Youth Sailing

Reflections on a typical day instructing wide-eyed youngsters at the Chatham Yacht Club

By Emily Taylor | Photogrpay by Jay Elliott

I jog the bike loop downtown, keeping an eye on the breeze. Southwest would be typical with all the humidity, and by the time I get to Stage Harbor, it’s on its way. The monotony of my run is broken apart by my racing mind. Details: Is there enough gas for the motorboats? Did I arrange for adequate staff? What will I have the Beetle Cat class do today? I fell asleep with my myriad responsibilities at Chatham Yacht Club on my mind, and I seem to have woken up in the same state.

IMG_0439I race home and change. I’m running late. Go figure. I polish off a Ziploc bag full of Honeynut Cheerios in the car on the way to the club. I meet the senior staff members in the parking lot and we make our way around the first tee of the golf course and down the hill to the clubhouse. It’s another beautiful morning on Pleasant Bay and I pause, something I don’t do often enough, to appreciate how lucky I am to live and work in such a special place.

The hour before the students arrive flies by. Masts are stepped, boats are bailed, flags are hoisted, spinnaker poles are fixed and lesson plans are jotted down in soggy notebooks. I turn around in the middle of the chaos to see the first little face peering in the window of the clubhouse. He’s eager to be welcomed inside for morning sailing school.

I briefly think back to my introduction to sailing. Although most of our beginners start at eight years old, I was twelve. I had been in a sailboat only once before with my dear mother. She gave me one task at which I devastatingly failed. “When I say ‘let the mainsheet out, let it out,’” she said. When a puff came she gave the command, and I blatantly ignored it. We consequently capsized. When I nervously started later that week at CYC, I was hoping the same wouldn’t happen.

I quickly found out that beetle cats are relatively sturdy bathtubs and it wasn’t as easy to ignore the instructors. As I progressed through the various classes at the club and on to staff, I never forgot those first few days and how nerve-wracking they were.

My reverie is interrupted. I quickly realize it’s 9:30 am and I am wading through children—singing, screaming, jumping, yelling, I-thought-your-mother-said-you-were-nervous children. I look and see that someone has opened the door to the club and it’s time to begin the day.

I quiet everyone down and make the morning announcements: “Please don’t go swimming without an instructor.” “Make sure you have your closed-toe shoes on.” “Keep those lifejackets zipped.” “And remember to tell me if you’re leaving early.” (i.e. “I’m responsible for all of you so please don’t run away!”)
The large group splits up into individual classes and I am left inside with our beginner class. This group of eight-, nine- and ten-year-olds looks at me, with semi-toothless smiles, for the next activity. I can’t waste a minute, or I’ll lose their attention. “Field trip!” I yell and we’re down on the beach. We mutually decide where the wind is coming from and march in that direction—zigzagging our way southwest as a group, talking it over as we go. I ask them the age-old question: “What would happen if we tried to go straight down the beach?” “Irons!” they yell back in unison. They are so cute.

Back inside the clubhouse, we go over the daily lesson plan. Today we’ll be doing a scavenger hunt. I assign them their partner, a junior instructor, and a Beetle cat. They complain, request different pairs, and I spend too long entertaining an argument with an eight-year-old boy over why Kit Kat is actually a great boat to be in, despite the girl instructor and girl partner. I send them outside with specific instructions “Get your lifejacket, put on sun block, go to the bathroom and wait for me at the end of the dock.” Most of them complete most of the tasks.

IMG_0398I ferry them out to their Beetle cats (“Can I drive the motorboat?” “I don’t think so.”) After everyone is in their appropriate boat, and I’m back on shore tying up loose ends before heading out to patrol them for the morning, I am inevitably beckoned back out to the mooring field because someone needs to come back to the clubhouse to use the bathroom “a.s.a.p.!”

The rest of the day cruises by. The beginner class completes the scavenger hunt accomplishing more things than the list required (the word ‘frog’ was not on the list, sorry!) Sailing school classes wrap up by lunchtime, and the afternoon is spent racing on the bay with the rest of the membership. Soon it’s “club close” time and staff members whirl around putting boats on moorings, coiling hoses, hanging sails, and returning children to their parents. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly the day goes- and for that matter, how quickly the entire summer goes.

Year after year when I return to the Chatham Yacht Club in the summer, I continuously realize how special it is. I feel blessed to have been exposed to a sport that has become such a passion of mine and I feel a duty—and desire—to pass it on. This club boasts much history, as many generations of families have learned to sail on the same body of water. I think about how many friendships have been forged, and how many more are destined to be made.

I muse on how the sport of sailing unites people of all ages and I think about how my grandfather—who loved to sail on Pleasant Bay but passed away long before I ever had the chance to accompany him—would be proud. My mother reminds me that Pleasant Bay and sailing are in my blood, and I chalk up my addiction to that, as I head back out on the water to put the last motorboat away.