Girl power – chance to sail in tall ship this summer

2012 sisters under sail participants

Girls from the 2012 Sisters Under Sail program relax on the deck of Unicorn during some downtime.

On the worn wooden deck of a tall ship named Unicorn, 12 young women will learn about sisterhood this summer in a program called Sisters Under Sail.

The program empowers young women ages 13 to 18 with confidence, independence, and identity through nautical adventures.
A dozen young women are chosen to take part in the two-week voyage across the Great Lakes.

This year’s program focuses on girls from military families from both the U.S. and Canada.

Dawn Santamaria, owner of the 110-foot Schooner Unicorn with husband Jay, says military children are rarely acknowledged for the lives they lead on behalf of their parents.

“So often they’re uprooted and moved to other parts of the world, or have their parents deployed to dangerous places. That can be very difficult,” she says. “I wanted to honour these girls and everything they go through, and give them the tools they need to make it through what can be a very challenging life.”

Applications from children of fallen or active status/active duty members in any branch of the military, including National Guard, Reservists, or Coast Guard will be accepted until April 15.

Applicants must fill out an application downloaded from the Sisters Under Sail website at, write a 300 to 600 word essay on overcoming obstacles, and submit a letter of reference from a non-family member that speaks to the girl’s strength of character. Applications are reviewed by the Sisters Under Sail Board of Trustees, who then choose the 12 sailors – six girls from Canada and six from the United States.

The program began eight years ago when the Santamarias saw the effects a life of sailing had on their four daughters.

“They became so confident, and strong in their opinions and decisions,” says Dawn Santamaria. “I thought it could benefit other girls if only they had a chance to sail as my daughters had. I wanted to give them that chance.”

During the two-week adventure, the girls are taught to sail as a cohesive team through confidence building exercises such as climbing rigging, seamanship courses, and nautical training.

“It’s really amazing the effects that sailing has on these girls,” says Santamaria. “Many of them come in meek and shy, but when they leave it’s like they’re different people.”

Unicorn’s all female crew is unique, and Santamaria says it was a conscious choice.

“It seemed strange to be preaching empowerment for women and have the leadership positions be filled by men,” she says. “This way the girls are exposed to positive female role models while learning those qualities themselves.”

Since inception, Sisters Under Sail has put aboard more than 500 teenage girls and 250 women.

More information on Sisters Under Sail, as well as how to apply, can be found at

-Shawn O’Hara, Staff Writer

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