There was ambiguity in Pierre’s attitude toward his eldest son’s education. On one hand he wanted to see this bright boy go to Sorèze for the formal training that would prepare him for a career in law or the priesthood. This avenue, however, would cost money that Pierre was reluctant to spend and would take Stephen away from any earning possibility that would clearly help support the family. On the other hand, Pierre could easily see Stephen learning le métier of maritime trade from the basics to being a ship captain one day. Besides, the boy was ready to face the hardships of living on board.
Girard had sailed before but never in the official status of a pilotin. He would learn all the secrets of loading, stacking cargo, inventory as well as the finer points of being a budding officer. He would leave his childhood behind with father and his aunt as well as all the kids. As a pilotin, he reported to everyone— the seasoned seamen, the supercargo (the person responsible for cargo security) the junior officer and the captain. Instead of just being his father’s gofer, he would now answer to a shipload of strangers that resented him for being the owner’s son. Stephen knew that the captain would be responsible for him and make sure he would return safely.
He was off to the Sugar Islands in the West Indies and the delights of facing a new world of excitement. He would do his best to match his father’s heroism for which he was recognized by the King of France.
Girard was a quick learner and was glad that the sea had offered him a release from his father’s tyranny but he was grateful for the start his father had given him. Those in the crew that expected Stephen to show signs of sea-sickness were certainly surprised. To vary that maxim, he hit the deck running. What little spare time he had from his many chores he devoted to the study of navigation. When later asked how he felt about going to sea so young, he said: “I have made my way alone with the means gained from my nurse, the sea.” Do we know if Stephen had time to read during his first voyage? According to his biographers, he worked twice as hard as the other mariners. His strong arms and nimble feet had him climbing and running all day. He could see better with one eye than others could with two. After ten months, Stephen returned home but was in for a big surprise. His aunt Anne was no longer there. She had been replaced by a woman Pierre decided to marry for sound financial reasons. His stepmother was Marie Jeanne Géraud, an older woman from San Domingo. She was a widow with fertile vineyard lands in Tresse. Pierre was definitely in love with her dowry. From that time one, Stephen kept in touch with his aunt and provided her with an income in later years, supporting her until she died.
As the years went by, Girard continued to go on voyages mostly to the West Indies and returning to his home near Bordeaux. It was clear that he wanted to go off on his own as soon as he could manage the finances. Returning from one voyage, he learned that his brother John was attending classes at Sorèze and would be interested in going to sea with Stephen when he completed his studies. Stephen decided a few months at serious studies at Sorèze might come in handy, especially in mathematics and navigation. Stephen made it clear to all who would listen that he paid for his studies out of his own savings.
In 1772, Stephen was twenty-two years old and had made his way from pilotin to second mate. He was at that time working under Captain Jean Petiteau. There became a vacancy in the first mate billet and Petiteau was pleased to promote Stephen to it. Stephen then requested that his brother John fill in the second mate position. John had just completed his studies and was pleased to be given a job next to his brother. The ship Superbe was going to Cap Francais in San Domingo. Misfortune marked this voyage.