Brigantine Inc. is the charity that operates the brigantine-rigged tall ship, the St. Lawrence II. The St. Lawrence II was built in Kingston, Ontario, in 1953 to be a sail training vessel for youth. It was built with old-fashioned square-rigged sails that are far more complex and require much more labour to use than modern sail designs. The idea was that this would require a large crew to work together to sail the ship, developing seamanship skills almost lost to history, and along the way teamwork, leadership, responsibility, and camaraderie. It worked. Numerous generations of youth have sailed on the "SL2" as trainees. Many, like myself, went on to work on the ship throughout their teenage years, living on board for weeks at a time.
The SL2 remains an affordable summer camp for youth all over Ontario (and beyond!) - bursaries are available for those who can't afford to pay their way - but it is far more than a summer camp. I sailed on the SL2 as a trainee for three summers and as crew for three more. I worked on the ship in the winters. At 17, I was in charge of a watch, regularly the senior officer on deck and responsible for the ship. I took it seriously. I, like many others, went on to sail on other tall ships internationally and even became a tall-ship Captain myself later in life.
Youth rarely get a chance to take on the very real sorts of responsibilities that they are entirely capable of. They get that chance on the SL2. When the weather turns foul, and your hands are raw from hauling line all day, and your eyes are heavy from lack of sleep, and you are soaked to your skin in sea water, and you are ordered to climb aloft to reef or furl a sail, you know you can do it and you will do it. Your ship and your crew depend on you and you depend on them. Your actions have immediate and tangible consequences. It is in these sorts of hard times that we see people at their best.
It is hard for me to articulate just what a special opportunity this ship provides to youth and what it gave to me. It shows youth a world beyond the familiar. It allows them to escape where they come from. It shows them they are capable of greatness. It inspires them to dream.
Learn more about Brigantine Inc, St. Lawrence 2