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Maritime Heritage Alliance

SAIL Champion

The SAIL Champion Program is a sailing program created by Maritime Heritage Alliance and Mental Wellness Counseling that combines traditional sailing skills with onboard counseling sessions. The program strives to teach leadership, responsibility, and self-awareness in at-risk youth in Northern Michigan. 


About SAIL Champion

SAIL Champion(Success Always Involves Learning) is a hands-on sailing experience that teaches leadership, team-work, and responsibility in conjunction with onboard, one-on-one therapeutic counseling sessions.

Sailing a tall ship requires teamwork, patience, and responsibility. Participants transition into crew and develop the physical, mental, and social skills required to sail Champion. Their experience is both challenging and therapeutic.

Who is involved?

Youth (ages 12-19) become the crew for Champion, a 39-ft. classic wooden Great Lakes sailboat in Traverse City, MI. The program is  Monday-Friday from 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Over the course of the week, youth are responsible for the safe operation of the boat under the tutelage of a professional USCG Captain, volunteers from the Maritime Heritage Alliance (MHA), and a licensed therapist.

How is SAIL Champion unique?

Experience-based therapy programs like SAIL Champion allow for far greater results than therapy alone. There are currently no other experiential therapy programs conducted on sailboats that include one-on-one therapy with a licensed counselor. What Maritime Heritage Alliance has developed is unique. Youth that participate are primarily referred by nonprofit agencies in the Traverse City area, such as Child and Family Services of Northwest Michigan. The youth generally have experienced a past that included neglect and abuse.

Sailing on Champion for a week is often the best event of their lives.They love the new experience of learning to sail, learning to work as a traditional crew, seeking out anchorages, hiking, swimming, and more. Moreover, the kids meet with a therapist onboard for their daily therapy session.


Because the program is so concentrated and intense, the kids are quite changed by the end of the week. SAIL Champion uses several metrics to measure the results. A few of them are:

70-80% drop in the intensity of the symptoms in one week (how intense they are)
65-75% drop in the frequency of the symptoms in one week (how often they happen)
100% of youth report being more likely to go to college as a direct result of the program
100% of youth report being more interested in maritime history and sailing as a direct result of the program

The lasting result of experience-based therapy is remarkable. The principle is that as the youth think back on their exciting experience on Champion, they realize (either consciously or subconsciously) that therapeutic progress was made.

How can you help?

  • Become a member of Maritime Heritage Alliance and volunteer to help maintain Champion
  • Volunteer on Champion with the youth
  • Sponsor a group, youth, or other aspect of the program
  • Tell other people about the program
  • Charter Champion for a private event in Traverse City, MI to support the program
  • Donate to Maritime Heritage Alliance's SAIL Champion program  


Charter Champion >>

In August 2012, Aaron Dennis and Andy Case of Stone Hut Studios stepped aboard Champion to capture a week of programming.

Maritime Heritage Alliance appreciates all their efforts, generosity, and genius.

View the SAIL Champion video

Maritime Heritage Alliance also thanks those who made this video possible.

  • Child and Family Services of Northwestern Michigan
  • Mental Wellness Counseling
  • Northwestern Michigan College
  • Rotary Charities
  • United Way of Northwest Michigan
  • The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians
  • Consumers Energy
  • Traverse City Light and Power
Maritime Heritage Alliance
13268 S West Bay Shore Dr
Traverse City, MI 49684