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Captain Bruce Heyman, executive director of the Los Angeles Maritime Institute (LAMI), photographed on the Irving Johnson brigantine. (photo: John Mattera Photography)

This Memorial Day weekend at the four-day Festival of Sail, the Los Angeles Maritime Institute (LAMI) will showcase its prized jewels — their eye-catching tall ships, which include the 92-foot Swift of Ipswich, the 130-foot American Pride, and the twin brigantines, the Irving Johnson and the Exy Johnson, both 110.5 feet long. 

“Those extra five inches matter when you’re docking,” quips Captain Bruce Heyman, LAMI’s executive director. For extra oomph, the 136-foot Bill of Rights schooner will be visiting from San Diego. 

Visitors during a past Festival of Sail. (photo: Joanne Custer)

Capitalizing on the grand spectacle of LA Fleet Week, which occurs the same weekend, LAMI staff and crew will be on hand with free deck tours and offering four sails daily. These ticketed events include waterfront sails, sunset sails, and smoky cannon battles featuring historical reenactors. There will also be the Explore the Coast/Explora la Costa bilingual STEM educational sails sponsored by Marathon Petroleum. For landlubber adults and children, LAMI’s TallShip Village will offer hands-on activities. 

Ultimately, LAMI’s Festival of Sail will allow the general public to experience what so many students have already discovered: the wonder of being on a tall ship as a “walking, talking STEM machine,” as Heyman likes to say. 

Once Fleet Week is over, LAMI will forge ahead with its mission of empowering youths to discover their greatest potential through extraordinary at-sea experiences aboard educational sailing vessels. It all bodes well for this nonprofit as an evolving and vital part of the Port of LA and West Harbor transformation.

On the wooden decks of LAMI’s tall ships, students’ lives are changed. Many of them have never been on a boat before. With fresh air, collegiality, and tight quarters, the kids beam with pride. 

The Exy Johnson sets sail in LA Harbor. (photo: Arturo Garcia-Ayala)

“The boats and the programs are really designed to help them with leadership, with how to be a good team member, and even doing things like climbing up in the rigging and getting over maybe something they’re scared to death of, in a very safe environment, and conquer it,” says Captain Heyman. “This is exactly why we do what we do — to create these unforgettable experiences for local youth while they learn important skills to help them succeed in the future.” 

LAMI served more than 5,000 youths last school year, with 87 percent on sponsored (fully funded) sails. The goal is to have 15,000 student sailing days.

LAMI’s late founder, Jim Gladson, was a retired LAUSD science teacher and sailor who saw the powerful effect of a tall ship as an educational environment, not just on his most dedicated students, but on any students — most significantly, his toughest ones. He also wanted to make the distinction between sail training and yachting.

“The sobering fact is that 50 percent is the number that we typically use for how many kids that live within 15 to 20 miles of here who have actually been down to any waterfront,” says Heyman. “I think it’s very mind-expanding, and it’s very opportunity-expanding in terms of maybe these kids can explore a different life. Even though we’re trying to get to 15,000 student sailing days, there are 2.2 million school-aged kids in the greater LA area. So, it’s still exciting to think about how many kids we can reach.”

There’s also the environmental component to LAMI’s programs. “All of our programs expose people to the human impact on the ocean and local waters,” says LAMI Director of Development Liz Reinhardt. “So hopefully, they will leave with the newfound knowledge to make different choices in the future.” 

LAMI also invites families to get involved with its Explore the Coast/Explora la Costa Bilingual Educational Sail, designed to introduce families to recreational opportunities on the water and along the coast.

Former LAMI student Ella Momeny (in front) works the rope on one of the brigantines. (photo: Arturo Garcia-Ayala)

After a taste of this experiential education, many students come away with STEM-focused interests. For some students, their LAMI experience points to further maritime education. In a social media post, Ella Momeny’s mom, Rachelle, wrote, “We will forever know that the Los Angeles Maritime Institute opened Ella’s world in profound ways.” 

