Captain Virginia Wagner believes the time she spent as a student aboard traditional vessels — brigantines, square-riggers and schooners — turned her life around, and for the better.
Now, with more than 400,000 sea miles (115,000 of them via celestial navigation) and a 3,000-ton Ocean Master’s license to her credit, along with an endless list of nautical accomplishments, she wants others to have the same type of opportunity that spurred her on to a remarkable and unique career. The Captain Virginia Wagner Honorary Sail Training Scholarship Fund will be used to help financially disadvantaged youths attend at-sea educational programs offered by the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry. The 200-foot, three-masted vessel, Rhode Island’s official tall ship, is a platform for student programs as well as an official ambassador promoting the maritime heritage of the tiny state, which has a coastline of nearly 400 miles.
On Saturday, October 25, 2014, under cloudless skies and brisk winds at Hinckley Yacht Services in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, Wagner, who’s battling the aggressive cancer mesothelioma, was the guest of honor at a reception aboard the Perry. The catered event, which came only a few days after the launch of the scholarship fund, included live musical entertainment and the ship in full dress. Attending were Wagner’s former crewmates, family, friends, Perry officials and supporters, as well as the owner of two of the boats aboard which Wagner, along with her partner and first mate Jamie Stark, were employed.
While Stark and others looked on, Wagner, dressed in a black three-quarter length down coat and wearing her signature touch of elegance — pearl earrings and necklace — gave a short speech, stressing the importance of sail training to a career aboard boats, and emphasizing the enormous influence such an experience can have on lives, including her own.
Admitting that she was overwhelmed and a little embarrassed by the attention, Wagner enthusiastically told her audience why it should donate to a fund that promotes good seamanship.
“If you can help one kid find his or her way, it’s worth it,” Wagner said. “I was one of those kids — I was horrible!” she said to laughter. “I got a job as a cook on a tall ship and it turned my whole life around.
“These programs,” she added, “are incredibly valuable. They are so worth it. Even in the yachting industry, we need more seamanship skills. It’s important to get experience aboard a real, working ship. There’s no replacement for it.”
The fund has raised $50,000 so far. For more details log on to the Perry website.