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LESSON: How to be a sailing parent

Published on May 26th, 2023

Moose and Kris McClintock have both been intimately involved in high end sailing their whole lives. In this report, Moose shares how as parents they introduced the sport:

When we had our daughter, we were keen that she get into a sport of some kind to socialize and stay healthy. We had her take tennis lessons, she played soccer, tried swimming, played softball, and ran cross country and track.

For each sport, it was all with no intention of it becoming an overwhelming part of her life but more to keep her involved and hoping that she would click with one of them (she still runs daily).

As we were sailing all the time, we decided that she should learn that as well, not so much that she would become a racer but that we could do more things together, and understand why dad kept disappearing for weeks (or months) at a time.

She took Opti classes for beginners at a local facility, and I was sorely disappointed by that outcome: she could barely sail at the end of the summer and didn’t enjoy it.

The next summer we moved her to a yacht club local to Kris’ workplace where the kids were put four to a boat in a Cape Cod Mercury. Each kid rotated through the jobs on the boat – one steering, one on the main, and one on each jib sheet. The boats are very stable with keels and the fear of capsizing went away.

Within a week, she was twice the sailor she was after a summer of Optis … and she loved it.

She continued in this program for another year, then gravitated to their cruising class where they would sail out to a local island, or around another, learning about navigation and anchoring, a more complete education for a lifelong sport.

She then did a summer sailing 420s at another facility, but the only enjoyment for her in this was windy days when they would reach around and go fast. She had absolutely no interest in racing and we were fine with that.

The next summer she volunteered at a start-up sailing camp near our house, and she worked there in the summer over the next three years as an instructor. The kids loved her, and she enjoyed spending summers on the water while her friends worked at Subway; a good experience all the way around.

Now, she loves to sail but has zero interest in racing. However, she has all the skills to hop on a moored boat, sail to a destination, dock or anchor, and get back; that’s all she wants to do.

The lesson here is that integrating kids into competitive sports for the sake of competition is the problem. We credit the years of sailing the Mercury as the best of her instruction. If it had become competitive, she would have dropped it, much as she did with tennis, soccer, swimming, and softball.

Sailing is a lifelong pursuit; racing isn’t. The kids should be given the choice to do something other than going out and doing sausages their whole life (when I coached college, we sometimes ended a practice racing around an island and back to the dock; even for college racers this was a highlight in practice).

When I was younger, sailing on Narragansett Bay, a different yacht club on the bay would host a regatta every weekend. The highlight of my summers was sailing to those clubs on Friday afternoon with my parents, and sailing back on Sunday afternoon.

The racing was just another thing that I didn’t understand but I enjoyed it though we weren’t competitive. The regattas were hugely attended (mid 60s, different times). Eventually I started racing but never actually skippered anything until I was in college. Now I can’t live without sailing.

The point is, teach kids how to sail and let them decide if they want to race. If we’re concerned that sailing is dying, this is one way to revitalize it.

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