Harken Derm

Putting Adventure back into Sailing

Published on March 21st, 2017

It is often unstructured, unplanned, or even ill-advised events which create that tenable bond to sailing. As Dan Walker (Severna Park, MD) recalls, it was one childhood adventure that has forever connected him to sailing.


I grew up in central New Jersey, and since my parents never sailed, I was never exposed to sailing as a young child. But when I was 12, during summer vacation in Beach Haven, New Jersey, I became intrigued by the sailboats out on Barnegat Bay.

Spying a place that rented dinghies, I asked my parents if I could rent one for a day. They asked me if I knew how to sail, to which I replied, “I can learn.” They told me that if I learned the basics, I could take out a boat. So during this vacation, I ran to the local library and took out a book on sailing, and spent the night learning “everything there is to know about sailing.”

The next day I was given command of my very first vessel, a Sailfish. I gathered my crew – my little brother and a sister or two – and we headed out to sea (Barnegat Bay). I can still taste the excitement of that adventure, the sense of confidence I felt in being able to tell my frightened siblings that “yes, we’re doing it right, it’s supposed to lean over like that,” and the pride that came from accomplishing something new entirely by myself.

I am sure my parents (and the rental business) had eyes on us from shore the whole time and knew we were safe, but from my boat, it was only me, my crew, and the elements. The lessons learned from that day were made special because I believed that I was the sole person in charge of this boat and my own destiny, as well as for the well-being of my crew.

Those lessons, of responsibility for myself and others, of preparedness, and of confidence in leadership, remain with me to this day. Not to mention a passion for sailing that has only gained strength as I’ve grown older and passed that passion on to my own children.


As youth sailing has become more scheduled and structured, it is good to remember how it is often the organic moments that create lasting bonds to sailing. In this video, Nevin Sayre discusses the importance of creating more adventure sailing programs for youth at sailing organizations around the country. Sayre offers a fresh perspective on engaging young sailors and keeping sailing fun.

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