Spirit won’t sail into sunset

The Spirit of South Carolina. (Wade Spees/File)

Charleston’s ship has come (back) in.

But instead of bringing a hold full of gold coins, the Spirit of South Carolina’s bounty is in the form of opportunities for education and a sense of regional pride.

In May, local students will board the 140-foot two-masted schooner for the first time in a year to experience the challenges and rewards of sailing in Charleston Harbor.

Volunteers, including members of the non-profit Lowcountry Maritime Society, are eager to share with them maritime culture and history, so vital to Charleston past and present.

Perhaps part of the story they tell will be about local businessmen Tommy Baker and Michael Bennett, the duo that bought the Spirit at auction last spring so that it wouldn’t be purchased and taken elsewhere.

They are still working on a new business model for the ship, which is modeled after a 19th century Charleston-built wooden ship. In addition to welcoming school groups, the ship will be used for adult team-building trips and possibly for events and recreational outings.

Meanwhile, the Spirit, hand crafted by volunteers over 15 years, is undergoing inspections by the U.S. Coast Guard to ensure its readiness. And the Maritime Society will continue its work in local schools, teaching science, engineering and navigational skills through building wooden boats.

When the Spirit gets the go-ahead from the Coast Guard, the society will expand its program to include sailing.

The community will have a reason to celebrate.

The Spirit of South Carolina symbolizes the power of persistence and hard work — both in its construction using traditional techniques and in its mission.

A year ago, it looked grim for the schooner. The foundation that owned it was forced to sell to pay debts, including more than $2 million in loans. Supporters were afraid that it would end up in a port far from South Carolina.

But out of the blue, Mr. Baker and Mr. Bennett appeared at the eleventh hour.

The volunteers never gave up. Students continued to learn from maritime sciences. And the maritime history of South Carolina just continues to get richer.

There is good reason to hope the future is full of fair winds, following seas and smooth sailing for the Spirit of South Carolina.