Experience at sea changing the lives of many youth

Kayla Malanka | Nov 25, 2013
Students attentively listen as they are shown how to navigate during their voyage with Sail and Life Training Society (SALTS). Students attentively listen as they are shown how to navigate during their voyage with Sail and Life Training Society (SALTS).Students attentively listen as they are shown how to navigate during their voyage with Sail and Life Training Society (SALTS).

The B.C. based mentoring program Sail and Life Training Society (SALTS) is changing the lives of youth one voyage at a time.

 “I think young people really need mentorship because as they enter their teenage years they start turning down the volume on their parents and listening more to other influences in their lives,” Loren Hagerty, executive director at SALTS and Briercrest graduate, explained.  

 “So we want to create relationships with these teens and young adults at an influential stage and seek to be positive role models for them and show them God’s love. The platform in which we do this is aboard two tall ships.”

Hagerty described SALTS as a way to reach out to at-risk youth. Since its founding in 1974 it has expanded as a way to reach out to any youth between the ages of 13 and 25.

Today, around 1,700 youth are chosen each year to come aboard and are given the opportunity to learn how to sail while being mentored.

 “We are teaching them how to sail the ship, but we are also leading intentional discussions with them at meal times and in the evenings about topics that we have selected that we think would be helpful for them in their growth,” Hagerty explained.  

“We are leading discussions around a number of virtues like grace and forgiveness. It’s intentional conversations and it is relationship building.”

Hagerty said the combination of learning how to sail while being mentored gives the young people an opportunity to be pushed outside their comfort zones in a way that cannot be done on land, and allows the sailors to learn more about themselves and others.

 “I think there are a lot of relational skills that are developed. Conflict resolution, patience with other people, and learning to get along while living in close community are also skills gained. I think one of the significant benefits, though, is them learning to be their self and taking their masks off,” he said.

“When kids come on board at first they are trying to present a certain image and by the time they have been on board for however long, usually they have gotten past that need.”

Erik Karklins, former Kaleo student and participant in the SALTS program, agrees.

“Being able to set sails, steer the ship and stay up late on watch with other people in such close proximity really made me realize we put up unhealthy barriers, and that to operate as God wants us to, we have to look past our own defenses and truly open ourselves up to other people,” he explained.

“Being that close to so many people quickly creates a sense of unity. It was really amazing to be able to climb the towers, look out over the water and then look down and see everyone working together. It was quite a sight to see.”

Hagerty said another key benefit is confidence.

“Repeatedly young people say they grow in confidence because they faced challenges and overcame things they thought they would never be able to do,” he explained.

“As a Christian organization we want very much to be able to show the love of Jesus Christ to young people without being preachy or pushy, but just by being authentic and being who we really are and allowing them to be themselves without judgment. It helps them to build confidence in their own abilities and be okay with who they are.”

One of the unique aspects about these programs is that, while there is a professional crew aboard the ship, the youth are the ones doing all the sailing.

“It’s like sailing-immersion, so you come on board with no experience and the inexperienced trainees do everything to operate the ship and the crew members just give them direction,” Hagerty said.

“Even when we leave the dock it is a young person at the wheel of the ship with a crew member standing beside them telling them how to steer.”

While aboard the ship the sailors are expected to help out with all aspects of daily living whether it is navigating to doing the dishes. Yet it isn’t just all work for the young sailors.

“If there is any wind we will go sailing in the morning and find somewhere new to explore. So, we will row into somewhere like an island, a beach, or a marine park and explore. It might be going for a hike somewhere, finding some sea caves or might be going to a sandy beach and playing soccer or capture the flag,” he explained.

“If the weather is nice we will keep sailing and in the evening we play games on the deck or we are having a time of singing sea-shanties and evening snacks.”

Participants of the SALTS program will sail to various places including circumnavigating Vancouver Island to sailing to the Inner Harbour of Victoria and the Gulf Islands. Every few years youth are able to participate in an offshore voyage across the world.

 “Our most recent off-shore voyage was a 12 month voyage to the South Pacific, so to China, Japan and then back to Victoria,” he said.