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Morphing youth sailors into adult sailors

Published on June 28th, 2022

Roy Kuipers

Dawn Nelson shares this case study of one skipper and four youth sailors, and how their combined efforts on a Texas lake has contributed to the future of the sport.

The 41st Annual Dallas Race Week took place June 20-24 on Lake Ray Hubbard in Rockwall, Texas. The charity regatta, organized by Billy Self, is a continuation of the event created by his father, Scott Self.

After Scott skippered a local team from Chandlers Landing Yacht Club (Rockwall, TX) in the 1978 Antigua Race Week, he modeled the inaugural Dallas Race Week in 1982 to replicate the fun his team had in Antigua; Scott participated in every Dallas Race Week until his passing in June 2020.

The regatta, which is always held during the week of Father’s Day, has been modified to fit the Texas weather (100°+F days necessitate evening starts) and work schedules with one race, starting at 7:00 p.m. each night, in a Monday-Friday format.

The race is followed by a post-race party every evening, hosted by the Chandlers Landing Marina and the Yacht Club. It’s no surprise that Billy Self was an excellent youth sailor who continues to participate in the local racing scene as an adult.

However, it’s Scott Self’s friend and his competition – Roy Kuipers – that is the skipper in the case study.

Kuipers is a tall man of Dutch heritage with a recognizable voice that carries, and a gourmet cook who offers unmatched hospitality on land or water. He’s sailed on the lake for 40 years and frequently takes family and friends on offshore adventures.

No matter where he may be, Kuipers has always made it a point to be among the competitors of Dallas Race Week. Roy’s boat, the Hunter Legend 35.5 Three Sheets to the Wind, is affectionately referred to as “The Kid Boat” by the other racers.

Nineteen years ago, Roy invited an eager, 7-year-old Opti sailor, Geoffrey Nelson, aboard his boat for Wednesday night racing. Geoffrey quickly became regular crew including during Dallas Race Week. Geoffrey had a memorable 10th birthday: he made the Opti Team USA (and continued to do so for the next five years), and Roy offered him the helm for race week.

Geoffrey continued to helm for Roy until he graduated and left to sail for Eckerd College (’18). Geoffrey continues to live and sail in Florida, but with college and now a start-up business, he has not returned to Dallas Race Week for eight years.

Geoffrey was not the only kid aboard Roy’s boat. Friends were always welcome. Holden Coggeshall joined the boat and quickly became indispensable crew. Holden is an excellent sailor who never competed in the youth circuit. He sailed with Roy until his pre-med studies at the University of Texas at Dallas (’22) and working at the local hospital made sailing time limited.

In Holden’s same high school graduating class was Geoffrey’s younger brother, Zachary Nelson. Zachary doesn’t remember learning to sail. By the time he was 4-years-old, he was in Optis and on keelboats.

When Geoffrey left for college, Roy’s helm was passed to Zachary, again during both Wednesday night racing and the Dallas Race Weeks. Zachary left the youth sailing circuit and chose to follow his other sport, playing varsity soccer for Hendrix College (’21) and now lives in Kansas.

The youngest of the four sailors, Roy Kuipers’ son, Johan, took the helm of his father’s boat when Holden and Zachary left for college. Johan literally grew up on boats but never competed in the youth circuit, with all that time on the water not only creating a great sailor but also a competitive swimmer.

New sailors on the lake would often express consternation when the entire crew would dive into the water after a race while Roy sailed on. They could relax, Johan had his friends, the top-rated high school swim team as crew; they quickly caught back up to the boat before it was ever near the docks.

(L-R): The Early Years–Holden Coggeshall flying the spinnaker while Geoffrey Nelson helms

Johan would go on to swim competitively for Loyola University-New Orleans, and has transferred into the Naval Architecture program at the University of New Orleans (’24).

So, you have four youth sailors: one who did the classic Opti to Team USA to Lasers to 420s and Multihulls, to college sailing; one who did the youth circuit nationally and chose to leave the youth circuit for soccer; and two who never competed in the youth circuit of which one did not have a strong family sailing history; and the other, a son who grew up on the boat. All have gone their separate ways but kept in touch with Roy and each other.

When the 2022 Dallas Race Week was approaching, and Roy’s recent shoulder surgery was to keep him from participating, his old crew went into action.

Johan scheduled his summer study abroad course in a way to be able to return the week before the regatta, and he gathered some of the old high school swim team to crew. Geoffrey flew home a day early to ensure the boat was racing-ready, and he brought his girlfriend, Madison Gumprecht (Eckerd ’21) to crew in her very first regatta. Holden took off from the hospital and cleared his schedule of medical school applications and Zachary took off work to drive down from Kansas.

They had two goals: 1) Make sure Roy could participate without touching a single line and, 2) Make sure Roy had fun.

After the awards, the four young men all turned to Roy and announced, “We’ll be back next year!” The Nelson brothers share ownership in a keelboat, Johan still sails his family boats, and Holden has plans to buy a boat as soon as a doctor’s paycheck goes into his bank account. Thus, there’s not one single path to keeping kids involved with sailing.

What did Roy do right for years? How did he do the unthinkable and morph four youth sailors into adult sailors? He’s the skipper that Scuttlebutt Sailing News is always writing about: he welcomed the kids on his boat. Some things to consider about what made it work:

1. Roy is a very competent sailor with a six-pack and years of experience. He knew his capabilities in all weather conditions and mothers were confident that their children would be safe with him.
2. Roy had other kid-friendly adults, namely Bob Harmon and Carole Ford, as regular crew to help race and/or help kids.
3. Roy is a credentialed sailing instructor. He loved it when the kids peppered him with questions.
4. Roy taught the kids all aspects of sailing: engine maintenance and backing the boat into slip were regular lessons.
5. Roy was willing to give up glory to let the kids learn. He didn’t grab lines or get mad when a child made a mistake. He coached them through it even if it meant missing a trophy.
6. Roy focused on FUN. He would often anchor for an after-the-race dip in the lake.
7. The CLYC members have a strong tradition of Corinthian spirit. They compete on the water but all sit together afterward for food and fellowship.
8. The CLYC members welcomed the kids at the après sailing events, and not only tolerated them, they engaged them in conversations about sailing and other topics.
9. The CLYC members would invite the kids aboard their boats when Roy was unavailable.
10. The CLYC members included the kids in other yacht club activities. At the formal Year-End Awards Banquet, when all of the racers were given rigging knives, the kids were also given them.

(L-R: Holden Coggeshall, Zachary Nelson, Madison Gumprecht, Geoffrey Nelson, Johan Kuipers, CLYC Commodore Dan Malak, Roy Kuipers, Carole Ford, and Bob Harmon accept the 2nd Place in D Fleet Trophy)

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