Healing Powers of Sailing
Published on November 30th, 2016
Travis Lund, Executive Director at Treasure Island Sailing Center (TISC), offers an example of how sailing can provide a helpful distraction to life…
I’m often asked what the TISC is or what we do here in San Francisco, CA. I’ll admit it is sometimes difficult to accurately describe what a youth-driven sailing center does and harder yet to transmit why my staff and I are so dedicated to the mission of TISC.
For most of us who sail, we typically don’t ponder how sailing has affected our lives…we just know it has. Most of us seldom think about what our lives would be like if we never learned to or had the enjoyment of sailing.
Growing up in a small industrial town of 23,000 people in Northern Michigan, there were few entertainment options. I really didn’t know much else other than playing in the water in the summer and playing in the snow in the winter. My parents owned a small sailboat and I somehow found ways to sail and race and eventually got good at it.
I’ve been able to make a living at it for most of my life, and yet I still find it difficult to articulate how and why it has become so important to who I am. I think the best way to answer this question is to envision my life without it. And, I cannot.
However, a recent event has helped provide some clarity.
On November 9th, TISC ran a recruitment event to help our Envision Academy Sailing Team (EAST) gain new members. Envision Academy (EA) is a tuition free charter high school in downtown Oakland whose population is mostly underserved.
About a year and a half ago, with the help of Anthony Sandberg, owner of OCSC Sailing, we formed a sailing team for this school. With the financial support of the St. Francis Sailing Foundation, we’ve been providing boats, transportation and instructors for the team at no cost to the students and their families. The current team is all upper level students and we wanted to bolster the team numbers.
We had the day planned for weeks and didn’t really think about the actual date as we had enough on our plates to simply organize the event. But the morning of the event, I received a call from EA’s Athletic Director, Coach Henry, to inform me that he was going to do what he could to get the kids on the bus as quickly as he could. As it was the day after the U.S. national and local elections, the school was in a state of pandemonium.
He explained that kids were looking like they were leaving school, that parents were coming to pick their kids up, and that helicopters were flying overhead in wake of what might be either protests or riots later in the day. He warned me that we would not have the 42 kids we had hoped for, and that I should prepare the staff for what might be a sullen, scared or confused group of kids.
Anthony Sandberg chipped in and we chartered a bus to bring what became 27 freshmen and sophomore students out for a 3-hour introductory sail. As they arrived it was clear that Henry’s call was right.
What should have been an excited, frenzied group of 14 and 15 year olds was replaced with some very quiet and reserved children while others were wrought with anger. The regular team was also there, and were also visibly distraught. We provided the kids with pizza and snacks, and they were feeling a bit better when they hit the water.
Prior to EA’s arrival we had launched four J/24s and as many RS Ventures. We had several volunteers who were instructed to show the kids a good time, introduce them to sailing, and relay their experiences with sailing. I had prepared everyone for what might be the attitude of the group and so everyone was a bit on edge. While the EA student body is very diverse, our staff and volunteers were not, and I was concerned how the day might play out.
Once the kids got into life jackets and began to load onto the boats something unexpected happened. Faces went from frowns to looks of interest and investigation. The loud and frank talk of the election results turned to questions and quiet.
We loaded kids one by one onto the boats and off they went. There were four girls who stayed together, all wearing Hajibs. I have never seen anyone wear one while sailing and was surprised when these girls were completely unaffected by the wind and more affected by the sail.
I hopped into our chase boat and went out on Clipper Cove with our Program Manager to take pictures. What we saw as we went from boat to boat brightened our day. The kids’ demeanor had changed.
Right there before our eyes in the span of a few moments these kids, all of them, were either engaged with their coach, dipping their hands in the water or sitting on the decks with the wind in their faces looking skyward.
They marveled at the older EA students who were practicing around buoys in their FJ’s for an upcoming regatta. We could tell many of them were envious. As we went from boat to boat the kids each took a turn giving us their best pose or goofy look, each one trying to outdo the other.
Eventually the kids came in and switched boats from keel to dinghy or dingy to keel after a very short break. During this second sail I radioed the coaches and volunteers to come in. I had received another call from Coach Henry who now informed me that I had better get the kids back a bit early as some streets near the school were being closed due to protesting.
While I hastened the boats back to the dock, it was difficult to organize the group to leave. They needed to get a group photo (several really, with different poses and funny looks) and were chatting up their coaches and my staff. The mood and the voices were boisterous, giddy and loud; like kids. Before they left, 22 out of the 27 singed up as being interested to join the sailing team!
While I do not know what they went home to, I do know that while they were here, for those brief moments on the water, they were at peace. And not just them; all the staff and volunteers became one group, united for a purpose and connected by the water and the sport of sailing.
That’s what we do at TISC. And, while I still have a difficult time describing how sailing has affected my own life, I can tell you it has, it does, and so long as I’m in this position and likely still breathing it will. I hope in some small way that day that it affected these kids too. I think it did!
If you would like to learn more about or support Treasure Island Sailing Center on San Francisco Bay, visit www.tisailing.org