One July morning in the colorful fishing village of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, 10 teenagers gather on the dock to prepare for a voyage.
The rain is pouring down, dampening the gear, if not the spirits, of the young people about to embark on the adventure of their young lifetimes.
But first, in order to pack in their stuff—personal belongings, food, water, and sleeping bags—they have to pump the rainwater out of the bilge of the Elizabeth Hall, a 30-foot whaler-style traditional wooden sailing ship open to the elements.
They meet their instructors and captain. They listen to a talk about lifejackets and safety equipment. They learn each other’s names.
Only after that can they board the boat, their home for the next five days, and start rowing for the open ocean.
This no-frills sea voyage—a life-changing experience for anyone, no matter what age—is much more than just an instructional on sailing. It’s a metaphor for the challenges they’ll navigate for the rest of their lives, a crash course in self-discovery for young people more accustomed to Facebook posts and high-school politics than jibing and tacking.
Many of these kids have no experience with sailing. They leave behind their smartphones and…