To become captain of your own ship, it is well to learn to sail at a young age.

In recent decades sailing has come to be identified with affluence and conspicuous consumption, but for those of us lucky enough to live here on the coast of Maine, it is an activity which need not be expensive at all. A century ago Rockland wharves were teeming with sailing boats, small and large. They were not yachts, but working boats which fished and carried passengers and cargo, earning a living for their owners and crews.

Serious sailing is still going on here. Rockland and Camden’s passenger schooners provide summer employment for many adventurous young people who spend the season cruising our beautiful coast, raising and lowering sails and anchors, cooking in the galley, and learning the finer points of seamanship, all for the pleasure of passengers who come for the joy of exploring the Maine coast under sail. For the crews, and for the owners, it is mostly a labor of love, but what better sort of labor is there?

With the schooners, and with its boatyards and docking facilities catering to the sailing yachts, Rockland still has a strong sailing character. A wonderful part of that character today is the Apprenticeshop, a school of traditional boatbuilding and seamanship.

The Apprenticeshop is the brainchild of Rockland’s venerable Lance Lee. Started at the Marine Museum in Bath in 1976, sited for a stint in Rockport, the shop has resided now for many years on the Rockland shore – north of Knight’s Marine in the three-story industrial building which formerly housed Steel and Marshall metal fabricators. Its industry is now conducted for learning, but also for the production of wooden boats, the commissions for which help support the apprentices. The model is “labor for learning” the vision of Lance Lee, and his mentor Kurt Hahn.

A newer aspect of the Apprenticeshop has been its community sailing program, which offers opportunities for adults, and especially for children, to learn to sail. In spring and fall the program organizes and trains sailing teams from area high schools. In summer, the program includes younger children, and employs high school sailors to be their instructors.

The sailing is done primarily in modern fiberglass sailboats. There are two classes: the Optimist Prams, just under eight feet long with a single sail, perfect for young kids; and the Club 420’s, fourteen foot sloops that are great for older kids to race.

The “Optis” are great for racing too, and can be sailed alone by a child as young as seven. Imagine the thrill for a seven or eight-year-old at the helm of his own vessel, powered by the wind and swooshing through the water. There is a lot to learn from it; the power of nature, and the power of one’s own will and skill. We become suddenly not compliant followers, but masters of our place in the universe.

For the high school sailors who teach the young kids, there is a thrill too, of “helping to shape them to be human beings” as Thomas McClellan, one of the instructors, puts it. What is the point of sailing? The Buzz asked Tom and his fellows. “To be free… going places without a plane ticket… it’s all about independence, responsibility… people have been doing it for thousands of years.”

Apprenticeshop community sailing has openings for all ages in weekly sessions all summer. Tuition is charged, but admissions are “needs blind” and scholarships are available.

This Wednesday, from 5 to 6 pm on WRFR’s Rockland Metro show, we will be discussing sailing with some of the Apprenticeshop’s young instructors. Calls will be taken at 593-0013.