by Marion Van Driel
The wind whips through my hair. Waves crash over the hull as I scan the horizon from the crow’s nest. Seagulls cry, circling the ship as I hang on for dear life…
Kids have, for centuries, entertained – in their imagination at least – an adventure on the high seas, sailing a “pirate ship”. A version of that dramatic dream can become reality right here in BC – a reality that is life changing.
Sailing And Life Training Society (S.A.L.T.S.) is a Christian ministry that teaches youth and young adults not only how to sail, but also about the incredible value of every person, including themselves. Trainees learn commitment, teamwork, hard work, and respect. The setting is BC’s coastline as viewed from either the Pacific Swift or the Pacific Grace, both magnificent tall ships equipped for this work.
The S.A.L.T.S. experience has impacted countless lives since its inception in 1974. Judah, who initially registered as a trainee in 2014, has since become a voluntary assistant cook. “It’s always such a blessing to be on those ships,” she says. “They’re always so full of life.” She explains that S.A.L.T.S. is all about building community. Even her first time out for a four-day sail, “I felt really drawn into that community and loved for who I really was. I felt I could actually be myself – not some kind of other person that we tend to pretend to be … at home.” She describes the S.A.L.T.S. environment as “a welcoming, love-filled atmosphere.”
Finding her voice
On her first ten-day trip, Judah recalls a member of the crew who helped her learn more about herself, and “spoke incredible truth into my life”. Struggling with a relationship in her family, Judah came to the realization that she can speak truthfully when something doesn’t sit right with her. She credits her time on S.A.L.T.S. with a greater confidence and risk-taking ability. “I realize I have a voice…I don’t have to be the one always pushed down,” she says. Although these lessons had significant repercussions in her life, Judah admits it didn’t mean an instant fix for issues and relationships. She is, however, embracing the importance of honest conversation, learning to respectfully confront people about situations that don’t feel right, speaking up for herself and others. She’s gone from fear to courage. “I think [my experiences on] S.A.L.T.S. has really opened me up and encouraged me to shine brighter, and to go out there and take risks.”
Now Judah wants to be on the giving end to provide mentorship and inspiration when she can. “Each year I’ve gone, I’ve had … interesting conversations with some of the trainees…about God, about who He is, and what He means to me.” She’s met, and been able to share her faith with kids who have no faith background and no concept of Christianity. “Sometimes kids come on [to the ship] really angry with the church or with God, and when they leave, they have a different perspective,” she adds.
S.A.L.T.S. welcomes local, national and international students. Trainees ranging in age from 13 – 25, come from all faith backgrounds (or none) and all economic situations. But none of that really matters. What matters is acceptance, camaraderie, honest conversations, and the humble attitude that Jesus demonstrated – an attitude of love.
There is no intention to push the Christian faith on anyone. “[Proselytizing] can often really push them away,” explains Judah. “That’s what I love about S.A.L.T.S., they show their faith in what they say and what they do.” Faith is lived. While certain behaviours (inappropriate language, put downs) are checked and prayer for meals and safety, natural, the crew and volunteers use shared values as an opportunity for open dialogue. Everyone’s views are heard without judgment.
The environment on the ship is communal, open, and inviting. It is also incredibly inspiring. Scenery and wildlife sightings are jaw dropping. The muscle and teamwork required to sail such a great vessel, or even row a dory to shore, induces a back-clapping sense of accomplishment. And living in close quarters necessitates consideration of others.
S.A.L.T.S. seeks connections, both locally and abroad. In 2016, S.A.L.T.S. expanded its route along the northern coast of BC, allowing further relationships with indigenous communities and a deeper discovery of their histories and cultures. Also in 2016, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge sailed with S.A.L.T.S during a visit to Victoria.
If you’re fortunate enough to visit Victoria’s Inner Harbour when the Pacific Swift and the Pacific Grace are in port, you’re in for a treat. Zoom in, snap a few shots, and let your imagination soar! Climb the 120’ mast of the Grace, swab the deck of the Swift; let your mind take you out to the wild open ocean. Be a kid again!
To learn more or donate, visit www.salts.ca.
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