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Learning by Adventure
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Learning by Adventure

Open waters banner logoEric Herman

Editor’s note: Welcome back to Open Waters, the space where we explore the wide world of water in a series of blogs, book reviews, charitable profiles, and travelogues. The topic of this 2nd edition profile was brought to our attention by Wallace “J” Nichols, author of “Blue Mind” and co-founder (with Watershape University) of the Live Blue Foundation. This edition highlights an ambitious program focused on getting teens and young adults out on the open seas.

There are numerous ways that aquatic experiences promote learning and psychological health. Whether it’s learning to swim in a backyard or community pool, surfing waves or wind, river rafting, scuba diving, or sailing the high seas, time spent near, in, on and under water often becomes a developmental cornerstone for everyone and anyone.

That fundamental concept is the wind in the sails of the Foundation for Underway Experiential Learning (FUEL) a 501c3 non-profit, based on Martha’s Vineyard, N.Y. Founded in 2016, FUEL focuses on sailing as a way to help teens and young adults develop socially, emotionally and intellectually. The mission: “We help young people thrive through high-adventure.”

FUEL is currently in the process of building a new tall sailing ship designed for adventure and education. The as-yet unnamed vessel will be an impressive 160-feet long with a rig height of 101 feet and a displacement of 255 tons. Designed by master designer, Bob Douglas, the ship is inspired by a 19th-Century-style schooner known as the Shenandoa, which is part of Black Dog Tall Ships fleet, an organization that provides day cruises and educational programs for local school children.

FUEL co-founders Ian Ridgeway and Casey Blum saw an opportunity to expand the concept into the teen and young adult demographic as a way to help transitioning into adulthood. The project is currently in the second phase, which includes construction of the ship’s hull and testing. Phase 3 will see construction completed, and will conclude in Phase 4 when the ship is scheduled for its maiden voyage in September 2023.

8 5 20OWimageIt will set sail from Nice France with ports of call in Europe, Northern Africa, the mid Atlantic and the Caribbean.


According to “Blue Mind” Author Wallace “J” Nichols, who endorses FUEL on its website, “My work on the physical, social and emotional benefits of interaction with water consistently reveals that participants in FUEL will increase confidence, self-determination and critical thinking that support life as thriving adults who contribute to their community.”

The concept is both immersive and ambitious. The first voyage is scheduled for 14 weeks, and will include 32 students and 12 crew members. The curriculum is based on three pillars: personal development, environmental stewardship and maritime heritage.
The organization claims to be the first ever to combine study abroad learning opportunities aboard a historical sailing ship. The onboard programs will be designed to serve high-school students, gap-time students, college students and lifelong learners. Students will be immersed in all facets of the sailing experience, learning how to steer, navigate, handle sails, and climb and work aloft, along with sail making, rigging work and working in the galley.

According to Blum, who developed the curriculum, “Our program has been designed to surpass the accreditation standards of set by the Association of Experiential Education (AEE). Experiential education is a teaching philosophy in which educators purposefully engage learners in direct experience and focused reflection, in order to increase knowledge, develop skills, clarify values, and develop people’s capacity to contribute to their communities.”

To find out more about FUEL, click here.

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