EcoMaris : all aboard the sail training vessel !

Learning is not confined to the classroom. In fact, there are certain things we can learn more quickly on land … or on water. Or how about on board a sail training vessel ?

The ÉcoMaris sail training vessel Roter Sand

What if we could turn school into an adventure by transforming classrooms into boats, school books into sails, and pencils into nautical ropes? Imagine a voyage on the St. Lawrence River with your “classmates,” working as a team to build self-confidence and character, and learning to be more perseverant in order to overcome obstacles, all the while learning more about our ecosystem.

Is it too good to be true? Not for Simon Paquin, an idealistic and practical seafarer and educational psychologist. This summer, he is taking young men and women aged 15 to 25 aboard the Roter Sand, the first sail training vessel in Quebec dedicated to the environment. These sailors will make up Captain Lancelot Tremblay’s crew over a period of several days. Under the guidance of Ariane Tessier-Moreau, who is in charge of equipment and operations, they will guide the large sailboat from Montreal to Rimouski.

Life with a capital “L”

Simon Paquin is an educational psychologist and
founder of Écomaris.

“I am saddened when I see so many talented youths give up on things. It’s a terrible waste,” says Mr. Paquin, founder of EcoMaris. He says it is easier for some young people to learn in the heat of the action. Their wishes come true aboard the Roter Sand. Life as a sailor is action-packed on a river that is as long as the St. Lawrence. Wide, open spaces and changing and unexpected weather are all part of the experience. “We shake them up a bit by taking them out of their normal environment, but it helps build self-esteem and self-confidence,” Mr. Paquin says. In other words, it’s the school of life, with a capital “L.”

Lancelot Tremblay, an experienced captain from Gaspé, is at
the helm of the Roter Sand.


Over several days and in a friendly and controlled setting, these young men and women experience a different way to solve problems both as individuals and as members of a group. “My main on-board responsibility is safety,” says Captain Tremblay, a well-tanned and experienced sailor from Gaspésie who has logged more than 50,000 miles at sea. As someone who combines marine science with a passion for working with young people, he was the perfect fit for Mr. Paquin’s project. It’s not easy to find an experienced captain who has the patience and the right temperament to work with teenagers and young adults.

Under his command and the guidance of Ms. Tessier-Moreau or a ship’s officer, these intern sailors are involved in all operational tasks: trimming the sails, docking, maintaining the equipment room, cooking, cleaning and lookout. There is always something going on to keep the crew busy aboard this large German sailboat. Mr. Paquin acquired the vessel last year and it was refurbished during the winter to meet Canadian standards. Recycled materials were used to build the Roter Sand. For example, the bottom of the boat was built with steel recovered from a German submarine. The flat keel allows the boat to access shallower areas at low tide or sail on the open seas.

With its varnished wood, the sailboat is a sight to behold. Inside, a long oblong table can seat 25 people. Around it, on the walls, are 12 sleeping berths. “This is where everything happens: meals, discussions, laughing, arguments,” Mr. Paquin says. On board, living in a group can be intense; there is nowhere to escape. The crew members must face situations head-on and resolve their differences along the way, which is a good way to build character.

Who is Simon Paquin?

“Who am I?” That is a question Simon Paquin, 38, asked himself a long time ago. He found the answer on a sailboat, not in a classroom. He was a seafarer. He once organized two voyages to India for young people. He became a psychological educator to better respond to their behavioural needs and to understand their struggles. Prior to EcoMaris, Mr. Paquin sold Christmas trees in New York. His business was a good one, employing 26 people. He sold it to finance the EcoMaris project. A social activist who doubles as a businessman is something rare … and invaluable.


Father Michel Jaouen (Credit : Le Télégramme)

The mentor

Father Michel Jaouen was the inspiration for Mr. Paquin’s sail training vessel project. This 93-year-old Jesuit priest runs a sail training vessel for troubled youth. A large man with a powerful voice, he was still taking young people out to sea at the age of 85. He is larger than life itself, gruff and tough on one hand, and generous and caring on the other. “I wrote to him and met with him once, and he left a great impression on me,” Mr. Paquin said. He asked Father Jaouen how he could develop an educational program for youth. “I put them on a sailboat and the sea takes care of the rest,” was his answer. “He was right,” Mr. Paquin said. “The sea gives each person the opportunity to find what he or she needs according to where they are in their lives.”

The environmental component is at the heart of EcoMaris program. It allows young people to understand that we are part of an ecosystem on which our survival depends. It is complex and fragile, and we must respect and protect it. “We protect what we love, and we love what we know,” Mr. Paquin says. “The best way to understand the river is to sail it.”

financial partners

Mr. Paquin and his team rely on the maritime industry for financial assistance: EcoMaris is a not-for-profit organization. Port of Montreal partners, most notably Fednav, already are involved. For its part, the Port of Montreal offers a scholarship to two young people from eastern Montreal that pays for their voyage aboard the Roter Sand. EcoMaris has succeeded in attracting partners from other business sectors, such as Standard Life.

To help finance the educational program, EcoMaris offers on-board leadership training courses to the business community.
EcoMaris will take part in several events this summer in order to promote the initiative. Last year, more than 18,000 people visited the boat.