A Simple Idea That Exceeded Expectations

Published on October 15th, 2013

By Steve Schupak
The secret play going into the final race of the summer beer can season had been deviously planned. Little did the crew realize that the big event wasn’t just sailing in blazers and bow ties, but they would now officially be the youngest team on the water.

As the engine was warming up and the dock lines being slipped from the boat, the adult supervision – all decked out in blazers and bow ties like the kids – gave the announcement that they would be staying off the boat and it was a kids only night! Eyes got big, questioning looks spread from boy to boy, and finally they awoke to the fact that they were fully in charge.

“And by the way, don’t hit the dock as you pull out, and don’t get near anyone on the course.” Typical parent talk as they pulled out and set sail. Average age was around 15.3 years old.

The breeze was perfect and the boys were coming into their own out on the water. The gory details of the race really don’t matter as the boys sailed well; safely for both body and boat. And they did it with style! Those of us parents and grandparents following along on, hooting and hollering and cheering, enjoyed a special special night.

With the support of many this summer, we watched the growth of the next generation of sailors for our sport. Nights like these will have a lasting impression and impact on these young men’s lives – more than any day in a junior program. Here they competed against adults, were accepted by adults, and cheered as adults!

John Drayton provides a little background…
Two summers ago, Seth Hall asked me to race his 40-foot J/124 Marisol a couple nights when he was out of town for the Monday night summer races. The race course wasn’t real busy, and I’d usually grab our two boys (then 14 and 12 years old) and a couple of their friends. It was really casual, and we maybe only sailed a half dozen races in total that summer (2011).

Last summer (2012), with Seth’s encouragement, we got a little more organized. Steve Schupak joined me to help “coach” the boys. We recruited a regular team, and started treating the kids like adult sailors (they were responsible for rigging/de-rigging the boat, nobody leaves until everything is done, no unexcused missed nights). On several nights we recruited periodic “guest” coaches to come along for a night, including top local sailors like Dave Ullman, Bruce Cooper, Harry Pattison, Mark Olson and Tom Pollack (among others).

This summer, the “Monday Crew” continued their growth as a team. There were 7-8 kids with 2-3 alternates, all under 17 years. Every boy steered at least one full night (including a 11 year old). Each boy rotated through all the key positions: helm, trimmers, grinders, tactician. Progressively the adults were pushed out of the cockpit and away from any position of responsibility – by the end of summer, my only remaining job was to skirt the jib after tacks.

The final night when we exited the boat was a lot of fun, especially at the point where I told them they would be sailing without us. I’d worked out with Seth in advance that they’d sail without any adults, and it’s no surprise to any of us that they did a great job. They closed out their racing season in first place overall the series.

None of this would have occurred without Seth letting (and trusting) a group of kids to sail his boat. There’s nothing magic about what we did – and the model for copying this elsewhere is really simple (put kids on a boat, let them race) – but the overall results of this program have far exceeded everyone’s expectations.



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