Junior sailing opportunities aboard “Big Boats”

For Junior Sailors, at least in the North East, there are a variety of options for participating in “Big Boat” activities in July and August 2012.

The six seminars, three distance races and one day regatta outlined below are presented to foster the instruction & development of an experience base for Junior Sailors aboard “Big Boats”, as distinct from the dinghies they usually sail.

Juniors in command of the J-111 Fleetwing

Junior sailors aboard J-111 Fleetwing steering and trimming during the 2011 Jr. SAS Seminar in Newport

Storm Trysail Foundation Junior Safety at Sea seminars.

The Foundation’s Junior SAS Seminars introduce High School sailors to the arts and sciences of sailing on a Big Boat. The one day course includes land based instruction combined with on the water practice. Seasoned offshore instructor/volunteers cover the major skills needed to participate as a crew on a big boat: Some of the primary topics of instruction include handling of lines with particular regard to use of winches, reefing and sail changing, safety related issues, basic operation of a VHF, including Mayday drills, Spinnaker operations, different crew positions and the skills required in these positions & MOB issues & drills.

In nearly 15 years of presenting these seminars the Storm Trysail Club and more recently it’s Foundation have instructed over 2,000 teenagers in the issues of Safety At Sea and Big Boat sailing. In 1996 such training led to a USSA documented recovery of a Man Overboard in a Junior race, for which the crew were awarded the Hansen Medal.

  • Friday 20 July at Larchmont YC
  • Thursday 26 July at Raritan Yacht Club, NJ
  • Thursday 2 August at Sail Newport, RI
  • Friday 3 August at Stonington CT. This seminar is co-sponsored by N.E.S.S. and Fishers Is. YC
  • Saturday 3 August at Boston Community Boating, MA
  • Wednesday 22 August Annapolis YC

Contact info and registration particulars here: http://www.stormtrysailfoundation.org

Click on Safety at Sea seminars on the left toolbar

Then there are three distance races & a day regatta in Big Boats for Junior’s

Kite on J 40 with Kids

Jr.SAS Seminars introduce Junior Sailors to the nuances of sailing under spinnaker sen here during the 2011 seminar in Newport,RI

Fishers Is. YC Overnight race:
10 August. Block Is. Sound. This race is a new event specifically created to provide a practical application of the skills that the graduates of the Jr. Safety at Sea seminar on the 3rd have learned. Participation in a Jr. SAS seminar is required.

Dorade Trophy and Beach Point Overnight
13, 14, & 15 August: These are 2 separate events for juniors in big boats on Long Is. Sound. The Dorade Trophy (yes THAT Dorade) is a day regatta organized by Stamford YC. Sound. The Beach Point Overnight is organized by Beach Point YC.  Info can be found Junior Sailing Association of Long Is. Sound website calendar by clicking on the link above. Participation in a JR. SAS seminar is required.

Ida Lewis Distance Race:
17 August: This race features a selection of courses around Rhode Island Sound. The Youth Challenge Class was created for boats where there are two adults (minimum) and at least 40% of the crew is comprised of sailors between 14 and 20. High School sailing teams are invited to mount a campaign incorporating members of their school sailing team. Junior sailors falling outside this age group are welcome to participate but are not counted in the boats 40% number, so yes the younger sibling can come too…

Junior Junior aboard Falcon 2000

Falcon 2000, a N/M, Cookson 80 foot IMS maxi, now de-tuned, was a center piece at the 2011 Jr. SAS seminar in Newport

Participation in a Junior SAS seminar is recommended but not required for the Ida Lewis Distance Race.
For more information please contact me, Joe Cooper @:

401 965 6006

Junior sailing and “Big Boats”

High school sailors put to sea aboard Selkie during the 2011 Jr. Safety at Sea seminar

The McCurdy & Rhodes 38' Selkie gives some local RI high school sailors their first exposure to sailing on a Big Boat.

