Four students at Casco Bay High School have been selected to join the crews of two tall ships that will be in a flotilla sailing up the East Coast this summer as part of a multi-city maritime festival culminating in Portland in July.

Ayan Ahmed, Nathan Robinson, Julien Peck and Naomi Radtke Rowe were chosen to take part based on essays they wrote describing their desire to sail. Another 11 Maine high school students also will sail in the tall ship flotilla, but have yet to be chosen.

Ahmed and Robinson will spend a week sailing from Newport, Rhode Island, aboard the 210-foot Oliver Hazard Perry. Peck and Radtke Rowe will leave from Greenport, New York, and spend two weeks aboard the 179-foot Picton Castle.

The president of the nonprofit group that is organizing the Portland event, Sailing Ships Portland, said the teens will be busy from the start.

“The kids will be split into watches, and each watch will take full responsibility for the ship,” Alex Agnew said. “They’ll be involved in sailing, navigation, cooking, cleaning, standing watch – whatever’s going on.”

The students are in for a life-altering experience, Agnew said.

“Most of them have never been away from shore overnight, and it’s a humbling experience,” he said. “They will be taken so far out of their comfort zone. Being at sea, you get a different perspective on life; you see the stars and planets as part of a different wilderness environment you’ve never seen before. And to think you’ll be actually sailing, actually controlling the lines and direction of the ship, has to be life-changing.”

The four scholar-sailors were announced Wednesday morning during an assembly at Casco Bay High, a public expeditionary school in Portland that emphasizes interdisciplinary, project-based learning. Ahmed is a junior, Robinson is a sophomore, and Peck and Radtke Rowe are freshmen.

The tall ships parading up the coast – an event organized by Tall Ships America – will compete in a series of races and star in maritime festivals in ports along the way. There will be up to 13 ships in the procession, headed by Maine’s official sailing vessel, the Bowdoin. The ships will arrive in Portland for a three-day festival July 18-20 that is expected to draw 25,000 people to the Old Port.

The Oliver Hazard Perry carrying Ahmed and Robinson is a new square-rigger and the first full-rigged oceangoing sailing ship built in the United States in 110 years, according to the Tall Ships Portland website. The ship takes its name from the naval commander dubbed the “Hero of Lake Erie” at age 27 for his decisive role in defeating the British in battle during the War of 1812.

The Picton Castle carrying Peck and Radtke Rowe is a three-masted barque based in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. The ship is known for its six circumnavigations of the globe.

Robinson said he was inspired to apply for the opportunity by his own experience sailing. “You had to fill out an application along with a 500- to 1,000-word essay,” he said. “Mine was an essay on why I wanted to be on the tall ship, and I wrote about how the experiences on Casco Bay and the Portland Sailing Team have made me a lot more open to trying new things. I’ve just finished my fourth season of sailing, and I’ve realized that I love it.”

Ahmed, unlike the others, has never sailed, but is excited to learn.

“The most experience I’ve ever had with the ocean is riding a ferry,” she said. “I’ve never (sailed) before, but I love trying new things, and this was an adventure I wanted to have. I really love the ocean – that was one of the key factors – and I wanted to meet new people and form new bonds.”

The Picton Castle and Oliver Hazard Perry are two of four “Class A vessels” to be featured at the Portland festival. A Class A vessel is greater than 131 feet long. The longest at the event will be the 295-foot Eagle.

The festival will be the first of its kind in Portland in 15 years – the last was OpSail Maine 2000 – and will include tours of the vessels along the city’s waterfront on July 18. A total of 25,000 tickets are expected to be sold for the festival, which will begin at 1 p.m. on July 18. There also will be live music and food, and the event will run until 6 p.m. on July 20.

The festivities, and specifically the student sailors, are being supported by corporate sponsors – Ahmed and Robinson by the developers of 58 Fore St./The Portland Company, and Peck and Radtke Rowe by Iberdrola USA.

Sam Norman can be contacted at 791-6366 or at:

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