Young Sailors: Fueling the Passion

Published on September 18th, 2016

by Joe Cooper, WindCheck magazine
When I started coaching the high school sailing team at The Prout School in Wakefield, Rhode Island seven years ago, I was astounded to learn the sailing season stopped at the end of May. Just when the kids were getting comfortable in the boats, camaraderie was building and I was remembering who was who, it all stopped.

Over the course of the next couple of years as I gained my sea legs in this new, to me, arena, I also became involved with the Junior Safety at Sea Seminars presented by the Storm Trysail Foundation. Then the Ida Lewis Yacht Club in Newport offered a Youth Challenge class in their Ida Lewis Distance Race every August. There was a persistent shift brewing here.

I have great memories of sailing as a youngster and messing around in boats as a teenager and have subsequently learned a lot about everything, all from sailing. These memories got me onto the idea of trying to develop what I now refer to as ‘Cooper Kapers’ for the high school kids I know.

My theory is if the kids learn to love sailing and have a great time, then continuing to sail will grow organically. This idea has been helped by the declining rates of qualified crews to man the local boats and those owners are not in the ‘hire a pro’ market, so they are fading out of the scene.

Being on a boat, with at least one of their friends (very important), on a nice day with not too much pressure and having someone willing to take the time to explain things to them is a very good way to keep kids interested. But remember that doing this requires you as an owner (and your crew) to take an active role.

In terms of what to instruct them in, US Sailing has a great Junior Big Boat curriculum – literally a playbook – and it’s printed on waterproof paper to boot. Just follow the instructions and make sure the kids are having fun. The following are some of the ideas and things I have done that fit this profile. – Full report

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