Giving Back to the Next Generation

Published on June 5th, 2016

by Joe Cooper
Much of the discussion on the sailing blogosphere today revolves around the meme: “how to keep kids engaged with sailing”. The ideas are legion and probably most of them work. Two young ladies from the Prout School Sailing Team (Wakefield, RI) would likely be leading the in the ‘THAT WAS GREAT’ stakes, and rightly so too.

It began as an idea to get some of the ladies from that team – young women comprise two thirds of the roster – to meet with Sally Barkow. Sally is a successful sailor (2008 Olympics, All American in college, 2-time Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year) in her own right but probably most well known lately as member of the all-women team aboard SCA in the last Volvo Ocean Race.

I am the Prout Sailing Team coach, and with Sally competing in the World Match Racing Tour Newport event, I thought it would be a great opportunity for the young ladies to meet a successful women with whom they shared a common love: sailing.

image002With lots of help from the Newport community, I was able to get Mikaela Kimpton and Payton Canavan about 30 minutes together time with Sally, which then snowballed as some of her crew joined in. Then when Robin Johnstone, the broadcast producer for the Tour, heard what I was up to, she suggested we get them on Sally’s boat for the Pro-Am day.

A fast double and triple check of all the mechanics of this, including a smiling “absolutely, sure” from Sally herself, we put it all in place. The parents were certainly on board and the Prout School signed off on it too.

Thus, last Thursday, two teenage girls, passionately in love with sailing anyway, entered the fray of a full-on professional international sailing event incorporating some of the best sailors on the planet. Robin brought us into the production control center and pointed out some of the media workings while introducing the girls to Adam, the cameraman, who would interview them and then capture footage of them on Team Magenta.

Next stop was the ‘hot seat’ check-in table. VIP’s are well taken care of at this event with M32 Tour spray gear, life jacket, and crash helmet. Mikaela and Payton tried on and tested their kit with all the seriousness of becoming a professional. Next, a few words with Sally and one of the ladies, duly recorded by Adam. Finally a safety briefing covering a few simple things including what to do if the M32 capsizes: jump off.

Finally, it was go time toward the boats, down the ‘sailors only’ guard-protected ramp, all kitted out plus wearing their Prout Pinnies. A few last minute words of wisdom from me…”just relax, it is just a sailing boat…”, which was received with a dry kind of look, and they were off into the hands of the Tour team responsible for getting them to Sally’s boat. Up on the dock, I watched them banter with each other while the big smiles diminished somewhat as the magnitude of what they were about to do really took hold.

Here are two high school girls, sailors, one of whom I forgot to mention is in only her second season of sailing, ever, as part of the Prout Team, about to go for a blast on a fire breathing M32 catamaran with one of the most successful US women sailors, and a team of equally great women sailors, across Newport harbor on a sunny day with 15 knots of easterly and be amongst some of the most successful and skilled sailors in the country, being video recorded for livestream and being announced over the PA system.

Ok ok, I get it. This is a unique situation. The World Match Racing Tour is an elite, world-class event sailed by full-on Pro’s, for money. BUT getting the kids in the loop ONLY got going because a coach had an idea and the local sailing community got right behind it and made it happen. This isn’t rocket science, folks. There are ‘big’ events of all sizes in every sailing town and all it takes is a couple of folks with the willingness to give it a go.

And my ‘why’ for this sort of effort? I had a version of me, a mentor, when I was a teenager, and he taught me a lot, and some things even had to do with sailing. If we all decide that giving back to the next generation is a good thing, we WILL get a generation of young sailors who are totally stoked on sailing and will continue sailing as a life long activity. But don’t forget to tell them to ‘pass it on’ too.

Photos below: Jan Harley, Media Pro International, Newport.

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