For the casual observer watching a yacht race is not a particularly exciting pastime. Typically there are several boats with pretty colored sails moving slowly across, hopefully, sparkling blue seas water with a scenic backdrop in the background, at least around Narragansett Bay.

Zoom in to the activities on the boat though and one will discover a steady buzz of activity both intellectual and physical that rivals the teamwork, planning, skills co-ordination and knowledge base of any team sport or activity. Sailing generally, and successful sail boat racing in a yacht, as distinct from a dinghy requires particularly a pretty good working knowledge of about a dozen disciplines. The best teams and individuals on a successful program have skills in several sciences including weather, oceanography, mathematics, aero-dynamics, and hydrodynamics, mechanical engineering-Further there are skills in project management, leadership, instruction, human relations and safety procedures as well as knowing “how to sail”. What has typically been missing from most “big boat” racing programs for the past 30 years or so are junior sailors, I.E. young sailors of high school age.

RI salors at the Newport Junior Safety at sea seminar August 2011

A crew of Junior sailors sailing the J 111 Fleetwing

Next time you watch a sail boat race or are out sailing in your weekend yacht club race or Wednesday night beer can race, try this exercise. Do a head count of how many young sailors (read High school) you see, on your boat and on the competition. Chances are it might look like this: a couple of youngsters sitting in the back more or less watching with perhaps the owner’s son on the bow….Who is doing the mast, sewer, trimming, mainsheet, navigating? Steering even…..Probably not a 15 year old. For those of us who pay attention to these things there is a dearth of young sailors present on yachts.  Nick Hayes’ book and the stories he tells in it not withstanding this situation is common across the country. It is undergoing a widespread and increasingly rapid change though.

From my perch in Newport R, I have been involved with no less than 5 activities of greater or lesser formality that focus on introducing high school sailors to the art, science, adventure, seamanship and related skills necessary to be competent around a big boat.

The baseline assumption is that the guys of my age, late 50’s that grew up hanging around big boats and sailing on same with their dads and so absorbed “Seamanship” at an early age, are a declining cohort of sailors. This condition: A family activity with learning by osmosis– exists for far fewer kids these days. In my own case I had several mentors in my youth and by age 18 I appeared sufficiently competent to the skipper of a Half Tonner ( a now obsolete rating rule class, about 30 feet LOA) to be invited to sail with him in the infamous Sydney to Hobart race. An adventure I can still recall with great memories including being scared to death for about 20 minutes the first time I saw 60 knots of wind and 25 foot cresting seas in Bass Straight.

Jr. SAS participants aboard the J 40 Nepenthe

Jr SAS participants receiving instruction aboard the J-40 Nepenthe

I took on the role of High School Sailing Coach when our son entered High School in 2010. One thing that puzzled me is that, in the North East at any rate, High School sailing lasts about 10 weeks from Mid march to Memorial Day, and then stops. This struck me as a supreme misuse of resources and energy. In the summer following my first year I made it a point to keep in touch with my team members and their parents, sending emails to them regarding appropriate sailing schools and programs to buff up their skills, interesting regattas and other events to keep sailing in the forefront for longer than 10 weeks. In the summer of 2010 I was also involved in either the creation, organizing and promotion (sometimes all three)  of the following three events.

Storm Trysail Club & Foundation Junior Safety at sea Seminars: 

15 years ago Rich DuMoulin, a prominent & successful Long Is Sound sailor developed the idea of a one day seminar to train juniors in the basic skills necessary for safe handling and crewing on a “Big Boat”. Since then this seminar has become the default program for such training and is required for any youth sailors competing on any of the Big Boat events dedicated to teen sailors on Long Island Sound. Junior Safety at Sea Seminars are now held in Annapolis, Raritan, NJ, and Newport, RI. For 2012 there are two more: Shelter Island Yacht Club and a combined effort between Fishers Is. Yacht Club & New England Sailing and Science–N.E.S.S.– foundation in Stonington, CT.

