Learning the Ropes

Barry Boyce reports on a program for teens that teaches mindfulness in a less conventional setting—at sea.

“The real world is the real teacher.”That’s one of the maxims of the Nova Scotia Sea School, a wilderness education program that uses sailing and boat building to help teens learn deep lessons about how to make their way in the world. Crane Stookey, who founded the school in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1994, says it’s not necessary to spell out those lessons. “What we need to do,” he says, “is create situations where kids encounter the real world in a powerful and demanding way. Then they respond the best way they can. They learn whatever they’re going to learn. They don’t need our agenda for what they need to learn. Our agenda is more about creating situations that are potent enough that we’re confident they will learn something.”

The program is open to youths age 14 to 18, and includes expeditions that last either five or seven days. Students live on a thirty-foot wooden boat with three sails. It’s seven feet wide and carries a crew of 13. There is no motor. When there is no wind, the students propel the boat using eight large oars. Each night the oars are laid across the hull to create…