Sister Ships

What do you do when your husband realizes his lifelong dream of owning a tall ship? Asbury resident Dawn Santamaria faced that dilemma in 1999 after her husband, Jay, bought the vintage sailboat Unicorn.

What do you do when your husband realizes his lifelong dream of owning a tall ship? Asbury resident Dawn Santamaria faced that dilemma in 1999 after her husband, Jay, bought the vintage sailboat Unicorn.

Jay’s experience in executive training and team-building—combined with Dawn’s experience raising four daughters—led Dawn in 2005 to launch the nonprofit program Sisters Under Sail, which gives small groups of young women the chance to learn life skills while sailing on the Unicorn. The program meets its costs by charging sailors $200 per day, and it finds local businesses to sponsor trips for girls who otherwise could not afford to go.

To date, the program has taken 54 girls aboard; this summer, another 75 will set sail.

“You see each of these kids have a pivotal moment,” Dawn says. “They’re not the same girl they were when they first got on board.”

One of those girls was Patricia Lopez of Perth Amboy, who at 12 sailed on a sponsored one-day excursion for 23 local girls in 2005. Patricia’s mother, Virginia, saw her daughter transform from a timid girl who didn’t want to leave the dock into a vibrant chatterbox who didn’t want to get off the boat. “I really didn’t know what to expect at all,” Patricia says. But after she started to rig the boat and connect with her shipmates, she says, “I was thrilled that I went.”

So thrilled that this month, Patricia—who still doesn’t like being away from home—signed up for a five-day sail from Atlantic City to Perth Amboy, one of several such programs scheduled along the East Coast.


Tall ship Unicorn

Built: 1947

Length: 118 feet

Beam: 22 feet

Mast height: 96 feet above deck

Displacement: 150 tons

Rig: Square topsail, gaff-rigged schooner flying seven sails. Steel masts with wooden topmasts.

Home port: Perth Amboy

Winter port: South Causeway Island, Ft. Pierce, Florida

Notable history: Made from metals of captured German U-boats salvaged after World War II. Collided with an ocean-bound chemical tanker in 1995.

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