A 47-year-old two-masted sailing vessel has made Hamilton Harbour its new home.
Training ship (TS) Playfair, commissioned by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1972, is on a mission to teach teens leadership while exploring the rich marine heritage of the Great Lakes, according to non-profit Brigs Youth Sail Training.
“We take 13- to 18-year-olds from all different backgrounds and diverse financial circumstances out on the boat,” said Brigs board chair Francis Clegg.
“They live on the boat for about a week at a time and learn everything they need to know about sailing, teamwork, working with others and leadership skills.”
In September, the Hamilton-Oshawa Port Authority (HOPA) announced a partnership with Brigs Youth Sail Training, formerly known as Toronto Brigantine Inc., which owns and operates TS Playfair.
“We have watched the redevelopment of the Hamilton Harbour for years and couldn’t think of a better port for TS Playfair,” said Clegg, who spent five years as a teenager on board TS Playfair and rose to the rank of watch officer.
The 33-tonne Playfair is a 72-foot brigantine built in Kingston in 1973 and the only Canadian ship commissioned by a reigning monarch.
Clegg told Global News that typically the ship operates with a crew of 28, which includes 18 new sailors, called trainees, 10 youth officers and two adults, the first mate and captain.
“We have alumni, myself included, who are people who have sailed this program during high school and are still very connected to it,” Clegg said.
“We like to get out on the boat sometimes to volunteer and support.”
Starting in 2021, Brigs will offer weeklong and weekend sailing training courses on board the Playfair.
“We’re going to be doing more long-distance stuff,” said Clegg. “For about a week or so, we’ll be hopping between different Great Lakes ports, picking up new crews, dropping old crews and just really exploring the province.”
However, a week-long trip on the Playfair is not one a traveller can bring a lot of luggage on since a crew of 28 on a 72-foot boat is a bit tight, says Clegg.
“So definitely pretty cramped quarters below,” Clegg said. “It’s worth bearing in mind that everyone on board is generally 13 to 18, so for a teenager, definitely a little smaller, physically, but personal space is perhaps a little bit less of a priority at that age.”
In the midst of a pandemic, Clegg says COVID-19 protocols are a priority, with mandatory masks, hand sanitizer and other sanitizing where possible.
Now in Hamilton, Brigs offers a scholarship for high school students enrolled in an applicable school district to potentially join the Playfair crew.
Clegg says moving forward the agency is looking to partner up with Hamilton’s community.
“We’re looking at just generally forming partnerships with youth organizations, also with companies, industry partners and just with local volunteers,” said Clegg. “We already have a handful of people who support us with maintenance and with outreach.”