8 Questions for Brilliant’s New Captain

Sarah Armour at the helm of BRILLIANT
Capt. Sarah Armour at the helm of BRILLIANT.

Earlier this fall, the Museum named Sarah Armour to be captain of schooner Brilliant, the Museum’s iconic sail training vessel. As she prepares for her first full season skippering the boat, we thought this would be a good time to sit down and ask her about what it is like to be captain of Brilliant, and what she is looking forward to in 2022.

What is your background prior to this job?

I’ve spent most of the last decade working in youth sail training, traditional sail, and experiential education. Before stepping into the role of captain of Brilliant, I was grateful to spend a season working as mate, where I really got to know the program and the vessel. Before coming to Mystic Seaport Museum, I worked on a number of other sail training vessels including SSV Geronimo, Pride of Baltimore II, Sloop Clearwater, and Lady Maryland. I have a degree in Earth Systems Science from Cornell University, where I focused on applied ecology, sustainable agriculture, and environmental education.

Two young crew members work out schooner BRILLIANT's position.
Two young crew members work out schooner BRILLIANT’s position.

Why did you choose to become Brilliant’s captain?

Where to begin… I can’t imagine saying “no” to this boat. I once heard another captain say, “When Brilliant calls, you answer,” and I certainly felt that way when I had the opportunity to be the mate of Brilliant. As I step into the role of captain, I expect to learn a great deal, and it is a privilege to be in the position to do so. When I consider the six captains that proceeded me in that role, I am aware of how big the shoes are and I consider it a real honor to continue their efforts. I love being Brilliant’s captain because I love being the caretaker of a vessel with such prestige and pedigree, and a program that I have seen impart tremendous influence upon students, peers, and colleagues alike.

As captain, what are you trying to impart to the crew on each cruise?

This is such a good question. Of course, I want everyone onboard to grow into their role as a full-fledged crew member, confident in their role on deck alongside their shipmates. However, I also want folks onboard to have an experience that is beyond the sailing. Living onboard any boat with 11 other people is full of challenge, and I love seeing a crew come together to figure out the specific ways they will work, live, and have a good time on board. It is truly a special thing to work towards something that is bigger than yourself, and Brilliant provides those experiences in spades.

What is it like to sail on Brilliant?

Brilliant really wants to be sailed. The boat sails gracefully in a light breeze, yet is eager to take off in stiffer wind. When it is blowing, you can expect Brilliant to really heel over (which leaves me consistently in awe of the cook). Beyond the fun and the thrill of sailing the boat, I think Brilliant is a great platform for learning and developing seamanship skills and we find that both experienced and inexperienced sailors can really get a lot out of their time on board. I find that Brilliant’s rig design and size lends itself well to learning, and, as their time on board progresses, I am confident in handing over many aspects of vessel operations to students and guest crew.

In 1952, Briggs Cunningham presented his 1932 schooner BRILLIANT to Mystic Seaport Museum to teach young people the art of seamanship (cruises started the following year). Designed by Olin Stephens, the vessel has had a successful career in racing, participating in the Bermuda Races and other famous races.

Was there a special moment last season?

Oh, there were so many! I’m always excited when a new group figures out how you sail a 61-foot schooner onto the anchor (and back off of the anchor the next morning), and that is a special moment that is repeated just about every week. A couple of specific memories come to mind: We had a particularly fantastic sail in Fishers Island Sound on day two of a five-day trip in June, short tacking with our two fisherman staysails. This requires significant teamwork and communication, and all of us on the professional crew were super impressed! Early on a Monday morning in August, we gybed just off the anchored Pride of Baltimore II while their crew and ours waved emphatically at one and other. It was pretty sweet. I also love any opportunity to sail with students through the night, as we were able to do on our longer trips.

What is your favorite part of being captain of Brilliant?

Sailing a vessel that performs so exceptionally is incredible. Hearing stories from past students and crew is always so cool. Being part of Mystic Seaport Museum and working to thoughtfully preserve and maintain our own 1932 schooner is always interesting. But my favorite part of my job is the summer youth sail training trips. Brilliant is so well set up for this program, they are so fun and I am really looking forward to next June.

BRILLIANT under way.
BRILLIANT under way on a port tack.

What are your goals or hopes for the 2022 season?

I am so excited for the youth trips in the summer! We’re aiming to do six five-day trips and two ten-day trips, an increase from last season. I am also really looking forward to the fall of our 2022 season, when we will sail down to the Chesapeake Bay where Brilliant will race 120 miles down the bay in the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race. Some of my favorite sailing has been in the fall on the Chesapeake and I’m really looking forward to sailing Brilliant down there. There will be opportunities for adult guest crew members to sail on board, so if sailing down the coast and into the Chesapeake is exciting to you, join us!

We are also planning to race in the Gloucester Schooner Race, and the Pat West Gaff and Schooner Race.

What makes Brilliant special?

Short answer: There really isn’t a boat like Brilliant.

But here’s the long answer: This vessel has such a storied legacy, from her transatlantic record in 1933 to her current role running one of the oldest sail training programs in the country (since 1953!), Brilliant remains extraordinary. As someone who loves wooden boats, I cannot help but continue to be in awe of the great care in which the boat has been looked after by the Museum for nearly 70 years. Many folks don’t know this, but Brilliant has never had a rebuild! The vessel was built to a standard that I have yet to see matched elsewhere, and that has served Brilliant, her crew, and the museum well.

I am so grateful to the handful of captains that came before me, and it is through their hard work that the vessel and program (and me!) are so set up for success. Brilliant and I owe these men and the Museum a great deal.

For those interested in learning more or registering for a program, please see our schooner Brilliant page.