The meat and potatoes of the day begins with a morning of instruction on just what to look for and, more importantly how to think about being on a bigger boat. Take for instance a simple mechanical task like how to operate a winch. This instruction is basic and is a seemingly simple task for the experienced sailor but if you have not done it before….? (and reflect for a moment if you will, just how did you learn to handle a line on a winch?)  The correct, and safe, method of putting a the line around the winch and then how to remove it; a discussion of the load’s generated on the lines that the winch controls, how to deal with the removable handle and so on. Skill and dexterity in this task is akin to mastering the serve in tennis-The most basic of basic skills, with out which one will never be able to play ball, but a lot more hazardous to one’s fingers if in adequately performed. The whole day is similarly dedicated to a personal and up close inspection of the mechanics of several different types and sizes of boats, including the location of safety gear, firefighting equipment and procedures, thru hull valves, pertinent navigation equipment, the equipment layout on deck, MOB protocols and drills,

MOB drill on Nepenthe

MOB drill on Nepenthe

E.P.I.R.B’s   the correct way to operate a VHF radio, reefing, heaving too, life jacket and safety line use and techniques and related seamanship skills.  The greater portion of the day is execution of the morning’s instruction aboard the boats that are supplied by willing owners in the region and are under the command of volunteer instructors all of whom are highly skilled in the arts and sciences of operating a big boat.

2011 Junior SAS, Newport TI

CCA commodore Sheila McCurdy presents a module to STC Jr. SAS seminar, Newport 2011

During the course of the day there typically is a demonstration of the inflation of a life raft, techniques for entering and righting it in the event it is upside down and proper procedures for living on one, should the need arise. Another session covers the different types, and uses of, various smoke flares. During the 2011 seminar the local Newport, RI, USCG station, Castle Hill, made a 45 footer available and discussed the Coast Guard role in S.A.R. and related activities with the participants.

Safety at sea participants hear about the USCG role in safety at sea

USCG station Castle Hill crew at the 2011 STF Junior Safety at sea seminar in Newport

The final event of the day is a speaker, typically someone with pretty salty boots, discussing their experiences in the field. For the 2011 seminar we were fortunate to have Jamestown resident and experienced multi-hull sailor Philip Steggall.

Jr. Sas participants hear from noted offshore sailor Phil Steggal

Jr. SAS participants hear from noted offshore sailor Phil Steggall

Steggall brought with him a cross section of the personal safety equipment he has accumulated in a 40 year offshore sailing career and discussed the mindset that the best offshore yacht sailor’s use-In short, sailing a big boat is a bit like a chess game in that the crew must always be thinking several moves ahead.

Life raft drill in the 2011 Junior Safety at sea seminar

SAS participants get up close and personal with a life raft.

Ida Lewis Distance Race:

In 2010 the Ida Lewis Yacht Club introduced in the Youth Club Challenge Class into their annual Distance Race. The idea was to offer a class that encouraged the mustering of a high school crew so as to generate a body of young sailors with overnight yacht sailing/racing/seamanship experience. The basic parameters for entry were: PHRF ratings & more than 50% of the crew to be between 14-19 years of age. The balance of the crew to be made up of adults with the basic theme (although not incorporated in any formal race documentation) that the kids do the work and the adults mentor. The boa’s sailed the 150 mile course zigging and zagging around Block Island Sound with the longest leg being perhaps 30 miles, so basically an overnight passage, with lots of navigation and sail handling.

Jr. SAS sailors aboard the J 40 Nepenthe

Junior Safety at sea participants receive instruction aboard the J 40 Nepenthe

In the 2011 edition of the event, one 70 footer, “Gracie”, took 12 juniors for the race and they basically ran the boat with the adults supervising. The boat’s Professional Captain Skip Wood was very impressed with the speed with which the juniors absorbed the multitude of information and skills needed to operate a yacht of this size. In an email following the race Capt. Wood remarked:  “The kids deserve plenty of credit and did as well as any adult crew given the fact they were new to the boat and had an average weight of 140 pounds!”

