There's nothing like sailing to promote teamwork and teach people to push themselves.

That's what made the Spirit of South Carolina such a great educational opportunity.

“Sail training is a pretty amazing institution,” said Forrest Richards. Richards is chief mate on the schooner Geronimo. He was also the chief mate on the Spirit of South Carolina.

The Geronimo is one of several tall ships in town through the weekend at the Charleston Maritime Center. The ship, owned and maintained by St. George's School in Newport, R.I., has a very specific mission: turtle tagging. Students on board catch, tag and release turtles, while still keeping up with their regular schoolwork.

“We stopped in Charleston for all the really cool ecological stuff,” said second mate Barbara Krasinski.

The Spirit, which has been at the dock at the maritime center since February 2012, hosted more than 9,500 students from 77 South Carolina schools on day trips and overnight voyages.

But since last year, it's been sitting and waiting for a buyer. The S.C. Maritime Foundation's finances went south and they need to sell the ship, currently priced around $2.25 million.

But there's a glimmer of hope that the Spirit will not only sail again but sail out of Charleston.

Rare opportunity

Builder and Maritime Foundation member Hank Hofford is working with a group that's negotiating to buy the ship.

He doesn't want to divulge too many details but said the existing mortgage holder, TD Bank, has been great about working with them. And he praised Teddy Turner and the Turner Foundation for helping to keep the boat afloat, as it were.

The buyers would likely establish themselves as a nonprofit, he said.

They would try to make it available for tours to generate some income and then restart the educational ventures.

Those day trips and overnight trips were invaluable to the students who participated. More than 50 percent of them were enrolled at Title I schools, which means their chances of getting out on the water, let alone a sailboat, were probably slim to start with.

So Hofford is cautiously optimistic.

“It is a local group, they're in a reasonably good position to have some success with it,” he says.

Community effort

He cautioned that it's not done yet. Banks are not handing out money like they used to, particularly for an educational venture like the Spirit, he said, but the current lender has been extremely cooperative.

“We're excited,” he said. “We just kind of kept working on it quietly. It's been a long 3-4 years for us.”

They're going to need help to do it, of course. There were several hundred volunteers associated with the Spirit in its heyday. Hofford says those who are interested can call him at 722-8169, ext. 224.

“We'd love to get them back with us sooner rather than later,” Hofford said.

If they can pull it off, it'll be a great accomplishment for them, a great redemption for the ship, and once again, a great educational opportunity for South Carolina students.

Reach Melanie Balog at 937-5565 or mbalog@postandcourier.com.