Our Story


Sisters Under Sail is a program born from a mother’s heart and from a family’s real life experience in owning a tall ship.

Even though I’ve lived in New Jersey for over 30 years, I still consider myself a mid-westerner. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and attended Saint Mary’s , an all-women's liberal arts College across the street from The University of Notre Dame. My Saint Mary’s experience first taught me to appreciate other young women for their brilliance; for their hunger to make a difference in the world and the rewards of true friendship.

As a working mother of four daughters ranging in age from 30 to 16 and standing at the helm of Sisters Under Sail for 10 years, you could say my belief in the power of the “sisterhood” has become the very fiber of my soul.

In 1999, my husband decided to follow his passion.  An avid sailor since childhood, he wanted us to purchase a tall ship; our beloved (and 5th daughter!) Unicorn. I must admit, I was a bit envious that he was so clearly able to identify his dream. At that point in time, my kids were still young. I was busy with their little lives and had no idea, nor the time, to contemplate dreams of my own.

As fate would have it, owning the Unicorn has been the vehicle to finding my own dream. A dream for myself that I never knew I had and a life-changing growth experience for my family.

Our girls have been a part of our family tall ship business for 15 years. They’ve served aboard Unicorn as trainees, deckhands, education coordinators; offered hours of public deck tours and sold a ton of t-shirts. They have represented us in Washington DC on Capitol Hill, worked alongside their mother at boat shows and provided hours of administrative support in my office. They've sat on our Sisters  Under Sail Board of Trustees, written press releases, blogs, marketing letters and curriculum materials. Through the years, I have watched our girls develop a sense of self, take pride in their accomplishments, confidently present themselves, lead on the sports field, demonstrate tolerance of and compassion towards others. They appreciate and respect the sea and the natural beauty around them, take responsibility for others when needed and possess a keen ability to think outside the box….not to limit their abilities. What more could a mother ask for in her children?

It was through our daughters’ experiences that I decided to initiate a leadership program designed exclusively for teenage girls. I wanted to provide other girls the same opportunity to sail a tall ship in a safe learning environment where they could push themselves to try new things they had never done before. I wanted to take young women on a voyage of self-discovery connecting the dots between their shipboard experience and how that experience translates to real-life lessons, making good choices and how those choices pay off in the end.

As such, in 2005 Sisters Under Sail was founded as a non-profit, 501(c)3 corporation. Since inception, we’ve put aboard over 550 girls and 350 women from all over the country and Canada. We enroll girls much like my daughters as well as serve teens who are making those good choices, but need and deserve leadership opportunities and financial support.

By design to walk the talk, we sail with an all-women crew. We want to be good role models, foster empowerment and give young women the chance to see what we women can do together when focused on a common goal.  Over the years, we have worked hard to establish the Sisters Under Sail brand in the marketplace and are known for the quality and impact of our girl’s leadership program. 

I promise you, this is a confidence-building, hands on learning experience that will remain with your daughter for years to come. 

Fair winds,

Dawn Santamaria

Founder & Executive Director