One young lady who left her call to Gracie too late ended up as the lone junior on a 4 man crew aboard the Class 40 Toothface and was still glowing 3 days later when I interviewed her.

Sail for Hope:

The third regatta was the Sail for Pride regatta, a regular fixture on the NBYA calendar since the first event was held in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. For this 20 mile race around Jamestown Island I gathered, in 2010, 12 of my high school sailing team members and loaded them aboard the 80 footer “Falcon 2000”. With a dozen high school sailors and half a dozen adults in the leadership roles in each part of the boat, again the kids were instructed in the tasks for each position and the adults supervised.

By the end of this race most of the kids had performed in at least a couple of positions and anyone who wanted to, had the opportunity to steer.

This series of 3 Big Boat training opportunities was repeated in Newport in 2011 with the addition of an extra opportunity. Several of the Falcon Crew from 2011 expressed interest in doing more big boat sailing so I emailed a collection of the sailors I knew locally and offered to provide a youth sailor for the crew if they would accept the responsibility of mentoring them. Several on the locals stepped up to the plate and I was able to place 3-4 of the high school kids on local boats.

Separately American Yacht Club allows the addition of one crew up to 14 years old in a boat’s roster in their fall regatta with NO (handicap) penalty for head count or weight. I know of one J-105 already taking a junior in this very competitive class.

Into the future

Behind the scenes the management at the Storm Trysail Club, and its Foundation, have been developing a program to make it easy for other yacht clubs to host Junior Safety at Sea seminars in their local regions. This was promulgated in Chicago during the USSA Yacht Club Symposium May 2011. The upshot of this exposure is that the STC Jr SAS is now supported by United States Sailing Association, the governing body of sail boat racing and related activities in the US. Further, planning is underway to develop a 4 year curriculum for Jr. SAS participants so they can start as freshman with the safety at sea seminar and progress thru a 200, 300 and 400 level course. The goal is to have a Hig School senior sufficiently skilled so that he or she could be competent to be the skipper (Person in Charge) of a 35 footer for an overnight race.

Mentoring of junior sailors need not only happen in a racing environment. In fact it is possible that a superior experience may come from more low key activities. Deliveries  are a great way for the novice to get to do a bit of everything, there are less crew and there is often more time for instruction and mentoring than in the heat of a race which of course we all want to win so instruction is secondary.

One of the repeat issues sailors discuss amongst themselves around the bar after a race is the difficulty of finding reliable competent crew with which to man ones club racer. If such sailors were to cast their eyes about and offer to take some of the juniors out, the son of a crew member, kids from the local High School sailing team, local community sailing program, then they would have a hand in solving the problem they are discussing. They are likely to give the kids a huge experience that, in my case had a life changing impact on them. The kids might even have the skills to get on a boat for the Bermuda Race and be scared to death for 20 minutes as the boat enters the Gulfstream in 60 knots of wind.

It's never too soon

It's never too soon


High school sailors experience first passage: A J105 from Fishers Island to Newport

Those of us of a certain age, who somehow managed to grow up around boats, dinghies at first then larger boats, find ourselves today with a large body of information and experience, not just “facts” but ways of thinking, about our sailing and are occasionally dumb struck by what folks do on their boats and wonder “don’t they know better”?

It turns out that maybe they don’t. It seems that over the past 30-40 years or so the profile of the average yacht buyer/owner has changed from someone who grew up with access to bigger boats and apprentice-like sailing adventures under the wing of someone who did know what was going on, to owners who are late comers to the activity of sailing and in many cases their first boat is a “yacht”.

In my time in the marine business, basically my whole life, much of it with Hood Sailmakers I was regularly aboard boats where even simple things like handling a winch seemed to be an unknown. This had caused me to ponder the question, why don’t they know and of course one does not get to know something unless you either figure it out (by trial and error) or one is instructed by someone who does know. Well just how do you find someone with requisite skill and experience?

