Help Save Tall Ship History

Here are just a few opportunities around the country to work as a tall ship’s crew.

gazela dougwhitman.jpg

One of the questions passers-by frequently ask around Gazela is, "What do you do with this ship?" What folks are usually getting at is whether we carry passengers, do dinner cruises or some such. It's generally easier to explain what we don't do than what we do … My new answer for that question is, “We do whatever we have to, to make sure she’s around for the next generation.” This may sound like an evasive answer, but it really encompasses the motivation for just about everything we do. Obviously, all the maintenance and repair work is toward this goal, but every port festival we attend or ticket we sell to a dockside event brings in the revenue needed to support that work. Even the fact that we still actively sail the ship plays an important role in her preservation. Every shipwright will tell you that a ship left at the dock rapidly dies, none more so than a wooden ship. Since we will be taking the ship out to sea, we cannot take shortcuts in her repair and maintenance. The role of the people of the Guild cannot be underestimated, either. It is not possible to separate ship preservation from skills preservation. Without all the great people who have given their time and effort to this ship over the years, she would simply not still be here. By the same token, literally hundreds of people have learned the skills of maintaining and sailing a wooden ship because Gazela is here. Many people who started as volunteers on Gazela have moved on to do this work professionally (myself included). Another question we get a lot is, "What do I need to do to join the crew?" to which the answer is, "Not much." I like to call Gazela "the public access square-rigger." When you stop to think about it, it's remarkable that just about anybody can join the crew of a ship like this with no prior experience and little more than a willingness to work and learn. Because of this open nature, people of all walks of life have learned what it's like to work together as part of a sailing ship's crew. Regardless of the skills you have when you first come aboard, Gazela has this amazing ability to get you to go far beyond what you thought you could ever do.
Doug Whitman

Philadelphia, PA
The historic, 171-foot Gazela Primeiro (pictured at right) is managed and sailed by volunteers of the Philadelphia Ship Preservation Guild. No sailing experience is necessary to join the guild. People from all walks of life, ages 17-70's, have helped keep this 19th century nautical treasure sailing, and many have had life-changing experiences. Most volunteers help out with ship's work, but the guild also needs cooks, engineers, office help, and tour guides for when the ship is open to the public at Penn's Landing. For more information, email Philadelphia Ship Preservation Guild, 215-238-0280;
Click here to see photos and read more about Philadelphia's tall ship Gazela Premeiro.

Galveston, Texas
Whether you are an aspiring sailor or are just looking to get your hands dirty for a good cause, the all-volunteer crew of the tall ship Elissa in Galveston, Texas is excited to welcome you aboard. Volunteer positions range from seasonal sailors to the laborious tasks of sanding teak, painting, scrubbing and chipping rust from this more than a century old ship. The biggest perk, besides sailing this legend, is that after 20 hours of volunteer work, you can spend the night on Elissa's open deck.
Texas Seaport Museum, 409-763-1877;

Wilmington and Lewes, DE
Those looking to jump into the role of a tall ship crewmember with both feet may be interested in the Kalmar Nyckel. Winter crew training classes, for positions aboard take place in Wilmington, DE and span 11 Saturdays from January through April. Their condensed summer course in Lewes, DE runs for two and a half weeks with all crew members living aboard. This volunteer program isn't easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is.
Kalmar Nyckel Foundation, 302-429-7447;

Charlestown, Maryland
The crew of the schooner Sultana is always looking for volunteers to participate in the maintenance and day-to-day operation of their 51-foot replica of the Boston-built vessel that served in the British Royal Navy. Set against the backdrop of historic Charleston, this ship offers numerous educational programs for more than 5,000 students each year.
Sultana Projects, 410-778-4531;

Newport Beach, CA
A replica of the American privateer that fought against the British Navy in the War of 1812, Lynx demands as much upkeep now as her predecessor did in her heyday. Serving as a floating link to our nation's history she hosts school children from around the country. Volunteer opportunities include craftsman, skilled sailors and teachers.
The Lynx Educational Foundation, 866-446-5969;

For more information and opportunities contact:

American Sail Training Association
Founded in 1973, the American Sail Training Association (ASTA) is the world's largest sail training institution in the world. Working with 250 tall ships in 25 different countries, this organization hosts myriad programs that support their mission "to encourage character building through sail training, promote sail training to the North American public and support education under sail." For more information on the educational and volunteer opportunities the ASTA has to offer, visit

Tall Ships and Much More at Mystic Seaport
If preserving our country's nautical heritage appeals to you, then look no further than our friends at Mystic Seaport. For forty years this organization has welcomed volunteers into their PILOTS (Passion - Integrity - Loyalty - Optimism - Tenacity – Service) program. From challenging physical work to research and artifact gathering this behind-the-scenes program has grown to include 275 volunteers who contribute more than 1300 hours of service annually. To become one of these proud pilots email Chris Freeman at
Mystic Seaport, 860-912-3121;