Opti Haters

July 12, 2012 § 21 Comments

From the series Here Come the Optis, by Curt Crain

From the series Here Come the Optis, by Curt Crain

On the subject of kids learning to sail, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a discussion thread on a sailing website or an op/ed in a sailing magazine that doesn’t include extreme opinions about the Optimist Dinghy (Opti) and other similar one-person prams like the El Toro. Folks either hate them or they’re resigned to them.

Generally, the Opti-resigned assume that the only way for a kid to learn is in a pram, starting precisely at the age of eight. Opti haters blame the boats for scaring kids away, or, at least, for not being enough fun to sail to hold their interest after a time. The resigned often get their cues from people who sell prams. And haters get theirs from people who sell something else.

Of course, neither claim is true. Optis can be a heckuva lot of fun, but they aren’t the only way to learn.

Deeper thinking than rants and promotions takes you to a place where the flaws and the benefits are found in the programs, not the boats. « Read the rest of this entry »

Sailing won’t soon forget the Kaszubes

July 4, 2012 § 3 Comments

In about a week, sailing kids from all over the midwest will arrive at South Shore Yacht Club (SSYC), my home club, for the annual, traditional Kaszube Cup regatta.

Kaszube 420s

Kids sailing in the Kaszube Cup off of Jones Island

Usually, there are about thirty 8-13 year olds sailing Optimist dinghies, and another fifty or sixty teenagers on Lasers and 420’s. There are typically two race courses, one inside the Milwaukee break wall for the younger kids, and another about a mile and a half offshore for the rest.

Like many large youth sailing regattas, this one will depend on parents to volunteer to make sandwiches for lunch, supply berths for out-of-town kids, and they’ll board spectator boats to snap pictures and offer encouragement.

The regatta has a special place in my family’s collective heart, in part because of the fun sailing memories that it provides my kids, but more importantly, because it celebrates a people who might otherwise be forgotten. My wife and daughters have deep Polish ancestry, some of it Kaszube.

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Sailing Country

June 15, 2012 § 1 Comment

This from one of my sailing heroes, Marc Fortune in Nashville, who assembled a top-notch team and broke new ground in sailing advocacy over the winter. It’s starting paying off for kids and families in and around the area.

Now that sailing season has returned for my fellow cheese heads, I am delighted to report that our Regional Summit has fired up the deckhands. Our sailing camp is as popular as ever and we may be adding a remote program to a community 50 miles south of Nashville. “It’s what Nick talked about at the Summit,” the promoter told me.  So, my friend, you are indeed making this a better world – one sailor at a time.

Thanks for all you do for our sport, for what you helped us with in Nashville.

The big bonus: I learned that I have been harboring a secret love of country music. Look up Don Schlitz when you have a moment.

Here are a couple of highlights.

Sailing at the Parthenon

How to find sailing in Nashville: Start at the Parthenon

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Hey Kid, Let’s Take Up Fishing

March 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

First published in SpinSheet Magazine – March 2011

Imagine, on a whim that has been dormant for years, you announce to your 17 year old daughter that today is the day that you’ll be taking up fly fishing together. You might say something like this:

Drop what you’re doing, kid; we’re going to the bait shop to pick up camouflage hip waders, rods, reels and tackle, pheasant feathers, mule-hair, two cans of pheromones, frog eggs, and other slimy supplies for tying flies. We’ll head into the basement for the rest of winter to get ready. This spring, we’ll drive 10 hours north, and we’ll wade into an icy stream in the middle of the night in a dark forest on the off chance that we might catch a fish that we’ll have to throw back. It’ll be great! I used to do it with Grandpa when I was a kid. Just you and me. What do you say? Oh, and let’s rent A River Runs Through It tonight. You don’t have any plans, right?

I’m guessing she might sidebar to text a friend about her nutcase dad (or mom) and then tell you, in so many words, to pound sand. Well, to be fair, that’s what my daughter would do. I can’t speak for yours.

But who is to blame her? She’s got serious stuff going on at 17; that boyfriend, her Irish dance career (no matter that she’s not Irish), studying for the SATs, trying out for American Idol. And there is a DJ at school tonight. Busy. Sorry.

Your family fly fishing aspirations? Put them back on the shelf where they belong. You never should’ve brought it up.

I’ve been lucky to spend the better part of the last two years traveling and listening to sailors share their ideas about Saving Sailing. I can report that the situation is about the same everywhere. Most American sailors are boomers and they sail with other boomers. Every town has a decent junior program with many enthused kids in it. Some high school and college kids and young adults sail, but when they marry and have their own kids, they usually quit.

The pressures of modern parenting make them do it. Sailing is impossible with babies and toddlers. You have to swim to sail, and be at least 8 years old. Grade schoolers must be signed up for ten extracurriculars to find one that fits. Middle school and high school-aged kids need to focus; to do one thing and do it well, in order to have the best chance at a large college scholarship or better, an Olympic medal. Helicopter, Soccer and Tiger Moms and Dads unite!*

(*Paragraph italicized to denote sharp sarcasm.)

Invariably, in these Saving Sailing discussions, there will be a college kid or a young couple that aspires to sail long into the future, and who is genuinely concerned that their own love of sailing will fall victim to parenthood, when and if that happens. They’re there to ask how to prevent it.

I respond with the hypothetical tale of almost fly-fishing with a teen daughter. And then I ask what would’ve happened if they had not put fishing (or sailing) on the back-burner between early and late parenthood? What if the daughter had been fishing (or sailing) since she was born? What if she wore a lifejacket and learned to swim while learning to fish (or sail)? Think she would be any less of a student having spent years learning about weather, wind, energy and water? Think she would be any less attractive as a candidate for a college scholarship as a skilled and savvy outdoors-woman? Think she’d tell you to pound sand if you asked her to go with you on any given Saturday, after 17 years of fishing (or sailing)? Think she’d think you were a nutcase for having the idea in the first place?

Of course fishing and sailing are not impossible with babies and toddlers. They never were. Parents can make provisions. They always have. A sailboat (or a fishing boat for that matter) can be outfitted with a car seat and the kids dressed in the right clothes and safety equipment and slathered with sunscreen. The format can be adjusted to accommodate the special needs of these tiny people. Grade schoolers might try as many things as they think might be interesting, but not if it gets in the way of fun outdoor family time. Given the chance to learn among adults, kids of any age will certainly learn special skills and lessons that can never be taught indoors or in packs of like-aged kids. Middle and high schoolers can focus just as well on something they like to do with mom or dad, as they do without. Perhaps most importantly, kids who are familiar with nature and who value intergenerational experiences are much less likely to develop video game or other media consumption habits. They’re aware of a far better alternative. Guiding these choices and creating these opportunities are among the central roles of the modern American parent.

So the first step in finding time for family sailing is to never stop sailing in the first place.

Note: I am pleased to report that in most US cities there is at least one sailing organization that would be eager to help young parents make these choices and create these opportunities. (If you can’t find one, email me at nickhayes@savingsailing.com and I’ll try to help.)

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