Orange Coast College’s School of Sailing and Seamanship is undergoing a monumental expansion with the hire of their new manager of Community Boating programs, Sarah Hirsch and the recent groundbreaking of their new training facility on Monday, Sept. 24.

Hirsch who has a long history in professional sailing, is excited to continue to grow the program with the new building that is set to open in August 2021.

Funded by the Measure M bond, the $22 million two-story, 12,000 square-foot project is located across Pacific Coast Highway from the college’s sailing and rowing base on Newport Harbor.

To connect the two buildings, a skyway bridge is being built over Pacific Coast Highway.

The building will have three new classrooms and two labs set up as ship simulators. The growing program will also include a radar training room, conference rooms and a student lounge.

“We’ll be able to run exercises, so that [students] can pretend they’re driving a boat out of the port of Long Beach, which is good to do before you’re actually doing it for real and its part of the training requirements the Coast Guard gives,” Hirsch said.  “And then our second simulation room will just be computers that simulate radar units, used for nighttime navigation.”

Hirsch started commercial sailing in college and fell in love with the teamwork aspect of it.  Since then, she has developed training programs with scientific organizations and earned a merchant mariner credential from the U.S. Coast Guard.

 While she loves being out at sea, Hirsch is excited to settle down and pass on her years of knowledge to OCC students looking to start a career in sailing.

“I think, as silly as it sounds, once you start exploring like that and traveling it’s really hard to cut yourself off,” Hirsch said.  “And going to sea as a career, you get to go to these places and someone pays you.  It kept me in the industry for a long time, because I went to really neat places that I wouldn’t have gone to.”

There’s a wide range of seamanship careers that the program prepares students for- on and off shore.

Along with the new building, there are many boats for student use and practice donated to the school from the community.  

They also have a yacht called the Nordic Star that the students take for day trips to Catalina Island.

“There’s an industry that needs people coming into it,” full time Mariner instructor and coordinator, Karen Prioleau said.  “There are jobs for people who enter into this industry and people don’t know about it and we can train them and get them into those positions.”

The program is approved by the U.S. Coast Guard, so students can get certification in class and either go straight into the workforce or go onto more sailing school to get higher certifications

“You can really walk in having no knowledge of boats or boating and walk out being a pretty knowledgeable, pretty well developed mariner,” Lauren Douglass, 22, a student of the professional mariner program said.

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