There are lots of tall ship organisations offering voyages - each one is different. But up until 10 years ago sailing on most REAL tall ships, i.e. square riggers, was reserved either for naval cadets and/or for those under 25. Now they are available for adults too.
But by the term 'sail training' I do not mean learning to sail a tall ship per se, although that does come into it. I do mean learning to live and work in close proximity with others whilst under stress and discomfort, to learn to tolerate others' faults, to learn to co-operate for the good of the community, and above all to learn about one's own weaknesses and strengths in the face of potentially dangerous situations.
It is also not surprising that corporate leadership training programmes are also fast utilizing the opportunities presented by sailing tall ships. And it's really only in the last 10 years or so that tall ship organizations have realized that adults will pay up front for these experiences, whereas most youngsters would have a problem meeting all of the costs involved. Also running a tall ship now-a-days is horrendously expensive, so it's the adult voyages that tend to subsidise the upkeep of the ships, the wages of the staff, and costs of the voyages for the youngsters.
Now most of the organizations that own and run the REAL tall ships that are left, i.e. square riggers - ships, barques, brigs, schooners, etc., offer sail training voyages for adults. And even the ex-communist countries have opened up their sailing vessels to Western 'trainees.'
These are not luxury cruises where the paid crew do all of the work - if you want those then real tall ship sailing isn't for you.
No - what you do is sign on as voluntary crew, i.e. you pay to work - hard!! You are then assigned to a watch with an experienced watch leader and are literally shown the ropes. You are then on duty with your watch for certain hours throughout the succeeding days and nights.
The sail training as such includes: rope-work (mainly pulling and coiling), navigation, taking the helm, going aloft (usually voluntary) and setting and handling the sails, cooking, cleaning, acting as lookout, etc., etc. If you are not that fit before undertaking such a voyage you will be afterwards!!
Watches are usually four hours on duty followed by eight hours off duty, but all 'hands on deck' to hand sails in rough weather or in an emergency (not real hopefully), and during 'happy hour' (morning cleaning) means that sometimes sleep is out of the question, especially during the day.
With regards to the HUGE Russian ships (generic term) the cadets usually work the ship, but Western 'trainees' are allowed to pitch in as and when they can.
And all of this is a real adventure, and one not necessarily for the already fit and healthy. In the UK the Jubilee Sailing Trust runs the Lord Nelson - a brigantine - which is specially equipped to allow everyone to sail who is mentally and physically able to. And that includes the able-bodied and the disabled-bodied incl. the blind. And everyone who can do so safely is encouraged to go aloft at least once in a voyage, including those who normally require wheelchairs!!
For further information visit Tallship Trainees Worldwide Forum on Delphi here on their website.