Pink from the sun, unshowered and barefoot, the 17 teenage girls scarfed down fried chicken sandwiches after seven days at sea.
“I used to be a very anxious person, and I would let my anxieties hold me back from doing stuff that I felt I need to do,” Waverly Kremer, a high school junior, told VOA as she waited to board the Liberty Clipper.
And that was the point of the voyage arranged by their small private school in Charleston, South Carolina: Return confidence to girls at a time in life when it traditionally starts to wane.
WATCH: Sailing trip
The Offshore Leadership Program at Ashley Hall School aims to boost the confidence of girls aged 15 to 17 — a time when studies show girls can lose up to 30 percent of their confidence.
Roscoe Davis, the classics teacher at Ashley Hall, created the yearlong program 10 years ago. The boat trip is what he calls the “capstone” of the program, which involves identifying failures in leadership in reality television shows, and reading Greek philosophy that empowers women.
Kremer said she was excited and nervous at the beginning of the trip. Like most of the girls, she had no sailing experience.
“My biggest fear is just kind of being away from home so far away 20 miles offshore,” Maura Mooney, a junior, said. “I guess just I miss my dog. I miss my family, but I’m really excited to get to know everyone. So hopefully, I won’t get too homesick.”
“I like to talk about the Oracle of Delphi, whose injunction was, ‘Know thyself,'" Davis told VOA. He explained that the girls get to know themselves on a deeper level when faced with the challenges of being on the boat.
“They identify their own weaknesses that they think are holding them back from the persons they need to be, the leaders they need to be, and they work on those weaknesses,” he said.
When the girls docked in Charleston — having shed their duck boots after realizing bare feet were more practical — they said the trip had been more challenging and rewarding than they had anticipated.
“I learned — beside the terminology — how to be confident in things that I do outside of my comfort zone,” Celia Smith, a senior, told VOA. “Once I committed myself to really embracing everything it had to offer, I knew I was going to get the most out of this experience.” She showed her parents around the stern, explaining the steering and navigation systems.
The girls described cold weather, long nights and physical challenges.
“I’m over here by myself pulling at one of these lines, and toward the end, it was absolutely my full body weight to pull this thing down,” Waverly said, describing what she called her toughest challenge on the ship — raising one of the sails.
“It was cold and windy, like really hard manual labor,” she said.
The other challenge the girls said they faced was the vast amount of downtime — being disconnected and feeling so far from everything they knew.
“For so much of it, we were literally just in the ocean, and the ocean looks the same a lot of the places where you are,” Smith said. “There were a lot of times when we were not feeling so great because the waves were so rough. Or because it just looked like the sun wasn’t going to come out that day. But in the end, we’d make it through, and we’d see how far we had gone. And that was just so rewarding,” she said.
And though the main lesson was introspective, some of the girls fell in love with the sailing itself.
Mooney “never ever” thought she would want to sail again after satisfying the requirements of the academic program.
Now, she’s considering taking a gap year before college to spend more time at sea.