Teaching kids how to have fun sailing

Published on October 13th, 2020

There are a lot of ways to go sailing, because when it comes to sailors, one size does not fit all. However, this gets forgotten at the youth level, and attrition occurs when kids don’t get the chance to find what fits them.

But Multihull Youth SAIL Foundation (My SAIL) is hoping to change that, and in this US Sailing interview, founder Peter Nelson shares how this organization is helping expose youth sailors to multihull sailing.

How did the My SAIL Foundation get started?

In 2014, this 15 year old kid from Portland, Oregon came up to Seattle with a Hobie Cat behind his mom’s car. He had this 1970s beater Hobie 16, and he asked,“Can you teach me how to race it?” This guy was motivated, and his mom was supporting him to drive the three hours up and back.

So we went out sailing together, and afterwards I said to him, “If you want to get serious about Hobie racing, you’re going to need a better boat.” About four months later he calls and says he has a new boat. He had literally bought a brand new Hobie 16! He brought his crew with him and we started mentoring him. Eventually he went on to race in several North Americans, and the Worlds in China!

What was really unique about him was that he had this magnetism, and when we started working with him, other kids gravitated to him. He became like a ringleader. So now all of a sudden we had all of these kids that were interested in sailing catamarans and showing up at our regattas.

We started having these informal clinics and we realized ‘there’s some liability here we need to consider’. Between that, and the amount of time and money that we were putting in, we decided we needed to do something. So, in the Spring of 2018 we created the 501(c)3, and MY SAIL was born.

Since then, what we are finding is that the kids like to have a ringleader. Since they eventually graduate from school and move on, we are constantly searching to find the next leader. Right now, we are on iteration number 5 or 6. It works out great – leaders learn how to lead through MY SAIL.

What are the current goals of the Foundation?

The vision for all of this came years ago when my co-conspirator, Laura Sullivan, and I were sitting at a ferry dock and we got this idea to do something nationwide, and create five regional centers in the United States – Northwest, Southwest, Northeast, Southeast, and Midwest. We want to find the people who are passionate about youth multihull sailing and start supporting them. They are out there!

That’s our five-year plan, and in the five years after that we will get more involved with the yacht clubs and other sailing programs in those regions, as they begin to understand the momentum and the interest. It’s the “Red Bull Generation” if you will, and these kids are looking for the adrenaline, the speed, the foiling, and all of that.

We have hit a nerve and we are growing this. Our plan is to create an endowment for sustainability, and then do a national search for an executive director to put this thing on the map. Then we start some national level fundraising.

We are currently working with Red Gear Racing as the Southeast affiliate, and they are doing a bunch of stuff in the Florida area and East Coast. We now have two affiliates with Hobie Division 4 in the Northwest, and Red Gear Racing in the Southeast. It takes time, but every year there is more going on.

As we have been getting the word out, we are finding an incredible amount of interest from other junior sailing programs. We have two target populations: kids who want to cross-train and get experience on different boats, and kids disenfranchised with slow sailing.

For the cross-trainers, it’s going to help them with their 420 sailing, Laser sailing, and anything else they are sailing. We are also finding that a small percentage of those cross trainers are saying, “You know, I think I’m going to stay on the dark side!” A bunch of other youth are simply bored going 4-6 knots, and want to go faster. We fill their “need for speed.”

What other reactions do you see from the kids?

We make sure they have fun first, and then once we have them locked in on the fun, they start asking us to teach them how to sail faster. We don’t do any teaching until they tell us that they want to learn.

A lot of these junior programs are stuffing the program down the kids’ throats. We are taking a totally opposite approach. We show the kids that we are committed to them having fun first. Then they get excited and ask for help learning. It’s not about teaching kids how to race; it’s about teaching them how to have fun sailing.

If we can help a bunch of 420 sailors get more passionate about their 420 sailing because they cross-trained on a multihull, I’m all good with that. A rising tide floats all boats, and some of them will stick with multihull sailing. It’s about advancing the sport of sailing, so that after they get back from college, they might buy a boat!

How have things gone this year so far?

This year has been phenomenal! In the Northwest, kids are telling other kids about us and asking if they can join. There’s a turnaround – instead of the parents telling the kids they have to go to sail camp, the kids are calling us and asking if they can come sailing!

Right now, we have more kids than boats, so we are working hard and fast to grow our fleet of boats to keep up with demand. The local yacht club – Corinthian of Seattle – has asked if we would join their junior program. They recognize the economics and mission of diversity.

Red Gear Racing did a road trip this summer to rave reviews. They are great. They work a lot with spinnaker and foiling boats like Nacra 15s and F16s. They had a large group of kids headed to Long Beach for the Nacra 15 Youth Worlds this year before it was cancelled.

For more information about MY SAIL, visit https://mysail.org/

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