This was a question a disparate group of members of the Storm Trysail Club asked themselves a while back. The answer turned into the Storm Trysail Foundation Junior Safety at Sea seminars.

These are one day hands-on instruction based on similar seminars for adults but with a modified curriculum and aimed at high school sailors. From a modest start about 13 years ago in Larchmont NY, (where the STC and its Foundation maintains an office at Larchmont YC), the STF Jr. SAS has expanded to 6 or possibly 7 venues throughout the north east US. The goal of the seminars is to instruct the kids in the arts and sciences of sailing as practiced on “big boats”. A Big boat for the purposes of discussion is a boat 30-45 feet with an inboard engine, lifelines, interior and so on capable of putting to sea.

One of my various hats is the Coach of the Prout School Sailing team. I thus have good contact with 23 high school kids with varying states of sailing skill and interest from zero to pretty good. In the NE the high school sailing season is so short, I have made it a habit to present a calendar of alternative sailing adventures the kids can do over the summer.

Thus I found myself with 4 members of my sailing team last Friday morning preparing to help me deliver a J 105 I sail on from Noank, CT to Newport RI.

Prout students aboard Jaded

Prout sailing team members prepare for their first ocean passage

Jaded had just been splashed a day or two prior so there was still lots to do, including in one case bending on the headsail. This led to a discussion on head foils, roller furling, J locks, pre-feeders, keeping the sail in the foil, (when it is not flat calm at the dock) and how to play the roles of pit, mast man & bow man emphasizing the importance of watching what your team mates are doing and non-verbal communications.

Prout sailors receive in instruction on Genoa sheet rigging

Prout sailors receive in instruction on rigging headsail sheets on Jaded, a J-105

With no wind for the first couple of hours, we  motored out of the Fishers Island sound. Thus the first lesson at sea was on piloting and visual navigation, the implications of different colored and shaped navigation aids, the importance of the “what is wrong with this picture” thinking, how to use a depth sounder in piloting and compass course steering.

Prout sailors watch Coach Cooper working on the Bow of Jaded, a  J 105

Prout sailing team members receive instruction on the bow of Jaded, a J-105

After transiting Watch Hill passage the question from one of the kids: “are we going to sail” led to a short review of meteorology and its implications for sailors: High pressure, low pressure, gradient and thermal wind isobars, and definitions of wind. By the time that was over and lunch was had, the south westerly had built enough to make sailing a proposition, time wise.

Thus we introduced the basics of sail handling on a bigger boat, setting the mainsail, securing the halyard shackle (tighten with pliers or spike and/or seize if going on a longer passage) how to put a line on a winch, grind the winch remove the handle and take a line off or ease the line under load and the use of rope clutches. With the main up the next stop was setting the masthead 120 sqm kite. This lesson was on asymmetrical spinnakers, ATN socks, getting the kite into same, spinnaker rigging, and retractable bowsprits.

With the kite up we moved onto to the idea of “wally-ing” (the technique of coming up in light air and sailing deeper in puffs when sailing downwind) and related strategy & tactics for sailing down wind. After a discussion on the techniques of  gybing A-sails, the students proceeded to peel off several (perfectly fine) gybes approaching the entrance to Narragansett Bay.

The bonus feature was sailing thru the gaggle of America’s Cup cats out practicing in the narrows between Ft. Adams and Jamestown. After one last gybe it was kite down (sock first) main down, flaked and secured, engine on, fenders and dock lines out and coming alongside the dock down tide.

A couple of the parents were already there to collect their kids and were treated to the nickel tour by their (very proud I thought) sailors. And we were only 20 minutes off the time I suggested they arrive at Conannicut Marine.

I was told by one parent, when she sent me the attached pictures, that her son had thoroughly enjoyed himself, so that is a start.

The next adventure for another 5 kids is this Saturday, sailing a J92s around Narragansett Bay.