ship as a naval or merchant marine cadet or as an adventure experience for those not following a seagoing career. The vessels sailed are known as tall ships, meaning that they have high masts, often square rigged.

The advent of power-only vessels cancelled the necessity for career training in sail. However, the British Navy kept a sail training squadron and their brigs were in commission until the early years of the 20th century. Some commercial sailing shipowners also continued to take apprentices, believing in training in sail even for crews who would later serve in power-only ships. Up to the First World War (1914–18) some American states ran sea schools in vessels lent by the US Navy for boys intent on merchant service careers. Between the wars many navies continued to train cadets under sail, valuing the sail training ship environment where individual effort matters and the need for teamwork is apparent. Sailing school ships and cargo vessels also offered some adventure training and seagoing experience.

After the Second World War (1939–45) reparations changed ownership of several large sailing cargo and cadet ships but Britain took no part in the redistribution. In 1954 the Sail Training International Race Committee was started to organize an International Tall Ships' Race from Torbay to Lisbon, which took place in 1956, attracting twenty ships representing eleven nations. After the race the Sail Training Association (STA) was formed and ran races, at first every other year and then annually from 1964. The largest British crew in the 1956 Lisbon race competed in Creole, the 58-metre (190-ft) staysail schooner lent by Greek shipowner Stavros S. Niarchos. It was not until the STA had the 41-metre (136-ft) LOA three-masted topsail schooner Sir Winston Churchill built in 1966, followed two years later by her sister ship Malcolm Miller, that the UK once again had sizeable sail training ships in regular use. The American Sail Training Association (ASTA) was established in 1973 on similar lines to the STA, and many other countries have followed suit with their own sail training organizations.

Many navies and merchant marine academies still train cadets in sailing ships; some also take civilian trainees. Dedicated school ships run courses in maritime and general studies and many other vessels offer adventure sailing. Passenger sailing ships take trainees for international races or port festivals. The modern sail training fleet includes ships of many different rigs (see table), either newly built or remaining from the later days of commercial sail, as well as reconstructions and replicas. A significant number, many since 1990, were built specifically for sail training. Most tall ships are at sea throughout the year. Many regularly take part in the international races.

In 1972 the STA races became the Cutty Sark Tall Ships' Races and were run by the International Sail Training Association (ISTA), a subsidiary of the STA. Then in 2002 Sail Training International was formed by organizations from Australia, Belgium, Bermuda, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden, UK, and USA, and this now runs the European Tall Ships' Races. The races attract an average of 70–100 vessels representing twenty nations; they range from the largest sail training ship, the Russian barque Sedov, with a sparred length of 122 metres (400 ft), to yachts 9 metres (30 ft) on the waterline owned by clubs, scout groups, and similar organizations. There are usually two races and a cruise-in-company, and the ships visit four European ports where crew contests are held on shore. Transatlantic races are held at regular intervals. The STA no longer organizes the races and is now incorporated in the Tall Ships Youth Trust which runs the 60-metre (195-ft) brigs Stavros S. Niarchos and Prince William.


Subjects: Maritime History.

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