In 2016 Captain Bryan Smith and Dr. Susan Wainwright formed a new nonprofit, Michigan Challenge Traditional Sail Training. Captain Bryan’s background included teaching sailing, conducting classes for captains’ licenses, and sailing schooners. He has observed in his students and passengers the pride of mastering a new skill and the restorative qualities of relaxing on the water while the wind quietly powers a sleek sailboat across a lake.
One area of Dr. Wainwright’s expertise is adolescent psychotherapy. In her practice, she has observed that when a child loses a parent before age ten the risk for major depression, suicide attempts, substance abuse, anorexia, bulimia, self-cutting, and other serious psychiatric disorders is catastrophically increased. Gold Star Teens, children who have lost a parent in the military, are especially susceptible to these problems and became the focus of the Michigan Challenge’s mission: to provide tuition-free sailing adventures to the youth whose parents made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
Both Dr. Wainwright and Captain Bryan had been involved in a sailing program for at-risk teens, and they dreamed of an expanded program on a larger boat. After adding three more board members who had also been involved in youth sailing programs, they purchased the 68-foot steel-hulled schooner Perception.
Perception was designed by the famous naval architect L. Francis Herreshoff. She was built in Keri Keri, New Zealand in 1985 and purchased by a prominent Massachusetts architect. On her voyage to her new homeport of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, he and his crew sailed her to Australia, the Galapagos, Brazil, and the Caribbean. Sadly, he passed away in 2015, and his widow, appreciative of Michigan Challenge’s mission, sold Perception to the Board of Directors.
The Board traveled to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, in the summer of 2017 to purchase Perception, where she was de-rigged and trucked to Traverse City, Michigan, and work began on restoration and upgrades. During the winter and spring of 2018the team met with veterans’ organizations to locate Gold Star Teens and introduced our sailing program. Our first program was in July of 2018, and we learned as much from the teens as they did from us. It was a very rewarding experience, and were are excited to continue programs the summer of 2019. We also hosted a number of free day sails for veterans, gained volunteers and trained crew, and continued the upgrades and refurbishings of our beloved Perception.
In 2019 we ran two more Gold Star Teen programs, appeared at our first Tall Ships Festival where we hosted Gold Star Teens families, took veterans out for free sails at Harbor Days in Elk Rapids, and showed off Perception at the Hessel Classic Boat Show in Hessel, Michigan, and will continue to give free sails to veterans.
We were thrown off course by 2020. Although we rigged Perception, the pandemic cancelled our programs for youth. We did do some sail training and gained new volunteers. Our plan for 2021 is to expand our youth programs, in partnership with the Optimist Club, to local youth organizations. Perception will be on the hard in Mackinaw City, where we will paint the hull, complete some mechanical work, and receive a Coast Guard inspection before her return to Traverse City in the spring of 2021.
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