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Sail Training International Conference

The past week has been a whirlwind of connecting, meeting, learning and networking at the Sail Training International conference in Antwerp, Belgium.  Picton Castle was represented by Captain Daniel Moreland, Tammy Moreland, Bronwen Livingston and myself (Maggie Ostler). 

Based in England, Sail Training International (STI) is the worldwide body that promotes sail training, supports ships, encourages industry best practices, supports ports that host tall ships, and operates the Tall Ships Races and occasionally Tall Ships Regattas.  We don’t make it to the annual conference every year, but we do try to get there every so often.  Being in the presence of ship operators from all over the world helps with cross-pollination of ideas and perspectives.  We can gain perspective there on things we’re doing well and also on things we can take lessons from others to improve on. 

We arrived a day before the start of the conference to get acclimated from the transatlantic flight and rested up before the meetings and sessions began.  The first full day for us was Thursday when we attended a meeting of the Ships Council, a body made up of ship operators from all over the world including those in Europe, North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand, and Asia.  The Ships Council, made up of the Tall Ships Forum (which Picton Castle is a member of) and the Small Ships Forum, is for sharing knowledge and experience of best practices and addressing international regulatory issues.  At this particular meeting we talked about upcoming races and regattas, the Blue Flag scheme which recognizes environmentally responsible operations, European Union regulations for traditional sailing vessels, and safety aloft.  Captain Moreland led a panel discussing safety aloft along with Helle Barner Jespersen, long term Chief Mate of the full rigger training ship Georg Stage in Denmark (training mariners since 1882), Steve Moss of the Young Endeavour in Australia, and Marcus Seidl, Captain of the Bark Statsraad Lehmkuhl (from 1914) in Norway. 

Both Friday and Saturday were filled with sessions in the mornings and afternoons.  At each time slot there were a number of options offered, allowing each person to choose the session of greatest interest and applicability to their work.  One of the good things about attending with a number of us is that we could split up to attend many sessions at the same time (and share notes later).  Between the four of us we covered topics from social media marketing to security, mariner licensing to corporate sponsorship, scholarships to the environment.  Even more of us would be better yet.

After leading the well-attended session on safety aloft at the Ships Council, Captain Moreland made a presentation about Bosun School in one of the sessions.  Bosun School was designed to assist young professional mariners gain hands-on skills they need for successful future employment.  It also was designed to benefit our industry, as ships need well-trained mariners with solid technical seamanship skills.  We currently have a 100% placement rate for Bosun School graduates – everyone who has wanted to go on to find a berth on a ship or in a shore-based role in the marine industry has done so.  Captain Moreland’s presentation introduced the Bosun School to an international audience of industry peers, which we hope will attract more students in the future and open doors for our graduates.  It was very well received.

For me personally, I had the pleasure of representing Canada at this international conference.  I am on the board of directors of Tall Ships Canada and was recently appointed by the board as Canada’s representative to Sail Training International.  I attended the International Council meeting where every country that is a member of STI sends one representative, along with the trustees and directors of STI.  The meeting was mostly about sharing information, with updates from the Ships Council, the Youth Council, and the Port Advisory Group.  I also got to talk with representatives of other national sail training organizations to find out how they operate. 

Antwerp was a lovely setting for the conference.  The majority of the sessions were hosted in the Flanders Meeting and Convention Centre, also known as Elisabeth Hall, which is right next to the Antwerp Zoo and the Antwerp Central Station.  Elisabeth Hall is impressive from both the outside and the inside.  Parts are new, bright and well lit, parts are quite old and full of ornate décor and marble columns.  The gala dinner and dancing held on Saturday night was at a venue called Horta which is a very interesting art nouveau building.  The food at both venues was very good, especially the desserts that featured Belgian chocolate mousse. 

When we weren’t in conference sessions we got out to see the city and walked for miles.  The Antwerp Christmas market started on the last day of the conference so we got to enjoy the festive atmosphere and hundreds of small wooden booths each with a different vendor.  Most were selling food or drinks, everything from hot dogs to waffles, beer to gluhwein (warm mulled red wine – pronounced ‘glue-wine’), some were selling hats or mittens or jewellery or toys.  Most of the market was centred around the massive and impressive Cathedral of Our Lady, the largest gothic building in all the Low Countries, and for centuries the tallest.  Construction started in 1352 and was completed in 1521.  The outside is imposing and ornate, and the interior is like an art gallery with hundreds of carvings and paintings, including four by famous Flemish baroque painter Rubens.  To get there from where we were staying, we walked up and down the Meir, Antwerp’s pedestrian shopping district.  While I don’t think any of us are bringing home any of the diamonds that Antwerp is famous for, our suitcases on the return trip were a bit more full with Belgian chocolates and other little treasures. 

We want to say thank you to Sail Training International and the conference planning team for putting on an excellent event and welcoming us so warmly.  Although it’s a long way to travel from Lunenburg to Antwerp, it was definitely worth the trip.

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