By Kate Scriven
“…this beginning motion, this first time when a sail truly filled and the boat took life and knifed across the lake under perfect control, this was so beautiful it stopped my breath…” – Gary Paulsen, Caught by the Sea
Have you ever had the experience beloved young adult author Gary Paulsen describes above? That moment when, in the quiet of the water, your sail fills and you feel the power of the wind pull you forward? You feel just on the edge of control and the thrill is delicious.
My daughter had the chance to feel that thrill for the first time last summer when she enrolled in the Olympia Yacht Club’s Junior Sailing Program. Not only did she learn to sail, but she sailed – by herself. That sweet success prompts a return this year, and she is eager to sail, capsize, and feel the wind on her face once again.
The Olympia Yacht Club has been offering sailing instruction for youth from its Budd Bay location for years. In cooperation with the Olympia Parks and Recreation Department, the program is open to children as young as five years old and includes a fleet of Optimist Prams, 420s and Lasar sailboats.
The junior program is divided into three age brackets stretching from age five to 18. All participants must pass the swim test and provide their own lifejacket. The Harbor Mice (ages five to seven) sail in the eight-foot Opti sailboats, an easy to maneuver sailing dingy great for beginners.
Lil’ Luffers (ages eight to 11) are first time and novice sailors. Lil’ Luffers use the Opti, the single-handed Laser, and the double C420 to sail with a friend.
Bree Warjone’s two girls participated for the first time as Lil’ Luffers last summer. They loved the camp so much, they signed up for two weeks this year. “Capsizing day was their favorite because they got to get in the water and learn to right the boat,” shares Warjone. “The week was capped off with a mini sailing regatta which my husband and I watched from the water in our own boat.”
The Junior Jibers (age 12 to 18) are more experienced and instructors work to place them with partners and groups matching their level of knowledge. Sessions for all levels run weekly throughout the summer and all students learn boat basics with “classroom” time on the docks as well as time on the water each day. Click here for a full list of sessions.
Two new camps are offered this year for advance sailors. The “Learn to Race” and “Intermediate/Advanced” camps offer added challenge and instruction for kids wanting to take their sailing experience to the starting line. Junior sailors will take their base sailing knowledge up a notch with specific instruction on race technique, culminating in the Mt. Baker Milfoil Dodger Regatta on Saturday, August 8.
Mary Fitzgerald has been involved with the OYC’s sailing programs for years and currently coordinates the Adult Learn to Sail program. “Sailing is a sport that doesn’t stop with aging. We have high school students competing with elders in the Thursday night dinghy races as well as acting as crew on the same boats that are skippered by grandfathers and grandmothers,” she shares. “It is a sport that can last you through your lifetime and is intergenerational.”
Emma Krug, age 10, participated in Lil’ Luffers last year for the first time, too. Emma shares, “I love that the instructors are all high school and college kids because they make even snack time fun with riddles and jokes.”
Four out of the five Krug kids have experienced the OYC sailing camp over the years and have all loved it, reports their mom, Darla Krug. “I can’t help but think, ‘How totally lucky are we that we live in a place where we can drive 10 minutes to a beautiful marina and my kids can spend their summers learning to sail!’ It reminds me just why we live here.”
And the beauty of the Puget Sound is a reason many of us call Thurston County home. With miles of shoreline and endless coves and points to explore, sailing is one of the top recreational pastimes in the area.
OYC member and avid sailor Glen Hunter shares how sailing can empower kids, teaching them to use their senses and “listen” to the water. “The smaller boats give students a chance to feel the wind and know how to set the sails and change directions,” he explains. “Sailing works a lot of your senses. You have to feel the wind to know where it is coming from. You visually look at the sails to make sure that they are properly set for the conditions and watch for obstacles.”
As it is in life, Hunter shares that in sailing, “you cannot often go straight to your destination. You have to learn to tack back and forth to get there. Sometimes it can be very slow, when there is very little wind, and sometimes you are always on your toes when the wind is strong.”
That’s a valuable lesson that junior sailors, senior sailors, and all those in-between can learn on the water and bring back with them to dry land.
To register for summer programs, visit the Olympia Parks and Recreation website. Click on “Outdoor Camps” for a drop down of specific options.