Ella started as a camper and “moved up the rope ladder” to become a deckhand. “My experience with LAMI was really special because there were crew members on board who helped me feel involved in sailing,” says Ella. “Where before, whether on a ferry boat or a boat ride, it was less hands-on. Here, you’re doing something complicated, and you’re involved with moving a large boat.” LAMI helped Ella focus on the maritime industry. She’s now been accepted to Cal Maritime and wants to specialize in marine transportation. 

For the last ten years, Captain Bruce Heyman has been tirelessly steering the “LAMI ship.” Heyman is on the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors, where he is currently chair and serves on the Economic Development and Policy Committee. His impressive biography on LAMI’s website reflects his passions for sailing, community, and education. 

“That whole Bridge to Breakwater is being implemented right here in the port,” says Heyman. “I think the main reason I wanted to join the chamber board was to help that process, to really see if we could get the development going and get the community to stay behind that and focus on being able to say, ‘This is going to be massively different.’ You look at where I expect LAMI to be in a couple of years when West Harbor is fully opened and where we are at Berth 78 with the new Seaside Learning Center, there’s going to be just so much foot traffic, exposure and activity.”

“Bruce has been an outstanding board chair and an invaluable member of the San Pedro Chamber, working to further the chamber’s goals of an improved LA Waterfront to enhance the economic vitality of our community,” says Elise Swanson, CEO of the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce. 

As Heyman maintains, “a rising tide floats all boats.”

“Thanks to both the Port of Los Angeles and West Harbor, we’ve been able to continue full-scale operation through the construction phase,” he says. 

The people behind West Harbor have been supporters and integral partners with LAMI from the beginning. The Port of Los Angeles is another major longtime community partner. Its sizeable two-year grant supports 100 student sailing days each year, among other benefits.

LAMI’s largest corporate partner is Marathon Petroleum, which supports 33 student sailing days each year, plus the Explore the Coast/Explora la Costa Bilingual Educational Sails and Summer Camp scholarships. As in previous years, Marathon Petroleum is a title sponsor for the Festival of Sail, along with the Sherry Griswold Foundation, which will provide complimentary tickets to veterans and active-duty personnel during the four-day weekend.

LAMI students learn nautical navigational skills. (photo: LAMI)

This Memorial Day weekend also officially opens the calendar to a busy summer of sailing opportunities and LAMI’s summer camps. Three summer camp options exist for youths ages 7-17 through their Tall Ship Island Adventure Sea Camp. Explorer Day Camp for ages 7-10 takes place on Pine Avenue Pier at Rainbow Harbor in Long Beach, with three sessions that run Monday through Friday, including an optional overnight sail on Thursday. 

Two sleepaway camp options take California coast exploration to a new level. There’s the five-day Adventurer Camp for ages 10-17 and the 12-day Voyager Camp for ages 12-17. The sleepaway camp options are based on LAMI’s TopSail Youth Program, so no sailing experience is necessary. Crew members will provide all of the training along with various ocean-based recreational activities. 

LAMI also works with the Sea Scouts, an inclusive co-ed program offered by BSA Scouts America. Ship 1992 is the Sea Scout Ship chartered by LAMI. Scouts between the ages of 14 and 21 get together every Sunday afternoon, where they learn leadership and maritime skills, either sailing aboard the twin brigantines Irving Johnson and Exy Johnson or participating in water sports such as small craft boating, kayaking, paddleboarding, and more.

Captain Bruce Heyman stays focused on his mission and voyage. “One of the things that’s been consistent from the beginning is to try and take youth who might not have good self-confidence and good self-image and make them feel good about themselves,” he says. “And to get them out of the community where they have limited visibility to what a potential life might be, and what better place than to see the Port of LA and the plethora of jobs available and to open their eyes to other things.” spt

For more information on LAMI and the upcoming Festival of Sail, visit

Julia Murphy