The Gift of Sailing
This past summer our homeport of Newport, Rhode Island, hosted the Northeast regionals for the Optimist one design class.
More than 400 youngsters and their parents showed up to race and over three days in August battled it out on the race course to see who among them would advance to the nationals.
Opti regattas like this are a true spectacle for both participants and those who happen to sail by. Where else would you see so many young people having so much fun and enjoying being on the water as you would at one of these regattas?
Learning to sail at any time is an amazing departure from normal shoreside pursuits. You have to learn a new language of sailing terms, you have to develop a respect and understanding for the weather, you need to build seamanship and navigation skills and you have to become self reliant. Those kids in the Optis are skippers whose decisions matter. And while the most competitive of the kids are all about winning, for most of the young sailors the real pleasure is doing their best while having fun with friends in these great little boats.
These Opti kids have been given a unique gift when they were introduced to sailing that will stick with them for the rest of their lives. You never see the shore quite the same way ever again when you have sailed away and seen it from the cockpit of a small boat. And you never look at clouds or waves or the wind in the same way since your life aboard a small boat is so intertwined with these natural elements. Nature is your medium not to be defeated but to be partnered with so you can get where you are going as efficiently as possible. The wind is free and will carry you around the world if you know how to use it.
We might be biased but we have seen hundreds of young people go through youth sailing programs who have gone on to sail in high school, college and then move on to larger boats as time and budgets allowed. These kids seem to do well both at school and at work as they mature. On the whole, learning to sail also teaches balance, patience, judgment, teamwork and independence, all qualities that work no matter what you end up doing with life.
Those of us who have sailed all of our lives already know this stuff even if we don’t think about it much. And those who have come to sailing later in life have been through the learning process and adopted these qualities and traits.
It is up to us to help pass the gift of sailing along to as many youngsters as we can by teaching our own families the art and science of life on the wind and by supporting local sailing programs, community sailing organizations and high school and college programs. We’ll not only help to foster better sailors, we’ll also help to foster a better world one sailor at a time.
- George Day