From December 30 to January 5, eight Stamps Scholars from six partner institutions came together for a week-long sailing adventure through the Florida Keys. Outward Bound, an esteemed outdoor education program renowned for helping young people explore their personal potential, hosted the experience. Across seven days, Gabriel Ackall (Georgia Tech ’25), Noah Frazier (Arizona ’25), Cassi Hung (Wake Forest ’26), Yanni Ma (Georgia Tech ’25), Victoria Poff (LSU ’27), Seiler Rivers (Mercer ’24), and Ren Thigpen (Mercer ’24) developed practical sailing skills while gaining insights into themselves and forging bonds with their fellow Scholars.
In the following accounts, Scholars Hung and Poff share their experiences aboard the vessel, including takeaways from living and collaborating closely with Scholars on the open waters of the Atlantic.
A Day in the Life of a Sailor
Every morning, Scholars woke at 6:30 AM and immediately jumped into the water for a morning swim. The Scholars took on new roles and responsibilities on the boat each day, from navigating the waters to preparing meals, setting sails, and rowing.
“While quartermasters (cooks) were preparing breakfast, the navigators and morning captain would listen to the weather radio and chart a course for the day,” said Poff. “After eating, we would put up one/both/or none of the sails, depending on the wind and course. Many days, we would begin rowing to get out of narrow channels where we anchored the night before. We were typically able to put both sails up at least once during each day; we would conduct multiple speed checks to determine if we were moving fast enough to not have to row. While on the move, quartermasters would prepare lunch and the ‘skulldogs’ would wash dishes. After lunch, we all switched roles. Once we reached our destination for the evening, typically around 5:30 or so, we would watch the sunset for a moment before prepping for the night. We had an evening meeting, ate dinner, shared readings, cleaned the deck, set up our tarp, and got ready to go to sleep.
Most nights we were ready around 10pm or so, but New Year’s Eve was a bit later! We each would also have “anchor watch” for an hour during the night.” The routine was far from monotonous, as, by nature, the waters posed unique challenges and unexpected joys with each passing moment.
For these Scholars, the trip was characterized by unforgettable moments. “One of my favorite parts of the excursion was exploring the mangroves at Snipe Point,” Hung shared. “It was incredible to see up close an ecosystem that I had only read about before and observe some of the wildlife there. We saw crabs, snails, and even a shark while learning about some of the fascinating adaptations mangroves have (evolved) to survive in saltwater. It was also nice to just wade through the water and talk to everyone after a busy day of sailing.” Additionally, Poff fondly recalled mistaking a shark for a dolphin, the beauty of sunrises and sunsets, sparklers lighting up the New Year’s Eve sky, and the joy of singing songs while rowing.
The Challenges and Rewards
Quickly learning to crew a sailboat does not come without difficulty. Tasks like tying knots, setting sails, and cooking on a moving boat demand constant learning and adaptability. “Simply getting used to living on the boat was probably the biggest challenge upfront,” said Hung. “Especially on the first night, I remember it took us some time to figure out how to even get the boat ready for the night. It was really rewarding to see how much better we got at day-to-day tasks by the end of the trip though as we got faster with things like taking down the tarp and setting the sails. Although it took us some time, I think we all ended up adjusting to and enjoying the routine of living on the boat.”
Building Bonds with Fellow Scholars
The experience of meeting and spending time with Stamps Scholars from various institutions emerged as a highlight for both Poff and Hung. As Poff notes, “We all created a very strong bond quite quickly, and this experience made me feel more ingrained in the Stamps Scholar family.” Scholars were excited to share knowledge and skills, and it did not take long for some to recognize their shared interests. Reflecting on how quickly she bonded with fellow Scholar Yanni Ma (Georgia Tech), Poff shared, “(Yanni) has a very adventurous spirit and is a climber, so she taught me a lot of skills on the boat, including how to tie knots. We also did boat yoga together and shared many laughs while sailing and rowing.” The journey became a platform for collaboration, skill-building, and the formation of lasting friendships. Hung added, “Meeting other Stamps Scholars was by far the best part of this trip. It was a lot of fun to get to know one another, and everyone was always willing to help out and wanted to be involved at every point on the trip which meant that we were able to collaborate and pick up new skills together quickly.”
Months later, the Scholars continue to keep up with one another via a group chat and on social media, and they hope to plan a reunion in the not-too-distant future.
Lessons Learned and Looking Forward
Reflecting on the trip, the Scholars gained profound insights into themselves. Poff describes it as the “most rewarding decision” she made in 2023, as she discovered a love for stepping out of her comfort zone and experiencing life to the fullest. For Hung, living on a sailboat for a week taught her more about who she is as a leader and how she works best in a team environment. Both Scholars would urge fellow Scholars to consider the excursion as a transformative opportunity for personal growth and leadership development.
Hung and Poff paid for the excursion using a portion of their Stamps enrichment fund, a monetary fund for Scholars to use toward their academic and professional development. Hung commented, “I feel like it was a good use of (my enrichment funds). It’s important to me that I use college as a time to pursue experiences I might not otherwise get to be part of, and the Stamps Scholarship allowed me to do that through this trip!”