Increasing Junior Exposure to Big Boat Sailing

Published on February 5th, 2014

While many yacht clubs focus their youth training in youth dinghies, Peter Becker provides some information on how clubs may revitalize navigation and seamanship training for junior sailors…

In Rye, New York, American Yacht Club has had a long history of successfully providing juniors with big boat seamanship and navigation skills. When I was a junior in the program, I remember Lorna Hibberd requiring each one of us to know by heart the light and sound characteristics of the prominent buoys as well as compass courses for approaches and channels. Lorna made sure it was a lot of fun for all of us, and we certainly felt privileged for the opportunity to sail a big cruising boat.

Today at American YC, the interest in the fundamentals of big boat sailing combined with fun is not much different.

Three years ago the juniors themselves developed a junior cruise they called “Back-to-Basics” where emphasis was put on seamanship and boat handling, and most importantly, all the fun things one gets to do on a big boat when not racing. In the right setting, it is amazing the interest in learning: seamanship, navigation, splicing, knot tying, etc., and how many times the juniors could go up the rig in a boson’s chair, or how many man-overboard drills could be performed just as an excuse to go swimming.

The first year turned out to be a huge success, so much so that the juniors were asked by the JSA-LIS (Junior Sailing Association of Long Island Sound) to present the format at their winter meeting of junior program leaders. It has now been adopted by JSA-LIS as a template for other clubs to follow.

JSA-LIS has demonstrated a tremendous amount of leadership in the area of navigation and seamanship. Several years back, the JSA-LIS completely revamped the navigation curriculum by creating a web-based learning tool which prepares juniors for the annual Navigation Competition. The JSA-LIS provides the structured curriculum and also administers a written practical exam required for all Skippers and Watch Captains before they may compete in the Beach Point Yacht Club Overnight Race, which has been the pinnacle of junior big boat sailing on Long Island Sound for over 55 years.

Last year the JSA-LIS reintroduced the Marlinspike Seamanship Trophy, where juniors compete in the art of knot tying and splicing. Fifteen juniors competed and many more were enthusiastic spectators. This summer the JSA-LIS plans to add an instructor workshop to insure that all instructors are well trained in this still relevant and “not-so-lost art”.

It is interesting to note that as the juniors are increasingly exposed to big boat sailing their interest in seamanship, marlinspike skills and navigation also increase. I think at some point the juniors realize they really do need to know and be competent in these relevant skills. The magic is when the adults and coaches can deliver the motivation to learn the skills and knowledge in a fun setting where the juniors unknowingly are actually looking for more.

Click here for the JSA big boat sailing resources.

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